Photography as we know it has been around since the late 1830s and over the years it has continued to adapt and evolve with the rapidly changing world. From the chunkiest contraptions with flashes bright enough to signal E.T home to the slimmest selfie stick guaranteed to make your awkward solo holiday pics look epic, welcome to 21st century photography. Along with this evolution of capturing our lives on camera has come the digital dynamic of sharing, where the world wide web has not only made it easier to show our most cherished memories to friends, family and complete strangers over social media, but also opened up the market of selling photography.
As hard a pill it is for some to swallow, not everyone has to have a degree to be a working photographer; the more high street the industry has become, the more people can afford a compact digital camera or a DSLR, the more mid-pro level imagery there is to sell. That nuance of ability exists in every industry but sites such as Getty images and Shutterstock actively instill an elitist attitude, rather than an open source one to photography by denying any aspirant photographers access to sell images on their sites, creating 320,000 complex ways to license images which are frankly very confusing and even if your images are sold on one of these sites, you’ll be kissing a mammoth 74% of your earnings away as commission.
Benji Lanyado, the CEO of PicFair, recognised great potential in creating a place for all photographers to sell their images online. By allowing anyone to join PicFair the market is being connected with a range of new interesting and alternative images. Better still, Benji is giving the power back to the artist as all PicFair users are able to set the prices for their images and with 0% of the selling price taken.
Benji Lanyado is finishing up a meeting with his tech savvy PicFair posse inside their offices in Shoreditch’s ‘Ministry of Startups’. As I watch the happy faces mixed with the sound of cheerful banter from both employees and Benji, it’s apparent that he is well liked and appreciated by his team.
The thirty year old south London-raised entrepreneur can often be found chilling out at Upton Park where he is a West Ham season ticket holder. As we chat about the love for his football team, travel and Picfair, he displays a certain charisma and it’s easy to see the profound passion he has not just for his company but for life.
Benji’s first adventure began at Manchester University where he studied middle eastern history. He formed a website in 2005 called ‘Young in Europe’, a guide for backpackers on a budget. “I used it to pester all of the broadsheet newspapers into commissioning me as a travel writer and in the end, I got a job with the Guardian where I was traveling and writing with them for about four or five years”. A grin spreads across Benji’s face and with a subtle eye roll he adds “Yeah I know, professional lucky bastard… It was pretty amazing but it was a lot of hard work as well”. Benji’s travel writing continued over the next four/five years and was always evolving. In 2009 Benji trialed a new style of travel writing, connecting with his followers over twitter he would plan his entire adventure through the advice of locals. This made for a organic and original style of writing which got an incredible amount of interest. Benji had an active career and accomplished a lot in his time at the Guardian and for many others, a successful job as a traveling journalist would be enough to keep you a satisfied human being. Benji however, was ready to take on new challenges and make new goals.
After completing courses and learning how to code, he was equipped and ready to build his own company. The seed for PicFair was planted in Benji’s mind on January 15, 2009. “The first time I thought about it, was when a plane landed on the Hudson in New York and a camera phone image ended up on the front page of the New York times. It was a guy called Janis Krums… I saw his picture on twitter and then I saw it on the front page of the New York Times the next day… I wanted to build the mechanism that made that transaction happen”.
Although there are already a bunch of renowned online stock photography sites; Shutterstock, istock and Getty images to name a few, Benji saw a gap in the market. “I started doing a lot of research into the industry… I was amazed at two things… The first was how difficult it was for a non-professional to get into the market. If you were a really good amateur photographer and you wanted to license your images via Getty, you couldnt. They didn’t want your images… I was also extremely shocked at the way the industry worked for the professional photographer. On average, a photographer will lose 74% of their fee from an image… So taking istockphoto for example, you’d sell an image through them for £10 and only receive £1.50 for it!”. Benji was right to be shocked, there is no other online industry that takes a commission rate even close to that of Getty, istock photo or Shutterstock. To give you an idea of how excessive 74% commission is, here are some stats from other online sites. Ebay takes 10%, Groupon takes around 30%, Airbnb charge their hosts only 3% and PicFair adds 20% to ensure the photographer gets the full amount they asked for.
