How Does Unsplash Make Money? Business Model of Unsplash


How Does Unsplash Make Money

Unsplash is a popular stock photo sharing platform where users can upload and download high-quality images for free.

Unsplash primarily makes money via advertisements. For additional revenue, the company has also adopted some clever freemium payment models into its API integration with popular brands and Unsplash Studio.

Founded in 2013 by Mikael Cho as a Tumblr blog, Unsplash was originally created as a side project to promote Crew, a freelancer marketplace Cho ran. Cho was doing a photo shoot for his new freelancer marketplace since he couldn’t find any satisfactory images on existing stock photo sites. After the photoshoot, Cho decided to take 10 of the leftover images and turn it into a Tumblr blog.

People could visit Tumblr and download the images for free. Mikael uploaded 10 new images every 10 days. Eventually, the Tumblr blog was promoted on HackerNews, after which it exploded in popularity.

In Unsplash’s first year, users downloaded 365 images 10 million times.[1] Today, Unsplash is home to over 4.2 million photos. In 2021, Unsplash was acquired by Getty Images for an undisclosed amount.[2]

What Is Unsplash & How Does It Work?

Unsplash is a free-to-use online photo sharing platform where individual creators can upload and download high-quality images from a diverse range of categories. In September of 2022, Unsplash had over 306,000 contributors.[3]

The platform is loved for its large collection of individually curated royalty-free photos that can be used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

The platform allows users to upload and download photos in the resolution of their choice, depending on what they plan to use it for. Some users may download images for a school project or presentation. Others use images from Unsplash for their editorials and blog posts.

Attribution isn’t necessary, but encouraged- and every single photo on the platform is free. There is no hidden subscription or freemium model. Users can expect to find professional-tier photographs from categories such as travel, architecture, business, tech, and others.

Unsplash also allows content creators to shape their own portfolio by making collections and attaching metadata to each photo. Social media features such as likes, sharing, and activity feeds are also integrated into Unsplash. These allow users to see how popular or well-received a certain creator is.

If a user likes a certain photo, they can add it to their collection. Users can organize their photo collections by attaching a category, name, and description. Some photos also feature metadata like the camera and lens model, focal length, aperture, and resolution.

This metadata helps photography aficionados connect on a deeper level with each image, as they understand how it was captured. Opening an image also shows the number of times it was viewed or downloaded. The download figures help users establish the perceived quality or popularity of an image.

Because of its clean-looking user interface and streamlined usage process, Unsplash is one of the most popular photo-sharing platforms in the world.

The platform is integrated into more than 19,000 web apps, including Medium, Squarespace, Wix, Zoom, Buzzfeed, and more. In August of 2022 alone, Unsplash generated over 16.9 billion impressions worldwide.[4]

 

Business Model of Unsplash

Unsplash centers its business model around the concept of accessibility and organic advertising for partnered brands. It attracts users by offering a library of over 4.2 million individually curated stock photos. These are completely free to download and use for both commercial and non-commercial purposes under a license similar to the creative commons license (CC-0).[5]

What makes Unsplash uniquely attractive to business partners is its massive userbase and deep API integration that spans over 19,000 applications. Unsplash users consist of a diverse demographic that includes both amateur photographers and creative professionals. With 75% of site visitors between the ages of 18 to 34, a market segment that is ideal for driving brand profitability and growth.[6]

Unsplash offers brands the choice to integrate ads in an organic manner that doesn’t feel intrusive to the user. Promotional images can be custom ordered through the Unsplash Studio service. Brands can also use native ads that lead customers directly to their own websites or shopping apps after they download a photo from Unsplash.

One example of native ads is when a user gets photos of the Apple iPad at the top of their feed after searching for tablets. Unsplash also allows brands to geo-target desired userbases by prioritizing certain countries and blocking others. What distinguishes Unsplash from other image sharing sites is its high clickthrough rate.

According to Unsplash, 51% of their users have an annual household income of $100,000 or more. And 71% of Unsplash users have a university degree. As a result, brands advertising on Unsplash can expect clickthrough rates in excess of 2%.[7]

That is 10 times higher than Pinterest and 3x higher than Dribbble. Apart from advertisements, brands can also integrate the Unsplash API with their own website or mobile app. Integration is seamless and free of charge.

But certain brands can also choose a paid API model if they have high usage volume and desire access to exclusive content. Unsplash also provides individual contributors with the opportunity to promote themselves on the platform. Users can hire photographers by clicking on the hire button next to their profile image provided the photographer has this option enabled.

Unsplash doesn’t make any money from this hiring process since it’s strictly a C2C (consumer to consumer) relationship. Professionals can also feature their PayPal donation links on profiles. In this respect, Unsplash is completely unique since no other photo sharing platform has integrated creator support features similar to it.

Unsplash’s biggest rival is Shutterstock as they offer similar services. However, Shutterstock follows a freemium model where users can choose to pay for a subscription if they wish to download premium copyrighted artwork and vector images. It is more suited to small businesses that download images in bulk.

In contrast, Unsplash is aimed at prosumers and individual content creators. It doesn’t have any subscription model or freemium plan which makes it a lot more accessible to everyone. This allows Unsplash to attract a much larger and highly diverse userbase compared to Shutterstock.

Unsplash also offers 3D artists a platform to upload their models designed in software like Maya and Blender. These are then converted to JPEG images. Because of the 3D artwork, Unsplash contains a more unique collection of photos compared to Shutterstock.

Pexels is another Unsplash competitor that offers free high-definition stock photos. However, its userbase is smaller than Unsplash’s user base. Similar to Unsplash, Pexels also has an API integration with other apps.

