I am writing to you all to see if you might be interested in joining a group of selected journalists (people I know) in forming an online photo cooperative business.
The site is called There is another domain I want to purchase later, but right now it’s $2,600 for that domain, so we have to wait until we have more money.
P.S.: Please keep this info under your hat. Although I have told some people, I don’t want anyone to steal my idea before I can get it up and running.
What is it?
The purpose of the site is simple: A photo service for designers that will basically consist of an archive of simple objects photographed on a white (or black) background with simple lighting. There are generally two main parts to the site:
  1. A professional photographer network/request system
  2. A network of designers willing to share photos of objects they have taken themselves for a small price or credits
How did it come about?
I came up with this idea when I was in grad school, but never thought it was possible because of all the logistics, etc. But it had to do with trying to do assignments for my design classes and never getting the ‘right’ images for what I wanted to do. I used iStockphoto, of course, for many things, but there was a price and most of the things I wanted to use were too expensive or not a high-resolution or were not the right angle, etc. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have access to a network of photographers where you could send out an e-mail and say, ‘I need a photo of an old-fashioned red fire hydrant’ and shooters could be on the lookout while they were on assignment?” And it could be a way for grad students to make money while in Grad School. Also, I took many of my own photos for my assignments and then ended up using one or none of those photos for the class assignment and I thought that would be useful as well to share them out for a small cost.
Why is it needed?
I spent the last year as a full-time designer on the News Desk/Art Department at The Columbus Dispatch during their redesign. I also do freelance web design on the side and work mostly in WordPress.
As I worked at the Dispatch, I noticed how the other designers worked and realized that many designers all struggle with the same issues in trying to create small or large illustrations or promos for the front pages. And our iStock searches were all similar, never really finding exactly what we are looking for at the price we wanted. And I had done enough exploration into WordPress to realize that I could actually create a site with WordPress that could work.
Another part of the puzzle was, I know so many good photographers from my career and from grad school. Everyone is struggling. And I thought, this could be something that might help some photographers to survive or afford new equipment or insurance or even help fund a project. It might not be a lot of money, but it could supplement a freelancer’s budget and could offer someone work when they want to stay home a couple of days a week with a sick loved one or a child (or children). And this type of photo has a high potential of resellability or rather has a high resell factor. For example, when news broke on the Twinkie, everyone needed a photo and there were a lot of people grabbing the photos from google image.
So basically, this business would be a network of visual journalists sharing a photo archive and a photography staff. We would charge an affordable membership and offer services that would help former visual journalists have access to resources that they were used to when they worked in newspapers. In turn designers who become members would help support freelance photojournalists who are struggling financially.
I slowly started talking to the other designers and seeing what they thought of the idea: Coming up with a cheaper or more affordable solution to iStockphoto that actually had what designers wanted. They all said it was a great idea and they would definitely use it. Then I started doing research on how I could set it up and a cooperative was born.
There are of course many different decisions to be made and things to consider, but the basic business model will be based on membership. We will charge an affordable monthly fee (with an option to pay annually) for designers to have access to our services. But we will also charge a small fee per photo/download because we don’t want people to join for a month and download a ton of photos and then quit. We want to offer many reasons for them to stay. But the photo fees will be a flat rate to keep it simple. And there will not be a licensing issue because these are simple images of objects on a white or black background.
I found an existing photo shopping cart that offers a reasonable annual fee and has unlimited space and multiple user accounts. And we can do membership through WordPress where the request system will reside. We’re basically going to use the blog system as our Wish List/Request System.
I won’t bore you with all the details right now, but we can do it with relatively low startup costs and everyone can work remotely, so no one has to move. The cooperative is both the group of people who start it up and the way the site will work. But first we need to get it up and running, so we’re going to start with a simple concept.
I want to start with a photographer network of 10, that way, we hopefully can cover the requests made and everybody should have enough work. We can see how it goes and add more people as we go. But the truth is, there are many designers who can shoot and have shot their own photos, but we want to offer a more professional-quality level in tandem with what everybody has on hand. It means we can help support professional photographers and get what we need at the same time.