Benji continued to explore the industry and found no clear platform for amateur or professional photographers to get images on the market without being ripped off. “The whole industry is geared against the photographer, the person who is creating the goods, bringing the creativity and ultimately, giving the industry value. They are the ones that are getting fucked” He explained.
Benji began to put his coding skills to good use and develop his unique vision for a online stock photography site that played fair.
PicFair.com was officially released to the shutterbugs of the world in June 2014, starting with Benji as their very first photographer uploading a range of images from the wailing wall to a Dumbledore selfie “When PicFair first started, it was me uploading the photos. Day one was me with about 30 pictures and I phoned 10 of my friends and annoyed them until they put their images on”. There are now more than 1.8 million PicFair images in 132 countries worldwide. Benji announced that they are encouraging their PicFair members to spread the word as they hope to reach every country, “So we have almost all of Europe and most of asia, there about 18 different countries that we are not in, including Vatican city. I’m not sure we’re going to end up filling that one, although maybe we could get the pope on board” he adds with a chuckle.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t already heard of PicFair, Benji explained that it’s merely being spread by word of mouth for the time being. The use of advertising to promote PicFair has simply not been necessary as the positive Tweets and Facebook comments coming from thrilled photographers has been enough to build up PicFair’s fast growing following.
However, it is not just the number of delighted photographers that is growing but also the number of well known brands who are using PicFair. Benji excitedly declares “we’ve had massive brands like Topshop and Jack Daniels using us, Travelodge used us last week, Esquire magazine too! This is all happening without us even trying so far so it’s great!”. Along with these big brands using PicFair, there is also the everyday punter licensing images for personal use. Whether that be on a coffee mug for a relative, or something funky printed on a beach towel, regular people are giving it a go.
Of course there are always a handful of people who are unconvinced. In this case some professional photographers are questioning if PicFair is truly ‘fair’, as it gives potential sales to amateur photographers who haven’t put in the years of training and/or spent the hundreds of pounds on equipment. To this Benji responds confidently “The truth is, the unit cost of a photograph has dramatically decreased in the last ten years… There are more photographers now and it’s classic market economics… There will be professional photographers out there saying ‘god, ten pounds for an image that ends up on Topshop’s website, how on earth is that fair?’. But that’s where the market is and it’s also amazing because the breath of supply now is huge!”
As I view the images on PicFair, it’s clear to see the impact of Benji’s dream, there is some stunning photography from a broad range of photographers. Some taken on expensive EOS cameras and some images uploaded from Instagram taken on iPhones. Each image is unique and beautiful in it’s own way. One of Benji’s favourite images is a remarkable snap of a Saltador leaping over a enormous black bull in spain. The amazing image was taken by a amateur photographer and has had over a whopping 7784 views!
So, could PicFair be the way forward for selling images online? Well, it’s far easier to use, for both seller and buyer and it’s allowing photographers from all walks of life to experience selling their images directly into the market. The unique creativity of an amateur photographer will no longer be ignored, nor will the outstanding work of professional photographers be exploited by the ‘big dogs’ of stock photography sites. Doesn’t it feel fantastic to be morally just?
When I asked what advice Benji could give to anyone wanting to start up their own business, he gave a killer response that I think applies to all of us in some way shape or form, “If you try to bullshit your way through, you’ll fall over. If you very quickly establish what you don’t understand or what you need help with then you’re on to a winner because it suggests you’re humble and you’ll have help getting things done”. Humble is the perfect word to describe Benji Lanyado. His passion for developing this company to better the world for photographers is outstanding and it comes from a place of appreciation for creativity and giving everyone a fair go.
PicFair is free to join and rapidly growing. If you have snapped some breathtaking pics then why not share them with the world? Who knows, your image could be on a London bus next week.
Written by Emma Grimmond