Okay, I really didn’t expect this, even though it was basically predictable after Getty Images bought out the world’s largest stock database of free photos. Although Unsplash started out with the mission of making beautiful visual content available to everyone for free – the archive counts well over three million photos – some photos will be hidden behind a paywall called Unsplash+ in the future, requiring a monthly or annual membership. So this was “the big deal” that the Unsplash team had announced to me behind closed doors the other day.

This huge step naturally causes some, partly emotional reactions in the community. And to anticipate one thing right away: People are not necessarily enthusiastic about the idea of earning money on Unsplash. After all, that is the core idea of Unsplash+. Accepted creators will have the opportunity to create high-quality images according to certain specifications, which will then be reserved for the exclusive part of Unsplash. Photographers, however, will earn directly whether it is used or not. According to official information, an image will be compensated with 10 to 50 dollars. Unsplash/Getty also wants to earn money and is guaranteed not to plan a minus business.

Image by Unsplash

In the otherwise sadly now silent Slack server, the Unsplash community can get in direct contact with the operators and in my experience the team responds at least in most cases, although suggestions are not too often taken on board directly.

Unsplash+ destroys the simple structure of the website

First up is Jonny Caspari aka @jonnysplsh with extensive feedback. Jonny has accumulated more than 150 million views and 840 thousand downloads with his 100 mostly nature-based photos, so he has some experience with the platform.

“First of all, thank you to the whole Unsplash-Team for implementing this awesome opportunity to sell pictures to Unsplash. I especially like the payout method of one-time payout per picture for creators. This gives us the guarantee of reward for our work.

“On the other hand I have a problem with the way Unsplash frames that the “old” unsplash is going to stay the same. This is simply not true. And thats because, now – that we scroll through the library of images that Unsplash has to offer, every 5th to 7th image is advertisement directly by Unsplash. An advertisement towards Unsplash+. And this really bothers me.”

The times where creators, that valued the freedom of being able to showcase their work, and other creators that didn’t have to go through the stress of filtering the free images out of the pool of now exclusive content, these times are over.

Jonny Caspari, Unsplash creator

“Now everything is mixed together and I have to carefully look for a little Unsplash Plus badge to ensure that the images that look interesting are free to download and use. This doesn’t only destroys the whole ease of using Unsplash, but also devalues the good free content that is now visible “between the lines”. This sucks to be honest. In my opinion this is just a UX/UI thing. This could be solved by separating the exclusive content from the free content by a toggle switch, or a tab switch etc.”

But the ease, of just going on Unsplash and just downloading an image I like for a school presentation, an instagram post or project pitch, is gone.

Jonny Caspari, Unsplash creator

“Also what is with the people that upload content themselves and now have to navigate through this paid content, when we are the ones that build this platform? At least for us you could implement such a feature to value our work.

“Even though I think you won’t be implementing this feature, because then you would lose a lot of traffic and money, please consider so for the side of creators. So that the creators, don’t have to go through the stress of filtering manually which content is for free and which is paid.”

“I know that you all put so much work into this platform, so as many creators here did with every single picture on your website. We did it to share for free and for people to benefit from it. Now we are the ones that are also paying for that. Please care about us, and consider something like the mentioned above.”

Unsurprisingly, Unsplash is only vague about the feedback, but still. “Really appreciate you laying out your thoughtful points. We shared this message with the teams who are actively working on developing the product. You’ll hear more from us about how the product will be developing overtime, including what filtering will look like eventually”, says Community Manager Tanya Santos.

Is the price per photo fair? Let’s break it down

However, some voices were understandably raised questioning whether the payment of “$10 to $50 per photo” promised by Unsplash as part of Unsplash+ was appropriate at all. After all, it costs the photographer not only the time to press the shutter, but perhaps travel, set up the set with props and lighting, select the photos, post-processing, uploading, and so on – that must be in proportion to the payment.

