PhotoShelter Wants to Take On Getty Images

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.


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