On the up · 10 January 2017

Pixey: Working with Instagram to challenge the stock photography world

Pixey - taking on the stock photography industry
Pixey – taking on the stock photography industry

Sarah Stenhouse has created an online marketplace for finding and licensing real-time Instagram images and videos as an alternative to stock photography. Here, she outlines her plans for tackling the bigger players in the industry.

Pixey was formed when Stenhouse was working in an advertising agency and a client wanted a Father’s Day campaign.

“I did the usual – you go on Shutterstock and iStock and you look through all these images, and none of them were really saying Scottish family to me. They’re all really American: blonde hair, bright white teeth, picture perfect,” she said.

“I thought, this really needs to tug on people’s heartstrings and connect with them. So I went on Instagram and instantly found hundreds of pictures of families that looked a lot more natural and real.”

Stenhouse then started looking for someone who could get the license for these images and found that nobody was providing this service, which prompted the budding entrepreneur to start her own business.

Instagram users own all their content – Instagram doesn’t take any possession over the photos and videos posted there.

“This means it’s kind of the same as if you took an image off Google Images that belongs to a photographer without asking permission. You can get yourself into a bit of hot water there,” explained Stenhouse.

“We’re trying to provide a more authentic alternative to stock photography, but in a way that you know you’re going to get the correct license agreement for you to repurpose it in your own marketing.”

Instagram is allowing Pixey to use its API with a view to becoming fully fledged partners, but in the meantime the business needs to raise some investment to expand. It was while seeking mentorship for her new business that Stenhouse initially came across the Entrepreneurial Spark programme.

“I had a look at the website and I saw them at a couple of events, and what really stood out for me was the success rate of startups,” she said.

“Just ‘get it live’ is definitely the best piece of advice I’ve received so far. Especially when you’ve got a software product, it’s your baby and you want to make sure it’s perfect and are the holes are plugged. But that takes time, and I’d say no matter what it looks like just get it out there and start getting your customers to give you feedback.”

Stenhouse has taken this advice, and right now the business is operating in its beta stage for some early stage clients.

“That means we’re really flexible. We’re trying to build a product that fits in with businesses – we want to be an everyday tool so that customers keep coming back.”
Pixey charges $10 per image and $20 per video, with half the money transferred to the Instagram user as payment for their media. In this way the business hopes to appeal to money-conscious content marketers, brands and advertising agencies that don’t want to sign up to the bigger players and pay expensive fees for stock photography.

Because Instagram has given the business access to its user database, Pixey can contact a user to explain when somebody wants to purchase an image and offers a link for them to follow if they are interested.

“It shouldn’t take more than half an hour for an Instagram user to come back, that’s what we’ve seen from research and from competitors,” said Stenhouse.

“Our competition includes older, traditional stock photography websites like Shutterstock and Getty Images. Fun fact about Shutterstock, I don’t think many people know, they’re actually one of the top 500 most popular websites in the world. They get about 80m visits a month, it’s crazy!”

Lastly, Stenhouse always tries to ensure she is one step ahead by keeping up to date with her competition: “I spend a lot of my day keeping up with the latest marketing blogs, tactics, innovations and so on. Just make sure what you’re producing isn’t already out of date.”

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Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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