PhotoShelter Debuts New Look, Takes on Digital Railroad

Posted on 3/13/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In a world of ailing giants and their low-priced rivals, 3-year-old PhotoShelter is beginning to look like a serious contender for shooters and buyers seeking alternatives. The PhotoShelter Collection, an open-but-edited marketplace launched last September, is out of beta with an array of new features. To coincide with this milestone, the New York-based company introduced a new look, complete with a logo and Web site re-design, and launched a blog.

Pros and amateurs worldwide have been flocking to PhotoShelter's stock-agency alternative in record numbers. Attracted by the 70% commission, a "by photographers, for photographers" environment and a high buyer-marketing budget, some 2,000 new photographers join the PhotoShelter Collection every month. Over 100,000 images are uploaded monthly.

As the company continues to make good on its promise to spend $2 million in 2008 on attracting customers to the collection, image buyers are joining it at the same pace as photographers. "We're working hard to optimize [buyers'] experience and become their primary provider for exceptional images," said PhotoShelter CEO Allen Murabayashi.

As a result of buyer and contributor feedback, the collection now features user tutorials, which explain PhotoShelter's unique features, such as its controlled vocabulary, known as the Tagonomy. New functionality also includes batch image handling, image stacking, keyword weighing and visual differentiators.

Rachel Hulin, former online photo editor at Rolling Stone and, joins PhotoShelter's recent high-profile hires as resident blogger. She will comment on industry news and trends on the "Shoot! The Blog."

Since company founders felt it was time for a more sophisticated visual approach, these new features are accompanied by a new look. Abandoning clean white for sleek black, the revamped Web site uses green to symbolize the freshness of the company's products and thinking. The new PhotoShelter logo is intended to represent the company's position as photographers' partner and an advocate for their rights, royalties and creative freedom.

If this sounds familiar, it is because a similar philosophy is at the basis of PhotoShelter's closest competitor, Digital Railroad, which was established two years earlier. Both companies offer image-archiving services and have ventured into stock sales at roughly the same time. Though both continue to earn high approval marks from its pro-shooter clients, the standoff is reminiscent, on a much smaller scale, of Google vs. Yahoo! a few years back.

When Evan Nisselson launched Digital Railroad in 2003, he was instantly catapulted to god-like status by photographers dissatisfied with large-agency representation. Widely credited with giving birth to a new business model and new philosophy, Nisselson and Digital Railroad carved out a niche. Today, the company's future looks more dubious, particularly in light of aggressive competition from PhotoShelter.

Digital Railroad is not admitting defeat. In fact, it is running a high-profile ad campaign promoting its Marketplace, reports another successful round of financing and defends its current business strategy. However, when DigitalRailroad lays off, PhotoShelter hires. A move away from platform services at DigitalRailroad offers a similarly stark contrast to PhotoShelter's supposedly thriving image-archiving business, which Murabayashi says is not experiencing any slowdown.

In addition, PhotoShelter recently managed to surprise the industry with its new Flickr interface, which allows seamless migration of images from Flickr Pro accounts to the PhotoShelter Collection. Some observers anticipated that Flickr would quickly cut off the import tool, as it has done before to image retailers like 123RF and others. Yet this has not happened. PhotoShelter told Selling Stock that though no formal agreement with Flickr is in place, the two companies are on good terms.

Given the relative youth of the Digital Railroad Marketplace and the PhotoShelter Collection, as well as a lack of figures for a direct revenue comparison, the race between the two companies is difficult to call. It may simply be that PhotoShelter is better at public relations that its seemingly troubled competitor. In addition, photographers and buyers do not necessarily have to choose between the two, since both services can be used simultaneously. Directly competing companies like Corbis and Getty Images manage to coexist, though perhaps not altogether peacefully.

However, PhotoShelter and Digital Railroad are more dependent on its photographers than the larger, more established agencies. And photographers are likely to place their images in the marketplace that commands a larger image-buyer market share and generates higher contributor revenues. Stay tuned while both companies court the ever-shrinking pool of traditional buyers.

Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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