Blog Post

PhotoShelter Wants to Take On Getty Images

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Getty Images (GYI) has been the staple provider of images to editorial and advertising professionals for as long as most of us can remember. Despite many challengers, the Seattle-based company has remained a dominant player in the images business, mostly on the strength of its huge archives.

Now New York-based startup PhotoShelter wants to give Getty Images a run for its money, launching a service that gives photographers more money, and photo editors a new, fresh stock of images from which to choose.

The two-year-old PhotoShelter was started by Allen Murabayashi, Jason Burfield, Jeffery Arnold, Thomas Chin and Grover Sanschagrin refugees from HotJobs, as a storage service for photographers. That didn’t work out, so the company rebooted and reinvented itself as an image marketplace. Update: In addition to the storage service, which currently signs up more than 1,000 new photographers every month, PhotoShelter became an image marketplace.

“Photo editors are looking for new images, the kind you find on Flickr,” says Emily Hickey, PhotoShelter’s vice president of products. But there isn’t an easy way to buy from Flickr. Getty’s stock photos, on the other hand, are expensive, and have a certain tired feel to them. And photographers aren’t too keen to give around 50 percent (or higher) of the total dollars a photo fetches to Getty.

PhotoShelter, in contrast, will pay out 70 percent to the photographers and keep 30 percent of what a photo fetches. Photographers like it — the company has attracted 6,000 photographer accounts, 200 buyer accounts and over 250,000 images. The service launched just before Thanksgiving Day. Unlike the iStockPhoto and microstock agencies, PhotoShelter plans to sell its photos for, on average, between $100 and $200 a pop, and never any less than $50.

“What we are doing is trying to commercialize the crowd-sourcing model for photos,” says PhotoShelter co-founder & CEO Murabayashi. In addition to traditional buyers, such as advertising agencies and publishing companies, Murabayashi is hopeful that web publishing will open up new opportunities for the company. It’d better, because the two traditional buyer groups are in retrenchment mode. PhotoShelter closed a $4.2 million Series A investment round from General Catalyst Partners back in March.

Crowd sourcing and photos are a happy (if somewhat less splashy) marriage. 8020 Publishing’s JPG magazine, which sources its entire content from its community, has been slowly and steadily growing its readership. There is no reason why PhotoShelter can’t take a decent bite out of Getty’s over $800 million a year in revenues.

17 Responses to “PhotoShelter Wants to Take On Getty Images”

  1. Bill Avoidér

    if it was such a great business then why did the company decide to move in different direction? I don’t disagree that you you and others use their storage and love it, doesn’t mean the company can build a big business from it.

    As for getting the facts straight – the information came from the company itself. I guess they know what is really going on with their business.

  2. Jason,

    While the corrections have been made to everyone’s satisfaction (sorry about the spellings), I think you need to make sure that the about pages of the company are updated to reflect who are founders in a clear and explicit manner. it makes it harder to figure out things when official pages don’t do such a good job of making the point.

  3. Dear Om:

    I think this is an interesting debate that deserves more expansion. Since iStock has been brought into the discussion, I thought I’d speak up.

    PhotoShelter is an interesting idea and of course has appeal to some photographers, but they are a little late to the “commercializing crowdsourcing” game.

    Further, to claim huge diversity or freshness is a bit of a stretch when iStock has 37,000 photographers from virtually every country in the world, submitting 50,000 plus images per week for review and approval.

    You should know that iStock’s most prolific photogs have already been accepted as Getty Images artists, so we provide a true career path for those who have sold 25,000 images or more on iStock.

    Second, I am curious about the legal and trademark checks done at PhotoShelter—or is this issue left solely in the hands of photographers? In three quick searches I found dozens of images that should not be sold as stock as they infringe on legal trademarks.

    iStock reviews each image submiited by hand, and our 90 worldwide inspectors are responsible for intimate knowledge of the rules of several countries. iStock has one of the most comprehensive lists of what can & can’t be sold as royalty-free stock:

    Om-I will be in your area mid-January—I’d like a chance to chat with you more if you are around.


  4. Aidan,

    You’re making the assumption that all photos have the same value — namely $1. We believe images, like most products, fall along a continuum. Highly commoditized images have a place in microstock, but better images from better photographers should be sold for market prices, which in advertising and commercial use equates to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

    As for playing catch-up, I don’t agree either. Buyers are constantly looking for fresh imagery. The provider with the most diversity that can control quality will win.


  5. I’m not convinced that this is going to work. Who would pay $80-100 for a photo when they can purchase a similar offering for a couple bucks from iStockPhoto. Obviously, the company is appealing to a higher end crowd of photographers and editors, but I foresee that the higher financial burden will play a difference in the end. Everything comes back to price in the end. It’s a market. I guess I just don’t see the differentiation here. As you mention, a new crop of photos will turn up, but the company is already playing catch-up to the other players out there…

    I can see how the service will attract photographers (i.e. 70% royalties and higher image prices), but I don’t see how it plans to attract customers.


  6. Small correction, my name is Jason Burfield, not Burfielf. :) And, although sometimes it seems like I did, I never worked at HotJobs. And, to be fair, the other founders here are Jeffery Arnold, Thomas Chin and Grover Sanschagrin, not just Allen and myself.

    Thanks for the mention.

    — Jason

  7. Bill Avoidér

    “PhotoShelter was started as a storage service for photographers. That didn´t work out…..”

    Sorry but the PhotoShelter Archive is alive and well and continues to flourish. I use it, friends use it as do many other photographers.

    PhotoShelter is committed to this product in addition to their new stock collection. Get your facts straight!

  8. Nitin,

    While I agree that is always the case, in most cases the barrier is the stock/archives. Having worked closely with photo editors in my past life as a magazine writer, I think, there is a need for a service like PhotoShelter, which is why I kinda wrote about them. Whether they make it to the finish line, or get snapped up, is a whole different story.