Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Serban Enache and this story is about Stockfreeimages, a Royalty Free stock photo platform that was launched in 2012 as a free image resource. We started in 2000 with Dreamstime.com, one of today’s top 10 stock photo agencies globally and later on launched StockFreeImages as a spinoff for designers looking for free stock photos that are safe to use.
The site was launched in a period when safe-to-use, free of charge photo libraries were practically non-existent and we designed this as a more complex freemium model meant both as a reliable resource for free content and aid for our contributors in building up the marketing of their Dreamstime portfolios. Dreamstime currently counts over 150 million files in its online library and grows with 3 million more each month. One of the most frequently asked questions we have had over time is what contributors can do to increase the visibility of their content and get people to see their amazing portfolios. A great way to do this is to offer part of your content for free, like free sampling. Try us, if you like us, your purchase will support our business and creative community.
So the images we feature on Stockfreeimages come from Dreamstime's contributors who donate their files for commercial usage by Dreamstime and Stockfreeimages's registered customers, in exchange for exposure and royalties.
While Stockfreeimages offers unlimited free access to web size downloads, high-resolution downloads may require a small fee which allows us to reward the contributors. Unlike other free image resources, any charge for high-resolution downloads is fairly split with the content creators, as it should be.
In December 2020, the site had 1.3 million registered members and more than 2 million free stock images and illustrations from 56,303 photographers. We add fresh new titles every day and we have images for all needs and budgets, but mainly for free.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
By 2012, stock photography was well established as an accessible and inexpensive visual content resource and Dreamstime was already a thriving Top 3 agency, counting the world’s largest stock photo community. It already featured a small free download library that subscribers were able to access unlimitedly, still available today. As donations grew, we felt these files needed a dedicated home and audience and this is how Stockfreeimages appeared. In the first year, we had around 110,000 customers and 1,5 million images and numbers continued to grow constantly. Its aim was to upgrade budget-oriented customers instead of eroding current revenues.
Not hiring talented people soon enough or hiring the wrong people and having to start all over, avoiding making leaps of faith, and being overcautious are some of the things that may change the course of your business for better or worse.
A large pool of individuals and freelancers were in need of good imagery for personal or start-up projects, at no cost at all if possible. Stockfreeimages came to answer this need for safe content with model released, high-quality photos, and illustrations that they were able to download for free. It also served as the next step in image copyright protection for both contributors and consumers and helped users protect themselves from the costly fines that often result from copyright violations.
Since then, many other free image resources, featuring mainly Creative Commons CC0 content, have emerged but Stockfreeimages still retains this major advantage of being one of the few libraries that give free access to copyrighted images for which their authors have given specific commercial usage permission. This means you can use these images with a valid, worldwide, and perpetual Royalty Free license and not worry about copyright infringement.
What you can do with Royalty-free licensed images? Practically almost everything that requires visual content nowadays: online marketing campaigns, books, ebooks, websites, media production, games and apps, banners, social media posts, and many other projects which CC0 license may not cover.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Having already launched Dreamstime more than ten years before, we did not actually invent the wheel, we just redesigned it. Resources were available but how do you balance pricing when offer far outweighs demand? The new project used the same stock photo library model but fine-tuned features for designers looking for free stock photos. It also often turned them into buyers by offering low cost higher quality alternatives. Members enjoy free downloads but they also get to see and browse accessible paid content.
What makes Stockfreeimages special to the stock industry is that it enables designers to lower their median price by downloading free and premium content. Overall, their budget can be reduced several times without compromising quality. While all stock agencies strive to deliver the best looking images, this can up the price and compel customers to look for alternatives. Best looking images will always have their audience but providing visuals for everyone and every budget is crucial for any stock photo platform.
Designers usually work on a limited budget (not to mention tight deadlines). And you have students, small businesses, or freelancers who may lack the budgets altogether. For them, we have Stockfreeimages and we also provide high discounts on Dreamstime like our Back to School or the Fight Coronavirus programs to help them jumpstart their projects, but also support contributors during these difficult times.
Describe the process of launching the business.
StockFreeImages.com is a sister site of Dreamstime.com, its launch was part of the overall evolution of our collection and community. Dreamstime is the largest community in stock photography, hence represents all ranges of contributors, from the first time amateur to the top photo agencies of the world. Just as the best camera is the one you carry all the time, a photographer is as good as his/her last photo.
A portfolio will shine through various images, and from our experience, these are rarely the same ones as the author will list as their best. Because we are personally involved in the photographs we take (capturing not only the photo but the moment that generated that photo, with all its surroundings and feelings), our selection is deeply biased. Allowing content to “age” makes for a better judge, however, good stock photos have an important contemporary asset, hence it is better to submit them right away.
