Meet Stocksy United, a photography and cinematography stock media company who, in their first four years of business, paid out over $13 million dollars USD to their [nearly] 1,000 artists — all of whom happen to be co-owners. With a majority of staff with backgrounds in photography, video and design, their love of all things visual has changed the look and possibilities of the formally dire and cliché world of stock media, infusing a modern edge that has many paying attention. Rising up out of Canada’s fastest growing tech hub, Victoria, BC, they’ve become a force with which to be reckoned, with a simple mission: creative integrity and a [co-op] model to support the most amount of people (in this case, their artists).
Hi Brianna, thank you for taking some time with us. Stocksy is set on redefining stock as we know it. What does that mean to you? What about stock photography and video needs redefining?
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. When we started, I’ll be dramatic and say everything needed redefining. In the years leading up to Stocksy’s inception, we frequently spoke with artists from all walks of life [in the industry] and they all had the same story: their spark was gone, they were feeling uninspired, their royalties and earnings had been continuously clawed back, they were feeling disenfranchised and had lost all their trust in the industry. That’s what we were looking to change with Stocksy. We wanted to support a community of artists, reinvigorate and champion creative integrity and give the community ownership and fair profit sharing through the co-op model — all things that didn’t exist at other agencies.
What about the collection sets Stocksy apart from other stock companies?
We bring a diverse mix of artists to our stock collection that creates a unique, high-end experience (free of cliché garbage that wastes time and energy to look at). A large number of our artists are selling their work as stock for the first time. Those collections are all exclusive to Stocksy which further sets us apart. We’re also always looking to highlight trends that are sometimes hard to uncover by keyword — for instance, last year we focused on supporting the revival of film with a dedicated film tab.
Internally, Stocksy is a co-operative. How does that inform/affect the collection?
The platform co-op model affects all facets of our business because all of our members have a vested interest in the company and ability to drive change— it belongs to them and each step we take, we take together. Our members were carefully selected and onboarded so we had a solid community of people who believed in the same values and quality of content. We knew at the outset, through lots of blood sweat and tears, what our single vision for Stocksy was so we always had something to anchor us as the collection evolved. Having a strong and effective co-op encourages content that pushes boundaries which is what we really wanted. Nobody has ever made change by playing it safe or by an arbitrary set of rules. Having that wide breadth of experienced and valuable members has helped Stocksy to evolve and challenge the status quo because we have endless inspiration from a passionate community of shareholders.
How does running a co-op change business as usual without becoming too idealistic? You still need to consider that bottom line, right?
The bottom line is always a reality and we’re not trying to fight that. We are not a band of disillusioned hippies that expect our good intentions to change the world. You have to be realistic and create a model that ensures sustainable incomes for artists and staff alike while you integrate more altruistic properties into your business structure. A common misconception is that a co-op is synonymous with a non-profit — it’s really not! A co-op is a business that makes money so that its members can continue to do what they do best. Co-ops can be wildly successful, redefining business culture and informing progressive products, services, and practices. We are well aware that we need to make money. And we do. It’s just not the ONLY thing we do. The sharing, collaboration, and exploration of ideas as a collective creates a company with standards of fairness and integrity—that will effectively leave you with a superior product, a positive work environment, and a sustainable future.
How can a modern business incorporate cooperative elements if they have already set up their traditional business structure? Any tips for creating and fostering co-op culture?
I’d say it’s never too late to incorporate transparency, inclusiveness, democracy and community collaboration into your business — or to adjust finances to create a more financially beneficial model. You can add any or all of these things into any existing model by making them your priority or simply how you choose to conduct business. The great part about incorporating the co-op model is that it’s been around for hundreds of years and has been refined to create the checks and balances to ensure that you’re always held accountable to those policies. We’ve spoken with many businesses about how they can pivot as already established businesses and we’ve yet to see an industry where it couldn’t work.
What are the 3 most challenging and 3 most rewarding elements of running a modern co-op?
Scaling is hard for any company but poses interesting challenges as a co-op. As we grow our product, we have to be focused with every move we make to ensure we’re meeting our values of inclusiveness and finding ways to maintain those values with a community of 1,000 members from around the world with different walks of life, varied artistic backgrounds and individual priorities as contributors. It’s truly exciting to watch what’s happening as the platform co-op gains momentum as a business model, but there are so few companies we can look to as examples that we are often challenged with finding new ways to adapt and innovate the model. It’s one of those fun challenges, at times incredibly stressful, but always rewarding.
We heard that Stocksy is planning to make a splash here in the Netherlands. What attracted you to this part of the world?
We have a strong network of members in the Netherlands, some working by day as designers and illustrator-typographers. Trends in design can sometimes feel stagnated, but I’m always inspired by the work I’ve seen coming out of the Netherlands. When we were looking to countries we could focus on, we wanted to find areas that had design communities that we truly wanted to work with and support. Personally, I see the Netherlands setting the standard on trends right now.
What NL based artists should we be on the look-out for?
Our inspiration from NL has been driven by these top 5 favourites:
You have a background in design and photography — what are your favourite kinds of images? What lights your fire? Can you share a few of your favorite photos from the 2016 collection?
I also have a background working and curating art, I think that triangle of influence makes my taste a bit quirky at times. I enjoy what design can do to make visuals pop and what art can do to challenge not just aesthetics but perceptions. Design also doesn’t always need to be something that’s taking itself so seriously. Especially with everything that’s happening in the world, I feel like we’re all running to photography that reflects palettes of bubblegum and rainbows but still has an edge.
What’s next for Stocksy for 2017?
We just introduced video to our collection and are focused on how to grow the collection as trends continue to evolve. It’s been a year since we held our last call to artists and we are really excited to open that up again and meet new artists and future members.
Upholding the creative integrity of our collection, expanding our discovery process and championing tools to keep pushing what’s possible with creating a member-centric, democratically run business — those objectives are all a big part of our future at Stocksy.