Flexible Stock Photography in the Cloud with Cutcaster

John:

Cutcaster have just launched a great-looking redesign to their site, the interface is lovely and clean, navigation is quick and easy, and the larger images across the site will surely make it more appealing to image buyers. If you’re not already on Cutcaster, you should head over and check it out

John Griffin is the founder of Cutcaster, a dynamic photo and vector marketplace that connects photo buyers with photographers looking to sell their artwork. I oversee and help perform the day-to-day operations of Cutcaster, which ranges from sales, marketing, accounting, legal, customer support, blogging and technology issues. Since I started Cutcaster, I have learned more about image search, SEO, online marketing, software/technology and photo licensing in general than I thought my brain could hold but I keep packing it in.

In my former life, I was an executive recruiter for a major financial institution and a licensed US Institutional Equity Sales Trader for a large bank on Wall St. When I realized I didn’t want to trade stocks my whole life and things started to get boring at my ‘day job’, I made the trade of my life and started a stock photography business. I recently moved to San Francisco from New York City and have our main offices in the Presidio.

Bob:You are the first agency to use technology to determine your image pricing policy (through your auto price-suggestions) and I think also the first microstock agency to allow contributors to override default pricing. Does this technology allow you to gain insights into how the market is developing, and how does this information help your business?

John:

For sure. We see a range of different pricing strategies from people setting their prices at traditional royalty free price points to people pricing their images at microstock prices to people giving away their images for free.

We give the contributor the freedom to change the pricing of their images to capture more money per image or more money based on higher sales volume. Since we allow buyers the option to bid on files and name their price we see what the market is actually willing to pay for content if the buyer chooses not to pay the market price listed at the site. While the price sellers choose to start with is important to measure it is less important then where buyers are willing to pull out their credit card and purchase it. In our marketplace we give control to the sellers and buyers in terms of pricing.

Bob:Was building in ‘intelligent’ system to do this difficult, does it raise any challenges when competing with other agencies, does it highlight price as a factor in the buying decision, or do you find it provides for more opportunities?

John:It’s still a work in progress and we are constantly refining what we learn about pricing and buyers behavior to modify our approach and prices. It’s tough but not impossible. Our system has pros and cons. Its great for sellers who want control over their pricing and buyers who want to get great content at good prices but there are also some challenges that include the amount of data we have to analyze and factor into our pricing decisions and we won’t offer a subscription service because of the variable pricing on our site and the belief that not all photos should have the same value or price.

Bob:I’ve had a few sales from my own small portfolio on Cutcaster, though I’ve had mixed responses from other contributors, Alexa and Google both rank your site quite highly so it’s clear you have a significant userbase. How do you promote the site online, and are you finding online marketing to be a good return on investment for the business?

John:

Improving our buyer’s experience and growing sales for Cutcaster contributors go hand in hand and has been our TOP priority. It’s the only way to survive in a competitive marketplace. It’s not always easy to change buyers behavior but we are constantly learning, adjusting and improving.

We spend a lot of time on both inbound and outbound marketing and sales efforts that includes a presence on different social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

We are participating in forums like MicrostockGroup, building links with authoritative websites in our space, growing our referral program, purchasing banner ads, buying Google Adwords, creating sites like Stock Photo License that help image buyers legally license content, putting out press releases describing big Cutcaster highlights, optimizing our site for the different search engines and social networks, email marketing and posting interesting and inspiring content to our blog just to name a few.

Bob:I believe you’re hosted ‘in the cloud’ with Amazon services, they market as highly scalable, flexible, secure and ultimately good for business. A lot of companies, especially startups are going down this route. Do you find as a stock agency that having flexible systems like this gives you any benefits, or do you see no benefit over a ‘fixed’ host?

John:I believe Cutcaster was one of the first, if not the first, agency to use cloud computing and I have found it to be a better alternative to what we used in the past. At Amazon, we use S3, EC2 and RDS. I think any startup on a budget would benefit from being hosted in the cloud and not tied down by long term contracts. As your company gets bigger though things may change.

Bob:You’ve just released a big new redesign of the site, are you innovating again, if so, what can you tell us?

John:That is true. We are now complete with our new design and re-designed how our site functions. This is really the first time we’ve rebuilt a good chunk of our site. We have examined what worked, what hasn’t worked and how we want to build our company to innovate and compete with the big boys as well as work with other companies via APIs and business development deals in the future. I can reveal that we are looking at offering different media types, different ways to monetize your photos outside of the traditional licensing model, different ways to search and will be introducing a broad set of APIs so developers and contributors can do more with our site.

Bob:What do you think will be the new big technologies coming into stock photography over the next few years, is there anything on the horizon you see as a game-changer, or has the stock-revolution ended since migrating online to a crowd-sourced model?

John:A few big things I am looking out for include more services catered to image tracking and royalty recovery, better image management software for buyers, improvements to visual search, facial recognition technology, camera phones taking better pictures, the rise of Creative Commons and free images and a few other things I will be blogging about on the Cutcaster blog in the near future.

Profile: Cutcaster – Stock Photography Agency

Cutcaster is a photo and vector marketplace that connects photo buyers with photographers looking to sell their artwork. They are one of the very few agencies using ‘cloud’ based technology for flexibility and this reflected in their pricing policy, which is cleverly partly-automated to find a good natural price-point.

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