How Stipple wants to shake up stock photos

Camera used under CC license by Flickr user LollyknitCurrently, when a publisher wants to run a photo to accompany a story on their website, they have two main choices: Take a picture, or license one from a stock photo provider like Getty Images. Getty has an amazing variety of up-to-date photos — especially of celebrities and news events — but there’s one big catch: Their photos don’t come cheap. If you’re running an independent blog or small news site, the fees charged by image providers like Getty can be a huge drain on your budget; you can only hope you’ll be able to sell enough ads to offset the price of the photo.

Enter Stipple, a San Francisco-based startup that wants to change the way online photo licensing works in a big way.

This week saw the launch of “Stipple Marketplace,” an image repository and licensing service that actually inverts the business model used by Getty and other similar services. Photographers and photo agencies upload their pictures to Stipple, which then allows brands to tag the photos with links to information about the products shown in the image. For instance, luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin could tag a red carpet photo of Kim Kardashian in which she’s wearing a pair of Louboutin heels. Brands can then offer to pay a certain amount of money (such as 10 cents per click, up to $3000) to any publisher who will use the photo with the tags included. Stipple’s cut of the fee varies based on the size and scope of each deal.

Screenshot of Stipple Marketplace (click to enlarge)

“We’ve just flipped the business model. This is a way for publishers to earn money by publishing photos,” Stipple CEO Rey Flemming said in an interview this week. “We think we’ve built a system that aligns everyone’s interests, from photographers, to advertisers, and to publishers.”

Of course, this model is heavily dependent on brands’ willingness to pay up. Companies typically pay to have their products displayed in advertisements, not normal photos. More than 50 brands have signed up to use the new Marketplace system, and Stipple’s success ultimately depends on whether they and others like the service.

Stipple uses both technology and manpower to ensure brand information and other tags added to its photos are accurate. Unlike other photo tagging services like Luminate, which embeds in-photo links to products that are similar to what’s shown in an image, Stipple requires that tags link only to the exact product shown in a picture.

Stipple is going up against some stiff competition. Getty Images has dominated the industry for nearly 15 years, and publishers have been paying photographers or photo agencies to use their images since photography was invented. But I think it’s worth a try to shake up the business model and rebuild it in a way that makes sense for today’s digital world. Stipple Marketplace could well be the one to lead the change.

Camera image used under CC license by Flickr user Lollyknit