iStock founder reveals real reason he left & why he's started a new stock company

Bruce Livingstone says his Stocksy focuses on the context of photos for more relevant results and less clichés

The founder of iStockphoto, Bruce Livingstone has launched a new stock photo site – Stocksy. We wanted to know how the new service would be different to iStockphoto, and in finding out, we also uncovered the real reason Bruce left the company he founded.

Bruce founded iStockphoto in 1999 as a photo swapping service, which meant that if someone downloaded a photographer's picture, that photographer would receive credit that could then be spent on someone else's picture. However, in 2000, iStockphoto began charging for those credits, effectively starting the microstock industry.

In 2006, Bruce sold iStockphoto to Getty Images for around £30 million, and later left the company, but has now decided to start a new stock image venture. We caught up with him to find out why.

AA: Why did you sell iStockphoto to Getty Images?

BL: "There were several reasons. I had partners I couldn't get along with. They were focused on revenue and profits. I was focused on the community. I couldn't afford to buy them out. I felt like I had accomplished everything I had set out to do.

"I love to build things, trying to maximise revenue and margins is not as exciting to me. The community at iStock was surprisingly strong. Even today, with nobody at the helm of iStockphoto, there are still people hanging on the ship as it is sinking into the depths of apathy."

AA: Why did you leave iStockphoto?

BL: "I was asked to take a Chairman position - get out of the way - while Getty came in and lowered royalties, changed the product, raised the prices and increased competition. I wouldn't do it, so I had to leave. The press release said I resigned to be with [my] family."

AA: Why did you decide to create a new competing service?

BL: "I was trying to retire in Los Angeles with my wife and son. Photographers kept coming to see us to talk about their frustrations with the stock photo industry, and they kept asking me to start another company. I could see an opportunity, but the last thing the world needed was another stock photography company.

"We came up with the idea of a co-op to share the wealth and equity, and to provide sustainable careers with photographers. But that wasn't enough. The images had to be incredible for anyone to notice. They've noticed."

AA: Can you tell us a little more about Stocksy?

BL: "Stocksy started the authentic stock movement: real people doing real things in real environments, using topics shot with a natural aesthetic. Our entire collection is expertly curated with this in mind."

An example of an image you can find on Stocksy - Breakfast by Melanie DeFazio
In The Trees by Bethany Olson

"All of the images in Stocksy are exclusive to us, which is why we look so good when compared to other stock agencies.

"The Stocksy collection was built with some of the world's best commercial photographers, including Kevin Russ, Trey Ratcliff, Thomas Hawk, Hugh Sitton and Sean Locke. We know them and work with them very closely. These artists are setting the trends in visual communication."

AA: What makes Stocksy different from the competition?

BL: "Our laser-focused curation standard is infinitely more interesting and useful than our competitor's massive collections that force you to sort through to find something relevant."

“We think it's time that photographers were paid at a sustainable rate.”

AA: How is it different for the contributing photographers?

BL: "We want to invert the economic model of the stock photo industry to ensure that photographers receive sustainable compensation and share in the equity of the business. The model from our competitors pays photographers as low as 6p per royalty.

"We think it's time that photographers were paid at a sustainable rate. Stocksy pays photographers 50% royalty on regular licenses and 100% of extended licences. We also pay out all profits to shareholders with an annual performance based dividend. Nobody else has this.

"Being a stock photographer today means you're competing with more than 100,000 other stock artists. The market is flooded with around 30-50 million pictures spread across many of the same stock agencies. That sea of competition is ever increasing.

Water Madness by Alexey Kuzma is another example of the types of images you'll find in the Stocksy library.
Young Couple at the Carnival by Jen Grantham
Portrait of a Uros Indian man holding pipes, on floating reed island, Islas Flotantes, Lake Titicaca  by Gavin Hellier

"Success is often an arbitrary game of where your photo is place in search results, those at the top stagnantly remain there, while other amazing photos get buried in the darkness.

"Stocksy selects each photographer to create a collaborative supportive group of like-minded professional artists, uploading exclusive content for us. They're not competing with amateurs or stock photo factories trying to make a quick buck."

AA: How is it different for designers and others buying the photographs?

BL: "As a designer, you won't have to wade through pages of the same old clichés on white backgrounds. At Stocksy, your search results are curated specifically with the best images and selection, providing specialised results in comparison.

"Most of the big stock photo agencies are weighed down with a legacy of over-styled concepts and dated hyperreality. The quality of our collection has been referred to as browsing through custom editorial or rights managed content, rich in story and the quality of execution."

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...