Europeans like to make jokes about Asians and their cameras. When tourist groups from China, Japan, or Korea flood European cities, locals can identify the country of origin by the camera clicks per second. It’s true though, pictures and Asia go well together.
Thailand is an Instagram hub, Filipinos are obsessed with selfies, and Japan is host to the top 3 camera manufacturers in the world, Sony, Nikon, and Canon – not to mention Pentax, Panasonic, Fujifilm…guess what, Japan too. So why is it, there is no major photography platform with an Asian origin – stock photography aside?
Well there is and it’s called LightRocket. A photography platform for serious enthusiast, professional photographers and visual artists, LightRocket was founded by small international team of photographers and developers working from a discreet but spacious office tucked away in the back streets between Ekkamai and Phrakanong. Despite its modest operational base LightRocket has global ambitions as it prepares to grab a share of this fast growing market sector. It is facing competitors like Photoshelter or 500px, established players that generally offer a less comprehensive and sometimes more expensive service.
Photography has had an awesome renaissance in the last decade. Not only have camera phones, Instagram, and the ability to upload and share everything from everywhere spawned new trends like selfies and food porn, technology has advanced to a point where almost everyone can afford a professional, or at the very least, semi-professional camera. A Sony Nex-3 fits in your pocket and can take RAW pictures at a quality level close to a clunky DSLR, for less than 500 USD. Mirrorless cameras are promising to get smaller every week and even entry level DSLR cameras have so many professional features that picture just look stunning.
This is the space LightRocket is aiming for – people who love to take photos, have invested a good amount of money, and feel like they want to showcase their work, or are professionals and want to sell their pictures. Like Photoshelter, LightRocket allows user to store, manage, share, and sell their photos. Users can sign up and get 50GB (standard membership) to 100GB (premium membership) storage, their own website and – a huge achievement – access to sell on Getty Images.
Premium members can apply to become Getty contributors and if accepted gain access to the world’s most powerful media sales platform. LightRocket’s partnership with Getty is unique in that it allows accepted members to distribute via Getty and other platform and takes no cut of the Getty revenues which are paid directly to the photographer. A single sale will likely cover the costs for a premium LightRocket account for a number of years.
Of course, Getty Images is not the only way to sell pictures. Building on its roots in the media industry LightRocket has a database of 6,000 professional picture buyers who can register for free and browse the more than 500.000 pictures already in LightRocket’s archive.
Clients, who include such names as CNN, Time, Random House and Forbes, can purchase directly from LightRocket members. Little wonder that photographers like former Former AP Chief Photographer David Longstreath have chosen LightRocket as the place to store and present their work.
“Photoshelter and 500px have similar value propositions but we are much more comprehensive and our media management software is more comprehensive and easier to use.”, said Yvan Cohen, Co-Founder of LightRocket. “We have worked for several decades in the industry; in fact we started as a Photo Agency. We know what professionals need and we are able to translate this into something that is also very useful for enthusiasts or semi-professionals, who want to dip their feet into the professional market. Proof of just how good our technology is can be found in the fact that our LightRocket Media Manager product is (a B2B product) has been adopted by Forbes Magazine, UNAIDS and other major international organizations.”
“Our goal is to make photographers’ and visual artists’ lives easier and more profitable by simplifying the process of backing up, managing, promoting and selling one’s work,” explained LightRocket CEO and Co-Founder Peter Charlesworth.
LightRocket went online in June 2013 and has since then enjoyed positive feedback from a growing membership. “There are a number of online services out there where photographers are paying much more for a range of services much narrower than ours, and we’re just getting started. We’re currently working on a complete upgrade of the LightRocket website builder which will transform the user experience and will further boost the already considerable value LightRocket offers. Among those additions will be world class printing services and plenty of new HTML5 Website templates.” said Yvan.
“The services out there are currently focusing on the US or Europe, there is no one in Asia. It’s a shame because this region has so many photo enthusiasts and plenty of professional photographers live in Bangkok and the region. It’s quite a melting pot for creatives and definitely deserves more support. We have already translated the service into Thai and we are going to provide other languages too.” said Peter. “We have so far focused on product development and it meets all the requirements of professional photographers. We have a conversion rate above 19%, which is quite good. It tells us that the product is great, now we need to let the world know we are here. We are currently looking to hire a seasoned marketing professional.” adds Yvan.
“We think we have something very unique here, not only because of the product features. We have been so long in this business that we can approximate in which direction it can develop. At the same time we have a huge network we can tap into. We already have more than half a million pictures online. We have achieved all this with a very small team and of course we are in Thailand. Maybe investors are not realizing this yet, but it’s is great for a global play because we enjoy much lower costs as well. Our burn rate is much lower than our competitors and we can bring in profits with a relatively low number of subscriptions. It’s the perfect place to launch a startup” Peter said.