Towards the end of the microstock session
during the CEPIC conference in Florence I wanted also to present and to
discuss with the panelists the specific impact of a dedicated
micropayment stock photo portal, showing microstock photography only,
but after 2 1/2 hours we finally ran out of time.
Some readers know that I had been working on a micropayment stock photo portal myself, but could not procede with full power due to other events.
Peter Galbraith, 27 years young, Founder & President of ImageTrail.net and based in Corrales, New Mexico, started instead about one month earlier in summer 2006 to work on his vision of a microstock only photo portal, and recently I threw some questions at him.
Years back, in 2002, I wrote a report about The Future of Photo Portals for a magazine and in 2005 about the impact of Image Middleware Technologies for picture sellers and buyers.
It would have been interesting to compare "classical" photo portals, their different concepts, business models and technologies used to new forms and new approaches of photo portals which emerged in recent years (partly covered here in Related Stories) and especially to explore the specific impact of a microstock photo portal on various factors in the microstock market, but I finally decided to erase the whole story I had written earlier around this interview and to let Peter Galbraith speak only.
Peter also runs the MicroStockForum and states "both projects are still undergoing further development".
I started the MicroStockForum about one and a half years ago, trying to introduce photographers to image agencies. I noticed that on each agency´s forum there was very little "cross-agency" discussion allowed. The rankings list is very popular for people looking for places to sell their images.
About 6 months ago I realized that soon the microstock agencies would begin to "fill-up". Not that there are no more photos to be captured, but that the relative value of what each new photographer could bring to the table was diminishing. I decided that instead of being the middle man in front of the sellers, the most important place was to get in front of the buyer.
I started my company straight out of college. My wife and I had just had our first baby and I looked at her and said, "If we are ever going to do something crazy, now is the time". While my degree is in computer programming, I have done wedding & stock photography, graphic design and in the last year settled back in to web development.
What is the advantage of using ImageTrail.net, which to my knowledge is the first and only micropayment stock photo only search engine and photo portal?
When we started, I wrote on my blog: "Wouldn´t it be nice to have one site that indexes the microstock agencies all together, so that people could easily search all the stock agencies in one go!". ImageTrail was really inspired by Google Images. I wanted a simple search system that would get images from multiple stock agencies. I knew that other engines existed, but not for microstock. There are currently just over 500,000 images in the database, but we have the capacity to quickly expand that to millions of images. I started by crawling the agencies with a robot. Now we´re formalizing relationships and we´re using API´s to both add new images and keep our database clean.
In my opinion the strength of ImageTrail are these:
- Over time images that don´t perform will be dropped -- some microstock agencies will be doing this soon as well. The agencies accept junk when they are young, because they want to have a big number on their home page. This metric will not be just downloads, but how often the image make it into the SERP and other things. I think that agencies feel somewhat obligated to maintain an image that was once "acceptable". I don´t have to do that, so I can improve the quality by trimming the fat periodically. I´m not saying I have any magical method to doing this yet, but we´ll come up with one very soon.
- We have the ability to re-introduce pricing into the competition. Each agency is raising its prices -- which I am not saying is bad, but they will eventually take the micro out of microstock. Because of our matching algorithm -- which will continue to get better -- buyers can find the image and then go to the cheapest place to buy it. It is important to note that not all agencies have the same licensing so buyers need to check and make sure their intended use is acceptable.
- Speed & Simplicity -- our search algorithm will continue to get better, but at this time I don’t intend to complicate it. As you stated earlier we may have some growing pains ahead if things take off. We will have to improve our database server and add additional servers, but I´m prepared to do that once the traffic is there.
Managing and running such a portal requires dedicated people. Is it at present just a hobby for you or a full-time venture 24 hours a day and 7 days a week?
I´m currently a self-employed photographer and graphic designer, but have a business degree and a long background in programming. It is my intention to devote 100% of my time to manage ImageTrail and one other online venture starting about October of this year.
This has been a tentative plan and conversations with people like you have really helped me start taking it more seriously. I´m devoting every free moment now to the project, and soon we manage it to have funding to create a team with more people and move things faster.
