Instagram Stock Sites Struggle, Art Sells


Backed by Facebook, Instagram is now the main platform for shooting and sharing. With more than 130 million members, 45 million images uploaded each day and a billion daily likes spreading those photos across accounts, Instagram is the most important tool for casual snappers and photography enthusiasts who want to capture interesting scenes and show them to their friends.

But what about professionals — or at least people who want to earn like them? Is it possible for Instagram users to shoot, share and cash in on their images? It’s not easy and the numbers so far aren’t huge but there are ways to turn a photo-sharing following into a profit stream, with more on the way. We assess five of them:

1.     Sell Access to Your Followers

The Mobile Media Lab has been described by AdWeek as “a marketing agency for Instagram.” Created in April 2012 by three popular Instagramers, the company is used by brands that want to push images of their events to social media audiences. Those clients have included fashion firm Michael Kors, sports company Puma and even Delta Airlines which hired the company to shoot a New York Rangers playoff game as part of its team sponsorship.

After receiving an enquiry, Mobile Media Lab matches the brand to one of its photographers whose network might enjoy the images. In practice, the photographer might post just a handful of photos during the course of an event but in return they may receive access to a sports meeting, travel and a payment. A sign-up form on the website lets other popular Instagramers sell their networks.

2.     Instastox

The Mobile Media Lab model is fun and lucrative — and proven to work. But it depends as much on a large audience as high quality images. The three Instagramers who founded the company are effectively charging companies to advertise to their followers. A better option would be to offer companies the chance to license images posted on Instagram.

Until Instagram provides an easy way for firms to buy licenses off-the-shelf, the same way that they can buy microstock images, a number of companies are trying to fill the gap.

Instastox is currently preparing to launch. It’s not saying too much yet but prices appear to be microstock level and it’s accepting requests for invitations from photographers. Others, though, include…

3.     InstaStock… and InstaStock Images

According to an April press release, InstaStock Images was due to open in August 2013. So far, it’s still talking lorem ipsem and it’s going to need to move fast to live up to its tagline of “the first royalty-free stock photography marketplace just for Instagram photos”; the similarly named Instastock is at roughly the same level of development.

Both firms have issued press releases, launched sites and are taking enquiries from contributors although neither are open for business just yet. The bidding war looks interesting though: Instastock has promised a 50/50 split with photographers; Instastock Images are offering 60 percent and predicting that contributors will make three times the 25 cents they earn on “some competitor stock photography sites.”

Don’t expect those Instagram stock shots to make you rich.

4.     DotSpin

While photo entrepreneurs race to push out Instastox, Instastock and Instastock Images, one company is already up and running. It’s just not paying. DotSpin sticks closely to the way Instagram is currently being used. The service provides a way for Instagramers to apply Creative Commons licenses to their images. The pictures are rated by the community and those that win the most votes are given “dotcredits” that they can redeem for rewards. At the moment, DotSpin has some agreements with Amazon but when we contacted him earlier this year, founder  Gaston Paladini was confident he would be able to bring in brands looking to push their products to Instagram users willing to share their images.

It’s not a service that’s going to bring in bucks but if you don’t mind people taking your photos and doing whatever they want with them — and if Gaston Paladini can persuade firms to donate — you might find it’s a fun way to pick up some goodies from your Instagram use.

5.     Instaprints

Instaprints might well have been the first Instagram service to actually make money from Instagram and to allow photographers to do so too. While digital stock sites are struggling to get  off the ground, Instaprints, which comes from Fine Art America, does things the old fashioned way: it lets art-lovers buy prints of the images they love on Instagram. And those sales do appear to be coming in.

The success of Instaprints at actually generating sales can be put down to three vital factors. First, the site has the backing of an established company with an audience used to searching and buying art.

Second, sellers at Fine Art America are used to marketing their works. While stock contributors tend to upload, forget and wait for the checks to roll in, art sellers know they need to build their own fan bases and do their own marketing. On Fine Art America they were already doing it. The company’s Instaprints just gave them another way to bring images they were shooting and sharing anyway to those markets.

And perhaps most importantly, the service sells the kinds of images that Instagram’s users are creating naturally on the social media service. Even if one of the Instagram-based stock companies does take off, the photos it sells might be good for one or two uses but they’re unlikely to be flexible enough for the kinds of multiple sales necessary to earn significant income. Those stock companies might well find that the photos they offer are better sold on a rights managed basis rather than copying the microstock model.

It would be great to say that Instagram’s massive userbase and giant number of uploaded images represent a huge opportunity for people hoping to make money from their images. It is worth keeping an eye on the stock sites that are currently being built but in practice the best bets appear to be turning your account into a marketing agency or selling prints of your mobile pictures as art.

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