Unsplash Millionaire

1,3 Million views.

4,000+ downloads.

& 1 Bowl of Cereal.

This is my short story of my Unsplash experience.

Over the last few days, Zack Arias has raised a red flag over a part of the photography business that needs attention; Unsplash.

Unsplash is a local (I live in Montreal) free royalty-free stock image website. Founded in 2013, they’ve accumulated over 300,000 high-resolution images from photographers all over the world. They boast 1 billion (yes, you read that right 1 Billion) image views in 2016 (it probably doubled or tripled since that time) and countless downloads.

The CREW business.

On that success, the creators behind Unsplash built a freelance agency named Crew. Crew build apps, works on creative projects and other things by putting together freelancers. The act like an intermediary to freelancers by taking a fee off the referral.

Crew, made over a couple of millions dollars in revenue since its creation. In March 2016 alone, they generated $1.88M with net revenue to Crew of $48K. Very rough estimates gives net revenue of $575K for 2016 and quarterly growth. The Unsplash website cost about 18-20K USD a month to run. Not bad at all for a startup.

My Unsplash experience

Like many others, I found Unsplash when I was looking for royalty free images for one of my companies. It’s free, so what’s the hurt right? I probably used 10 images for social media and 1 or 2 fillers for my website since at times, I was just too lazy/busy to go out and create those images. On a cold day, for a blog, I needed an image of a bowl of cereal. I stopped being lazy for a minute and took out my camera. Found the closest window and took the photo.

Since that photo was pretty useless to me after the article was published, I figured I’d share it over Unsplash as a ‘thank-you’ (not sure why I wanted to thank a website - going senile here). You can bridge the gap from there. It went quiet from there. I never really checked the stats until I got an email with my million view on the website.

Now the question is to ask. What do you get for posting on Unsplash? Not much really. I’ve heard arguments of helping the community and such. I have heard it’s a great way to have your work judged. I have heard arguments of a great vehicule for promotion and marketing. Perhaps the two first are a possibility, the last one is completely false.

Although my image was used many many many times, I never got an email asking for more. Never booked 1 job, never even got 1 instagram follower.

A few questions:

A few questions has to be asked here:

  • Am I mad at the website? No. I only added another one photo afterwards since they invited me to an event in Montreal. Another photo I didn’t care about (this one was much less successful).
  • Do I think this website could become a problem? Potentially yes. If in aggregate, the Apple and Sony’s of the world stop commisioning artists to create images for them to just use services like Unsplash, then we are facing a problem.
  • Is it unethical for the people at Crew to have founded an agency out of Unsplash? Hmm…I cannot completely say yes to this. They tapped into something that people needed and found a way to profit out of it. Will there be consequences? Maybe. The stock photographers of this world have to pass a new hurdle and create even more stunning images to be commisioned. Prices are likely to increase for custom work since the same photographers who used to make x amount of dollars with already produced work, will have to increase their prices to compensate. The client ends up paying more for the same thing. The bottom tier stock photographers will probably disappear.
  • Will I share more on Unsplash? Not unless I am commisioned to.

  • Unsplash is positioning themselves to be disruptive to the stock image business. They do “multiple jabs” as Gary Vaynerchuck says with Unsplash and right hooks you when Crew gets involved. I cannot fault them outright for successfully breaking a portion of a business and profiting out of it. The damage might not be immediate and there might be a silver lining somewhere for the top photographers on the website.

    But my experience with my trusty bowl of cereal has been nothing but the most un-rewarding thing I’ve done.

    Except for eating my cereal.