The site has in some fashion been online for 4 months now and doubled in keyword search traffic every month. So I have some people finding me without knowing anything about me. When it’s time for the heavy marketing, it will come. I do have a few tricks up the sleeve, but understand that becoming a competitor here is not going to come easily.
How do you intend to market your portal? Your Alexa ranking is currently slightly under 1,000,000, increased from really meaningless 1,400,000 three months ago. Classical photo portals like Alamy (around 10,000) and even distant competitors like Yotophoto (around 15,000) or PicFindr (around 150,000), to name only a few, do much better.
If the portal ought to be a success, you need to attract professional image buyers in masses, not only -- just an assumption -- mainly other microstock photographers playing around with the portal looking for their own images.
I have really focused first on building a great product. What you see now is the result of rapid development to see if other people think that this is as cool as I do. I was really not sure that others would see the value. I have purposefully held the database to about 500,000 images to go back through and revisit the concepts and the code. A mistake only multiplies if I left the robot loose with a bad idea.
You were correct in the past in saying that the secret to success is in getting the images in there. I have long believed -- after I failed to start my own image ageny -- that the secret to getting buyers is in the corners. It is true that many people search for "sexy woman", but that can get those images anywhere. You prove you have a good collection if you return good quality results for e.g. "green fungus background".
500,000 images is not much. If you count all microstock images on all microstock agencies together, you get an official number of over 10 million images. Minus the same images from the same photographers on all the microstock agencies, the real number of unique microstock images may still be over 4 or 5 million images.
How fast do you intend to grow this number of 500,000? Isn´t this, besides attracting professional photobuyers, the most important step to success for you?
We have the capacity to quickly expand that number to 2 or 4 million images when we are ready. Obviously the business model is developing. I have agreements with two of the agencies listed and hope to add more soon. Revenue is generated through affiliate systems, hopefully holding off the need to use advertisements, although they will come if needed.
This is the reason that some agencies aren´t yet included. Either they have no way to create an affiliate link directly to an image, or their affiliate programs are not attractive enough to index their images.
In all honesty, when you have Fotolia and Dreamstime in place I believe you have around 80% of the microstock images out there, other than iStock Exclusives, but more about that later. I added LuckyOliver because I really believe they have something unique. As I am sure you also noticed, I have a new microstock site posted to my forum almost every week. But they fail to answer one question, "Why you, not iStock or Dreamstime?"
I have yet not added iStockphoto for two reasons. First, there are not many people who have not heard of iStockphoto, even if they don’t use it. I am trying to get other agencies into the search engines and in front of the public eye. Secondly, the search algorithms that iStock is introducing make it hard for my current robot to index them effectively.
As a web designer, I use the ImageTrail website myself almost every day. I design billboards and websites and find that it is easy to look at ImageTrail and then go to buy the image wherever. No forums, free images, designs of the week. Just quick access to top images. I knew that I had started something good when I started using it, and recommending it to other businesses.
As I stated before, I am very open to suggestions and feedback on the site. It is still a baby amongst giants, but I have great dreams for it. I hope to fill out the "informational side" of the site soon including better contact and problem reporting abilities.
Most of the work on ImageTrail and the MicrostockForum in the past was my own. I use other designers and developers occasionally and come from a computer nerd family, so my siblings often play consultants. My wife is the primary critic of the site and helps me see the "little things to cleanup".
The interview with Peter was mostly already conducted in June.
- PicFindr: Not Alpha, not Beta, just not done yet (March 21, 2007)
- News From The Trenches: More On Middleware Technologies And New Image Push Services (Feb. 15, 2006)
- Middleware Technologies For The Picture Business: Who Cares? (Dec. 02, 2005)
- Randy Taylor On Search Methods, Technology Providers And Marketing Channels (Sept. 16, 2005)
- After Inventing The Google Of Stock Photography, StockPipeline Is Randy Taylor´s Next New Venture (Sept. 07, 2005)
- "We want to be the Google of stock photography" (Randy Taylor on MacTribe, Sept. 2005)
- Google Image Search And Professional Photo Researchers (July 30, 2005)
- Interview With Mark Thomson/Yotophoto (July 19, 2005)
- Yotophoto: The Long, Soft And Inevitable Revolution? (July 15, 2005)