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Project X: Shoot, Learn, Sell

By Sarah Coleman


© ELAN STAR
A photo from Student Stock’s current collection of 2,000 images. 


Joining a stock agency is a career goal for many photographers, but it can be almost impossible to achieve. The biggest agencies—places like Getty and Corbis—are extremely picky about the talent they take on, and even seasoned professionals get rejected. Smaller agencies and microstock sites might be easier to crack, but this might not get you far in terms of visibility or licensing fees.

“The big stock agencies require thousands of images, so if students try to get in, there’s a good chance they’ll fail because they don’t have that depth of work yet,” says Mike Agliolo, a professor at Butte College in Chico, California. Yet Agliolo, who teaches a course on stock photography, knew his students’ work could be polished and exciting. He wished they could get some experience in the industry.

Then two years ago, Agliolo was chatting with design professor Daniel Donnelly. The two were admiring some student work when the idea hit them: Why not create a stock agency for students?

Excited, Agliolo and Donnelly invited two other colleagues from the Butte faculty to join them. The four—who included retired photography teacher Jeff Fricker and business professor LaRee Hartman—created StudentStock, the first stock agency designed exclusively to serve students.

To develop the site, Agliolo and his partners looked at models like iStock and Shutterstock. But they didn’t just want to create a successful stock site. They felt it was important for the site to be educational, with tutorials and blogs, and they wanted it to incorporate a social media platform so that students could tag and comment on one another’s images. So they looked at the art-sharing site Deviant Art and social media giant Facebook in addition to stock sites to get ideas.

“We knew students wanted to do stock, and we wanted to help them have their own place for it,” says Hartman. “But we also knew they’re social and would welcome the opportunity to help one another through peer review and ratings.”

Agliolo, Hartman and their partners spent two years developing the site, bringing on engineers and programmers and then a team of students to beta-test and give feedback. The result is unique, a community, marketplace and online school in one. “Lots of sites let you look at images and comment on them,” says Agliolo, “but they typically don’t sell the images or offer education.”

“I was excited to try it,” says Nathan McKeever, a Butte senior and one of the beta testers. “All students wonder how we’re going to start a career, and this is a good way to get a foot in the door.”

Shannon Fuller, a part-time student at Butte who also beta-tested the site, found the social media aspect especially useful. “I’ve had people make suggestions that made me pull down one of my pictures in a heartbeat, and I’ve learned to be better,” she says. On the other hand, StudentStock has boosted her confidence. “I’ve been highly rated by talented people and have discovered that I’m not bad at all!”

© Nico Ibanez

StudentStock went live on September 19, 2013. Membership is free, getting you access to all content and space for 50 high-res images; if you want to upload more, a $20 premium membership gets you space for 300 more images annually. Sales commission is 35 percent, or 50 percent for premium members—either way, much higher than the typical stock commission of 15 to 20 percent.

Currently, StudentStock has 240 members and approximately 2,000 images; the founders expect huge growth within a year. Once they have 100,000 images on the site, Hartman says, they’ll start a major marketing campaign, with rights free image prices topping out at $19.99. Before too long, students like Fuller and McKeever should be drawing income from their stock photography.

They’ve built it; now will the buyers come? Absolutely, says Hartman. “Look at it this way—a buyer can go to iStock and help a big corporation, or they could help a student,” she says. “When they see how wonderful the work is, we think they’ll choose us.” Check it out at here.
 

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