Tanya Santos from the team also finds an answer to this. Unsplash+ has not been thought through to the end at this point, but is also intended to develop from feedback from photographers. “We’re leaving it up to the contributor to decide if the budget on a specific brief works for them. We want +contributors to be a part of Unsplash’s success, and as Unsplash+ grows, we have plans to incorporate future opportunities such as higher budget briefs, etc.”

After some discussion in the Unsplash community, veteran Annie Spratt from the Unsplash team also spoke extensively on the topic to clarify a few things and share her experiences with classic micro stock photo websites.

“If 100 people submit images to a brief and all those people submit images that are of good quality and have releases where needed and meet the IP requirements (which is explained in onboarding) then all those images would be accepted. We aren’t selecting only a set number of images (if that makes sense!)”

“Payment wise, personally I have 3k of photos on EyeEm (which I find I get the best returns on) and have made over 3 years just over 1,000 USD. Shutterstock it’s something like 200 USD in all time. Generally on all stock sites I sell through, most images make 5 -35 cents a time. For me, I don’t usually shoot according to trends, I’m a hobbyist and I throw what I take photos of out there and see what sells. But uploading to these platform takes time – so much time. None of them have an easy flow, and most make you add a minimum number of keywords, descriptions etc. and that for me is the issue with them – I don’t make much money for something that takes a lot of my time to upload.”

“With Unsplash+, even if I went into a brief and knew I was going to make the lower end of $10 a photo, if uploaded a set of 100 images that’s 1,000 USD – in one go, upfront and then I have that payment and the images are out there. Full disclosure, I have shot images for Unsplash+ already and they are on my profile now and in one month I made significantly more money than my 3 year lifetime EyeEm account has returned me (all whilst working a very full time 7 days a week pre-Unsplash launch job!)”

Her advice reads as follows:

  • “Read the guidance we provide about avoiding logos / IP issues and the releases and ask questions if you have them – we are here to help you make the most of this. If you’ve not shot for stock before this is learning curve – from tabs on trainers to markings on wine bottle corks attention to detail is key.
  • Whilst you can upload one off images, maybe from your archive for example, if you want to make an actual income from this (and it is possible) then look at the briefs, plan a shoot and upload a set of images. For example, if you are baking Christmas cookies don’t just upload the lovely photo of the styled cookies, upload the ingredients, the process, and different angles.”

Unsplash creator deletes his 23,000+ photos after Unsplash+ announcement

While some creators are still looking for contact with the Unsplash team and trying to make the offer better in their sense, the announcement on Twitter has caused much more negative reactions. Among them is Jeremy aka unarchive, who unceremoniously deleted his 23,000-photo library on Unsplash. He draws a parallel with other commercially driven developments on other platforms like YouTube and Instagram.

I don’t remember it, but this user sure does:

Some vent their anger a little more subtly …

… and others find very clear words for Unsplash.

What’s left?

Last but not least, I’d like to add my own two cents on the Unsplash+ announcement. I’ve now uploaded more than 1,000 photos since 2018, which have been viewed more than 100 million times and downloaded or used 50,000 times. Aside from having a few of my photos formatted as smartphone wallpapers, offered for download on Zedge, and at least reaching the $200 payout threshold once, I’ve never made any money from my photography. The fact that my photos have been seen and used has motivated me tremendously, especially at the beginning of my photography journey. And like me, I suspect many users feel the same way.

Unsplash has always been criticized for the fact that photographers make their work available for free and thus “destroy the market” (although Unsplash is not the only platform besides Pexels, Pixabay and Co. that works according to the concept, but it is the largest). However, the negative feedback does not come from exactly these people, but from those who believe in the public domain mission of Unsplash.

Very few people on Unsplash probably take photos professionally, which is exactly who the operators want to attract now and what kind of quality they expect (even if already now numerous photographers show a more than professional level). But for them, the prices will probably be much too low. At the same time, the effort is too high for hobby photographers to follow a certain content brief instead of just taking pictures for fun. I am very curious to see how Unsplash+ will still develop though I don’t believe in fundamental changes in the near future. Anyway, I have signed up and am waiting for my application to be accepted. What do you think?

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