Photography: L.C. Nøttaasen
Flickr isn’t the only photo-sharing site that’s been cosying up to stock companies this year. Back in June, Angelo Sotira, the co-founder and CEO of art community deviantART, wrote on his blog that “most of the players” in commercial stock had been in touch with him. deviantART, he noted, had a population of “hundreds of thousands of professional artists” who needed “dependable access to assets that have uniform permissions and contracts.” It also had “thousands of artists who might want to participate in selling stock to a larger user base than the artists on deviantART.” As a result, he had been looking for a way to add a stock offering to the site in a way that matched its unique culture.
That couldn’t have been easy. deviantART has about 14.5 million registered users who have submitted over 140,000,000 works of art. Those works fit into 2,600 different categories, including painting, literature, artisan crafts, and digital arts, as well as photography. While Flickr allows members to upload an entire folder of images to their streams, contributions to deviantART have to be made individually, forcing artists to think about the work that they share.
“Each user submission to deviantART has a level of intention,” explains Nicole Jordan, a spokesperson for the site. “Users do not dump 120 snapshots from the trip to Hawaii.”
Perhaps most importantly, deviantART operates as a community in which artists are accustomed to sharing works freely on which others can build. Many submissions come with creative commons licenses (although often restricted to works published on deviantART) and some 12,000 members identify themselves as community stock contributors — providers of free raw material to other deviantART artists. It’s not unusual to find a photomanipulation made up of the contributions of as many as ten different members, says Nicole.
The Free Images Stay
One big challenge then was assuring members that any introduction of a paid stock channel would still allow artists to help themselves to a rich inventory of creative commons-licensed works for their own productions.
“Some were nervous at first that we would upset the ‘free’ stock culture now available on deviantART,” says Nicole, “but they since understand that a commercial offering is not intended to get in the way of artists supporting each other.”
Certainly, the announcement in mid-October that deviantART had teamed up with Fotolia should have set most minds at rest. At the moment, the agreement only provides for a branded version of the microstock site, providing an easy way for artists to buy from Fotolia while supporting their favorite artist community — and giving the microstock site access to a large market of image users. The launch of the site however doesn’t allow artists to do anything that they couldn’t have done in the past directly from the stock company’s own site, although they may be able to enjoy some special offers. The choice of Fotolia was deliberate. deviantART spoke to all of the microstock providers, settling on Fotolia in part because of the company’s international outlook but mostly because it was the only company that saw unique opportunities in working with a community that was more focused on art than commercialism.
“Fotolia understood, and others did not, that having an arts community as a resource enables more people to be interested in stock, more people to use stock to complete their works and more people to try stock who might not have before,” explained Nicole.
The new portal is only the beginning though. A plan to allow members to license their works through Fotolia is now in process and is due for rollout next year. In the meantime, deviantART has created a discussion forum to provide a space for members to express their concerns about the agreement. Most notable among those concerns have been ways to separate licenses for free use by other artists exclusively on deviantART from licenses sold to commercial buyers. An encouraging number of artists have also expressed an enthusiasm for signing up to Fotolia as contributors.
The Differences Between Stock and Art
But once the members of deviantART have finished grappling with the idea of selling their works to commercial buyers without harming their free contributions, they’ll have to come to terms with the differences between the demands of a commercial stock house and the needs of a free-sharing artistic community. When Flickr joined up with Getty, it forced members to license all of their images or none at all, sending a flood of potential new pictures to the stock company. But deviantART has a much smaller library of works, not all of which are photographs and many of which are photomanipulations built on non-commercial creative commons licenses. The inventories increase singly, while stock contributors have to build their portfolios by uploading large numbers of images if they’re to make a reasonable number of sales.
And the kinds of creative images usually shown on deviantART are a long way from the traditional smiling executives and leaping families of microstock.
“What a commercial stock house does and what a liberated free-sharing artist community does are completely different,” wrote Angelo Sotira on his blog. “That’s understood. At the same time, what a commercial stock offering provides – - like money to artists, access to standard use agreements that can be transferred to clients, focused search for items and tracking the people using the content - – is a package that goes past artist exchanges.”
The real question for deviantART members hoping to earn from their artistic images then isn’t whether there will still be free works available for them to use once their fellow members realize that they can sell their pictures, but whether there’s a commercial demand for the kind of creative works that give them the greatest satisfaction to shoot — and whether they can produce enough of them to make any money.
If there is that demand, and if a microstock company can send back enough money to contributors, then the artists of deviantART may have found a way to support their passion. And Getty will have some real competition.