There are many reasons why a service like this could work:
  1. Many photo staffs don’t have time to shoot studio work anymore because they are downsizing
  2. Many designers just want simple photos of simple objects to take them and create illustrations with them. These are the kind of photos that many photographers don’t have the time or the inclination to do, but to designers, they are very valuable.
  3. Many freelance web designers need access to affordable images of simple objects
  4. Many designers who have left the business still need access to good resources for their freelance design work. This essentially is a way for designers to share a photo staff.
  5. These types of photos do not rely on print. They can be used for anything.
Who are we so far?
Maria Averion, Columbus, Ohio
Julia Ewan, the former studio photographer at The Washington Post, DC
Kevin Clark, a former Sports Photographer at The Washington Post, Seattle
Tina Ezell-Hull, a former designer at The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, N.C.
Megan Smith, Minneapolis
Tim Meko, Visuals and Design Manager, Urban Institute, D.C.
OK, so why am I telling you about this? I am looking for people who might want to participate. Everyone in the startup group will have to contribute to the site as an editor or be an active member of the photographer network. But the startup group will benefit from the profits of the business. Half will go back into the business and the rest will be split among the startup group. So this is an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of an online photo business.
This means you will benefit from the memberships as well as your own personal photo sales.
For every transaction that occurs through the site, we will take a cut.
It’s kind of a cross between AP (for designers), ebay, istockphoto and Facebook. We’re going to build a network of designers and then build services specifically for designers.
Requests will probably be a flat-rate cost for specific types of photos on deadline.
Each of the current members have paid $50 to join us (plus future work) and we will all have to work hard to make the site a success, but only in contributing what our own personal skills are. We need designers to help run it and generate ideas, photographers to take the photos from the request system or work off the wish list (lists submitted that are not deadline based) or editors to help write and edit copy and we’ll probably have interns or students tone and do cutouts. Photographers don’t have to tone photos unless you want to. (You won’t know what photo a designer might choose, so we’re going to allow designers to earn credits by toning photos and resubmitting it to us, which forms the rest of the co-op scenario) I’ve already talked to Gary at OU and he liked the idea, so we might partner with OU students to help man the request system or have them tone and do cutouts.
We’re going to start with a simple concept of a sharing network and later, we might open up a public shopping cart with regular licensing applied to the photos once they are toned, so photographers can earn more money from those sales as well.
A public photo shopping cart that is always online and constantly selling for you without you doing anything…
We’ll start marketing through SND and word of mouth through our own social media connections and then build. Anytime we market the site for our own work, it will help the site as a whole.
How much will it cost?
So far, we’ve paid for domain and hosting through my reseller account (about $80 annually) and the shopping cart account ($250 annually) Any new members who pay their $50 will be paying for the lawyer to form the company or the accountant or marketing fees. As long as we manage to make enough money to pay the annual fees to keep the site up online, we will make money.
It’s still a risk, but I really believe this could be a success. I’ve been looking for a good business idea for a long time. Here is my criteria:
  1. Online shopping cart with no shipping fees
  2. Something in my expertise field
  3. Something relatively easy
  4. Self-serve, so very little customer service
  5. Remote access, so others could have access and I don’t have to do everything.
  6. Low start up costs
  7. Smart, useful, in-demand product or services
  8. Untapped niche market
I’ve done research. There are no other sites or services that specifically do this. I’m doing all the work to set up the site and the business, you can contribute to ideas and setup, but for the rest of you, it’s just some simple photography work.
This is not the kind of business that will feed your soul, but it should feed your pocketbook. I’m asking my grad school group first and then I’ll go to others to fill out the network. Freelancers would work best because of the conflict of interest, but I actually talked to the Editor at the Dispatch to see if he thought it would be a conflict and he said he didn’t think it would be a conflict as long as no one uploaded a photo taken for the paper or owned by the paper. And we can keep our membership private if you want to keep it on the quiet side. I like to think of the site as my retirement plan because I have other projects I still want to work on. But once the site gets up and running, it could essentially run itself, with minor adjustments.
if you want to hear more or want to be a part of it, it’s $50 per person and you must have a paypal account because we’ll be doing all our business through paypal. We have an account where you can send the money. The next thing I need is to set us up with a tax ID, so we can start taking money.
Maria Averion Web Design
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