Just How Good Is SnapVillage?

Two weeks after the much-publicized launch of the Corbis microstock offering, opinions vary.

There are the predictably negative attitudes of microstock naysayers. Zooomr CEO Thomas Hawk, for example, thinks that SnapVillage is a bad deal for photographers. Hawk says that SnapVillage and other micropayment brands exist to allow large corporations to restrict photographer access to the premium stock-image market.

An upsurge in this type of criticism is not surprising, particularly when offered by a would-be competitor. Zooomr has been actively promoting its soon-to-debut stock licensing service, which promises a 90-percent photographer commission. However, SnapVillage is also receiving less-than-rave reviews from many in the global community of microstock photographers.

The prevailing contributor criticism is the newcomer’s technological shortcomings.

Corbis began publicizing SnapVillage months before its launch. According to the company announcement of late June, the new site is the result of “an extensive review and analysis of existing microstock sites and the rapidly evolving Web 2.0 and user-generated environments.” Despite such research, SnapVillage launched without industry-standard technical features, such as FTP image upload capability or the ability to interpret the metadata embedded in each submission.

Corbis is committed to ironing out such issues. The SnapVillage blog already announced that it is addressing the issue of metadata, though this will take time. Adam Brotman, Corbis vice president and leader of the SnapVillage project, says the company is “actively listening, incorporating customer feedback and introducing enhancements to the Web site on a continuous basis over the coming months.” Brotman adds that SnapVillage will remain in beta for as long as it takes to work out the glitches and round out the feature set.

Still, some of the concerns voiced by contributors cannot be addressed by beta testing. One is a widespread dislike of the brand name. According to Canadian photojournalist and microstock contributor Pam Blackstone, “disdain virtually oozes from this site. It’s evident in the name they chose; the word ‘snap’ is more than a little denigrating in its suggestion of casual snapshots rather than serious photography.” Blackstone is not alone in thinking the Snap name is unappealing to professional ad and design markets.

Perhaps that wasn’t the point. Corbis’s Brotman says that the essence of the SnapVillage brand is community and fun. “Our tagline is ‘Think Fresh,’ because we bring a fresh approach to the way digital photography is bought and sold over the Internet.” Brotman describes the brand as the answer for new customers — including small businesses, freelancers or consumers — who previously found stock images too expensive.

SnapVillage’s contributor commission of 30 percent is also meeting with much disapproval — from contributors and industry analysts alike. The Stock Asylum’s Ron Rovtar says that such low royalties are no longer appropriate: “Highly automated Web sites like SnapVillage and others ought to return higher, not reduced, percentages to photographers.”

Brotman points out that the commission was not established arbitrarily. “Based on market analysis and feedback, the SnapVillage team determined that a 30 percent commission with no exclusivity requirements — which means that contributors can submit pictures to competing microstock sites as well — is a competitive rate based on industry standards.” SnapVillage’s most serious competitor, iStockphoto, pays 20 percent to non-exclusive photographers. Several smaller sites offer commissions in the range of 40 percent to 70 percent.

Vocalizing dissatisfaction is inherent to the community-based microstock model. A more accurate perception of contributor opinion can be gleaned from numbers. Criticism notwithstanding, potential contributors are flocking to SnapVillage in droves — so much so that the site’s initial team is overwhelmed, backlogged and hiring help. This is particularly significant, because unlike previous microstock launches, SnapVillage did not offer financial incentives to potential contributors. Brotman attributes this largely to the “pick your own price” model and the potential to enter the premium stock market through Corbis’s professional brand.

Contributing photographers say these two features are most attractive. Many also applaud SnapVillage for doing away with credits, thus making the purchasing process less cumbersome for the buyer. Most importantly, contributors have high hopes for SnapVillage’s earning potential, expecting its powerhouse owner to generate site traffic that rivals current segment leaders.

The final analysis will have to wait until SnapVillage opens for business to customers outside the U.S. For now, the site remains in content collection mode.

Other viewpoints: Photopreneur.

[tags]Thomas Hawk, SnapVillage, microstock, stock photography[/tags]

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