Since contributors tend to submit more because of the high competition, we analyze their content vs. buyers’ interactions with it. Due to the high number of images (over 3 million new files approved each month), more venues to bring content to audiences and potential buyers were needed. That’s how StockFreeImages was created, along with its counterpart Megapixl.com, which is a premium selection of the top images on Dreamstime.
Since Dreamstime is bootstrapped, none of these new websites required outside funding. They are part of our ecosystem, and designers move freely between these platforms.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
A stock photo agency relies heavily on a balance between iconic concepts (sometimes cliche but not always) and new ideas. You need to bring the right content in front of your audience and right means the content they are most likely to download. A successful stock photo agency also makes sure customers find the right content each time they come back to download more so innovation is the key these days.
Never postpone a project. A great feature is one that is live, collecting data, and working for your business.
Aside from starting with a solid search engine to deliver perfect matches for searches, adding geolocating and AI-generated search results in recent years, there are side projects that can help you earn your users attention, either engaging the audience through a freemium website such as StockFreeImages.com, personalized collections, unique content or by using social media channels (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tiktok, etc.). Leave no stone unturned.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Profitable since day one, Dreamstime has earned a top place in the high tier of stock agencies, being the only independent one left. This allows us to treat our content-generating community well and fairly, without any pressure from outside investors. While others had to cut commission fees in very delicate times, we increased royalties for contributors.
We believe that retaining and growing a customer database should refer to your content providers as well. They are the lifeline of your business and exclusive, unique content can make a difference in a future oversaturated market. Around one trillion photos were produced in 2018 and the number of visual content we will produce yearly is mind-blowing. Which image or footage will get picked?
Over time, we refused to take outside funding, since we can cover any technological need in-house and organic growth is always best. Nothing beats a good product in the long run, a good product will stand any test of time and any crisis. Running a business independently also gives you time to work and even adapt and counteract to big tech dominant behavior.
Despite the small size of the stock photography industry, all industries rely on our content. Visuals are essential for businesses and consumers alike so this is an industry that will thrive as world’s markets will come back following this pandemic. The “create a good product” recipe worked well, this year we increased revenue significantly (we closed December 2020 with a growth rate of 30%).
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
While we enjoy being independent, an independent company sometimes lacks a lot of the experience brought by seasoned partners. But in the end, if you want to make your own mistakes, you will make them and draw your morale from the story.
For any successful 20-year-old business, the number of mistakes can be quite high but the comforting part, if you wish, is that you don’t usually know which ones matter most. If your business is successful, most failures remain your milestones on the road to success. Not hiring talented people soon enough or hiring the wrong people and having to start all over, avoiding making leaps of faith, and being overcautious are some of the things that may change the course of your business for better or worse. In our case, we have worked on and released various features and secondary platforms. Additional projects may be successful or not. Once you’re a certain age in the business, you know to expect a small percent of the things you develop to be successful. This is why we are not hesitant to erase, reiterate, or withdraw a product if it doesn’t meet the market's demands.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
All technology we use is entirely in-house developed and this helps us run smoothly. Our content evolves daily based on the market’s needs and the algorithms are continuously improved.
Despite having fewer data capabilities than a horizontal search engine such as Google, Dreamstime delivers the most accurate results in its industry. We aim to provide different experiences based on your needs and use our clients’ experience on Dreamstime to improve their future results with the best matching concepts and images for them.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Information is overly abundant nowadays so make sure you choose the channels that suit you and are likely to give you the information you most need. Make sure you stay in touch with the industry and follow main blogs/platforms close to your preference. Follow your local community of entrepreneurs as well as your competitors. Dig deeper and you will get access to tons of relevant stuff. I don’t limit them to industry-relevant outlets and this pandemic helped me train more than before. I found books about long-distance runners such as Scott Jurek’s that will help entrepreneurs. And since winter is here and we have to stay in the house, there are interactive apps for treadmills that can provide insightful trainers or even podcasts.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Never postpone a project. A great feature is one that is live, collecting data, and working for your business. Spending too much time on building the perfect feature often works to your disadvantage because, no matter how good a feature is, it will need to be perfected or upgraded to keep pace with current demands one minute after launch.
Always use your own product and be open to constructive critique, be aware of all feedback, even when it is negative. Keep as few barriers between you and your customers and be equally focused as a single player or a team member.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Where can we go to learn more?
Check Dreamstime’s stock photo blog, a vast resource about everything stock photography and about our community’s members experiences.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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