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Interview: Andrew Fingerman, CEO of PhotoShelter


Photo of Andrew Fingerman

Andrew Fingerman

1. What does your company do, what problem does it solve?
Since we were founded in 2005, PhotoShelter has been delivering innovative ways to help photographers turn technology into a competitive advantage. This is incredibly important as the world has changed dramatically for professional photographers over the last several years. Advances in camera technology have put outstanding gear in the hands of amateurs and enthusiasts. The availability and accessibility of high quality content online has caused significant downward pressure on the rates paid for both assignments and licensing photos. So, while technology has driven an immeasurable expansion in the use of great photography, times have been tough for professional photographers. The photographers who have adapted to new technology to evolve their business models, attract new audiences, serve and retain their clients better than their competitors, are the ones who can and will continue to sustain themselves.  
With a searchable, cloud-based image archive, portfolio website templates with our new Beam platform, online marketing, client collaboration, e-commerce for selling photography, image delivery, and image security, PhotoShelter makes photographs more useful and valuable to photographers and their audiences — two aspects that are often missing in a world where billions of images are created nearly every day. More than 80,000 photographers across the globe use PhotoShelter to streamline their workflow and make more money so we’ve come to think of PhotoShelter as a complete solution that helps photographers get business, do business, and keep business.  
In any industry, success is determined by a business’ ability to find new clients, keep existing clients incredibly happy and operate as efficiently as possible — this is where PhotoShelter differentiates itself from other online services for photo hosting and portfolio websites. We’ve packed the system full of business tools designed for professional photographers.
2. What is your secret sauce?
PhotoShelter was founded by a team of experienced engineers and professional photographers. Every single feature on the system was essentially built to help their friends (other professional photographers) prosper amidst the changing digital photography landscape. So, our secret sauce has always been a combination of our technology, and our credibility and trust in the professional photographer community. We’ve worked hard to maintain both over the years.
We mix a healthy balance of listening to our community and letting our developers take smart risks. Most recently, we re-built our entire API and launched our Beam portfolio websites. Beam gives PhotoShelter websites a modern, sexy “front door,” mobile and video friendly image display, and integration with many other services photographers use daily (like Vimeo, Instagram and Tumblr). It also gives our team a newfound flexibility to rapidly add new features and designs atop the PhotoShelter platform. We’re really excited about what’s to come from Beam. And making the API available broadly means that our partners will be able to help us build more value into PhotoShelter as well.      
To grow our credibility and trust in the photographer community, we’ve invested heavily in photographer education and maintain a considerable presence in the industry at large. Every month, we publish free guides that cover critical business topics for photographers – we now have 32 of these available which have received over a million downloads. We host a series of live webinars with successful photographers, like Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Smith and image buyers like National Geographic and regularly attend, speak at, and host major industry events. In fact, last year we launched an entirely new event for the photo community called Luminance, which brought together some of the most exciting thinkers at the intersection of photography and technology. We invest in content marketing like this for two major reasons –  1) photographers’ success translates into our success (as they use our product and tools), and 2) the content gives us something fresh to say in the marketplace — it helps us maintain thought leadership and stay top-of-mind in the professional photo space.
3. How did it help you win?
The evolution of our technology into a robust, deep-featured toolset that can be fashioned around any photo specialty has created an incredibly sticky platform. If you were to pluck a sample of 100 photographers from the 80,000 using PhotoShelter, I wouldn’t be surprised if all 100 were using the system differently to streamline their workflow, serve their clients, and generate extra income. For example, we have a freelance editorial photographer in Egypt who uses PhotoShelter to transmit images to his client at the New York Times. We have a stock photographer who specializes in frozen yogurt imagery and thanks to great SEO has established a regular flow of image licensing via our platform. We have wedding photographers who use the system for providing password protected access to image downloads for their clients. We have team photographers in each of the major pro sports leagues who use the system to back-up and provide searchable image access to different departments across their organizations. And, we have several major universities selling photo prints and products to fans and alumni. Once the photos are uploaded, we help you leverage our tools to make them more useful and valuable.
Our presence in the photographer community has resulted in outstanding word of mouth marketing. Our base of photographers – and the positive things they say about our tools – has always been the greatest source of growth for PhotoShelter.

4. What were the alternatives, what did it replace?
When the company started in 2005, nobody was talking about “the cloud” — we first needed to educate photographers about the benefits of storing their assets online. The value became very clear when photographers realized they could provide clients with searchable access to their archives at any time, then the ability to download a photo, license imagery or purchase a print without any manual involvement. The clincher always seemed to be the fact that they could upload one single image, in its highest resolution, make it available to clients in any size (creating major time savings), then let the clients download it or send it via FTP all from within their PhotoShelter account. Through the years, other photo archive services have come and gone as they have only provided one aspect of these services or not built a tech platform that was reliable and stable.
When we built in our website templates, photographers began to see us as a website solution, as opposed to purely an archive solution. So we further differentiated PhotoShelter by emphasizing SEO tools and social integration.  Today, you can get a website launched in a matter of minutes through any (free) service, but it’s the combination of great websites and powerful tools built specifically for the pro photographer that help us differentiate PhotoShelter.
5. What did you learn to do better?
We learned a hard lesson in 2008 with the launch of a second line of business, “The PhotoShelter Collection” which was designed to be a stock agency to compete with major agencies like Getty Images. Our intention was to up-end the industry norm of a 70/30 revenue split in favor of the agency to 30/70 in favor of the photographer. But crashing pricing paradigms and the stronghold of the industry leaders’ subscription models kept us from making the sizable revenue needed to support the outsized share we were giving to photographers.  We had to lay off much of our staff and re-orient the business.  It was tough.  But we came through it stronger, turning a profit again within 18 months of re-launching.  We have subsequently learned to make tough decisions more quickly and better balance the reality of what the market might want (in this case photographers making more of the profit) with what it can bear (in this case the operational costs incurred in running agency-based business line alongside our archiving business).   

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