Aiming to be the ‘Spotify’ of visual content

  • Making downloading images legal and affordable
  • 80% of users are from US and Europe, Asians ‘not ready to pay’
Aiming to be the ‘Spotify’ of visual content

 
MANY people in the world do not use legitimate or authorised visual content, preferring to just copy images off the Internet. Indeed, some users even believe that if they find something on Google, it must be free.
 
But Chicago-based stock imagery startup StockUnlimited LLC (SU) is attempting to change that culture.
 
SU is a sister company of Malaysian-based and -founded stock imagery company 123RF, whose founder Andy Sitt is also the lead investor and chairman of SU. Sitt also founded Inmagine, a royalty-free stock image content provider, based in Malaysia as well.
 
Price is the most crucial factor when it comes making legitimate visual content available to a mass audience, according to SU cofounder and chief executive officer Christian Toksvig (pic above).
 
“It seems that there is a disconnection here – you have an industry that serves a professional market with high prices, and then you have the rest of the world where over 90% of content users have never used stock images once.
 
“And that’s how the idea for SU came about – I can create a service that is so easy and affordable which people would want to use, instead of copying images off the Web illegally,” he says, speaking to Digital News Asia in Petaling Jaya on Feb 15.
 
The former head of business for Getty Images says that most people who copy images off the Web are “fairly innocent” as they are not aware that they’re infringing on copyright laws.
 
“They don’t know about copyright. People who copy music and films, they know that it’s illegal,” says Toksvig.
 
“But most people are fairly innocent when it comes to visual content,” he adds.
 
‘Not worth being a pirate’
 
Toksvig cites Spotify as an example, with the music-streaming service making it cheap and easy to access music legally, and says SU is doing the same for visual content.
  
“Not only do we offer better content, but it’s also safer for users in terms of copyright infringement.
 
“Besides the fear factor, it’s so easy and cheap now that it’s almost not worth it being a pirate anymore.
 
“In Malaysia, Spotify is RM14.90 (US$3.63) per month. So is it really worth your time to download MP3s with weird, long file names?
 
“There comes a tipping a point when it [downloading creative content illegally] isn’t attractive anymore.  And we are trying to create such a tipping point for visual content,” he says.
 
Toksvig declines to reveal SU’s user base, only putting it as “tens of thousands,” adding that half of its users are from the United States, 30% are from Europe, and 20% from the rest of the world.
 
“Most Asian consumers are not ready to pay for content yet. It’s going to take a while for the local markets in this region to catch up with the West,” he says.
 
Unlike other image services, where content creators are paid on a usage basis, SU works with its own content creators and third-party studios to create its graphics.
 
“You have to pay royalty for every single download, and we realised that if we want to do what we’re doing – making graphics affordable to the masses – we could not have the royalty model,” says Toksvig.
 
Growing demand for vector graphics
 

Aiming to be the ‘Spotify’ of visual content

 
As of now, SU offers half a million works of vector graphics to its users at a monthly subscription fee of US$7.49. According to Toksvig, it is adding between 20,000 and 50,000 pieces each month.
 
The reason SU started off with vector graphics first is the growing demand for such visuals, he adds.
 
“And we could see that this was a way for us to stand out a little more from the crowd, because most vendors in this space are selling pictures.
 
“It’s also easier to start with vectors first as there are more practical issues that need to be solved when it comes to creating and commissioning photos.
 
“But clearly the market demands both, hence we’re going into photos soon as well,” he says.
 
According to Toksvig, 123RF’s Sitt has injected “about” US$2 million to US$3million into SU. The startup is looking to raise more funds in the near future, although he declines to elaborate.
 
He says SU will also be announcing partnerships with design and graphic firms to reach more customers.
 
“For example, we partner with webhosting companies. People who are building websites via these companies need visual content, and we fit in very well with our low-cost model,” he says.
 
Toksvig founded SU in 2014, and describes his entrepreneurial journey so far as “tough but fun.”
 
“It’s tough, if you ask me. But it’s also very fun and adventurous for me as I moved to the South-East Asian region to set up an office here in Malaysia.
 
“It’s always tougher and takes longer than you would think. The things you know now, you wish you knew 12 months ago.
 
“But in the end, you don’t learn about this till you do it,” he adds.
 
[Disclosure: DNA has been a 123RF customer since our founding in 2012]
 
Related Stories:
 
Japanese stock image company Pixta in SEA drive
 
Spotify comes to Malaysia … and about time too!
 
Piktochart crosses RM1mil in revenue, looking at greater impact
 
 
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