But it isn’t adopted by nearly as many platforms. This results in a more limited selection of photo categories since Pexels has fewer contributors and brand partners. One advantage Pexels has is video sharing, while Unsplash is strictly restricted to images only.

Unsplash has over 870 billion all-time views and 4.7 billion all-time downloads.[8] This makes it the most popular free stock photo platform. It is also estimated to generate annual revenues of around $9.7 million.[9]

However, the company also has considerable expenses. These include staffing costs, R&D costs, hosting costs, and development expenses. Due to the lack of data on Unsplash’s financials, it is unclear how profitable Unsplash’s business model is.

 

How Does Unsplash Make Money?

When you think of Unsplash, you probably think of the most beautiful photos on the internet.

And it’s true—Unsplash does have some of the most gorgeous photos you’ll find online. But behind all those stunning shots is a story that’s just as compelling as the pictures themselves: how Unsplash makes money.

Unsplash makes money in four different ways. These include direct advertisements, native advertisements, Unsplash Studio, and a freemium API.

Getty doesn’t provide any information on Unsplash’s financials. It’s not publicly known how much the company makes from each revenue stream.

Direct Advertisements

Direct advertisements are one of Unsplash’s core revenue streams. Unsplash doesn’t break down how much money they make from advertising. But Getty, Unsplash’s parent company, mentions their goal of reaching 288 million content creators each year within the August 2022 investor relations report.[10]

With direct advertisements, brands get four unique placement opportunities:

  • Photo Downloads: By associating their products or services with a particular photo, brands can shape a unique visual image of themselves within the minds of users.
  • Feeds: This is targeted at content creators and users who download high-quality stock photos for professional work. By tracking a user’s search data, Unsplash can help brands display curated ads. These ads are based around key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Homepage Ads: Ads that are displayed on the homepage, these are usually what a user sees first when they open the app or website. These ads are visible to the entirely of Unsplash’s userbase and help the brand reach out to a wider group.
  • Promotional Videos: Carefully integrated into the feed, promotional videos can help Unsplash users gain a deeper insight into the product or service offered by a brand.

 

Native Advertisements

Compared to direct advertisements, these are much more subtle and organic. Say for example, a user is searching for photos of shoes on the website. Initial results that display at the top of their feed will include shoes from a specific brand like Nike or Adidas.

These search results are arranged on the basis of partnership agreements made between the brand and Unsplash. Brands get to share their uniquely curated marketing content with individuals who then download these photos and share them across organic channels.

Through native advertising, a brand can reach places where traditional ads can’t generate impressions.

 

Unsplash Studio

If a company doesn’t have any suitable photos for advertising itself on Unsplash, it can hire photographers from Unsplash Studio. They will create custom content based on the company’s needs at competitive market prices. A share of this revenue is passed on to the professional photographers that Unsplash is partnered with.

 

Freemium API

The Unsplash API can be freely integrated into a website or app for no charge whatsoever. Through the API, users of sites such as Medium, Trello, Square, Dropbox, and many others gain access to over 4 million high-quality stock photos. But in quarter four of 2021, Unsplash rolled out a freemium API monetization model.

By using this, companies that receive high amounts of traffic can improve their content access through a subscription model. Companies are charged based on the amount of traffic they receive and how often their users access Unsplash’s content library. How much money Unsplash makes through this model is currently unknown.

 

Unsplash Funding, Valuation & Revenue

Unsplash is currently a subsidiary of Getty Images, which doesn’t release any details regarding Unsplash’s profits or revenue streams. For this reason, the company’s valuation is hard to determine. Getty also didn’t release any details regarding the financial terms of their deal with Unsplash.

With new API partners and contributors joining each month, Unsplash has a larger user base than ever before. Hence, the company is likely to have gone up in value since its 2021 acquisition by Getty. Estimates suggest the current annual revenue for Unsplash to be around $9.7 million, but there is no official way to verify this.[11]

Prior to its acquisition by Getty, Unsplash raised $31.3 million in venture capital funding over 4 rounds between 2013 and 2019.[12] Notable investors include Bossanova Investimentos, LDV Capital, Inovia Capital, and Bedrock Capital.

Getty Images was privately owned until July 25 of 2022. Which is the day it went public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger with CC Neuberger Principal Holdings, who valued the stock image company at $4.8 billion.[13]

This is when a private company merges with an existing public company that was set up to facilitate the process of companies going public Currently, Getty Images (GETY) trades on the New York Stock Exchange and had a valuation as of September 2022 of $4.64 billion.

Since Getty was privately owned until July of this year, they haven’t filed any annual reports with the SEC. However, they did release an investors relations presentation in March of 2022 which details their annual revenues from 2017 to 2021. According to the presentation, Getty generated $919 million in total revenue for the fiscal year of 2021.[14]

That also happens to be the first time it turned a net profit since 2017. For 2021, Getty reported a total profit of $117 million. That’s significant improvement over Getty’s 2020 fiscal year in which it reported a net loss of $37 million with a total revenue of $815 million.

YearTotal RevenueNet Income
2018$868 million($57 million)
2019$849 million($53 million)
2020$815 million($37 million)
2021$919 million$117 million

 

Is Unsplash Profitable?

It’s hard to say whether Unsplash is profitable. Getty Images doesn’t release financial data on any of its subsidiaries, and Unsplash is in a highly competitive market. The company is constantly looking for new ways to monetize its platform and reward content contributors.

Unsplash has also been experimenting with blockchain tokens as a means to leverage their massive distribution network and add value for users.

In February of 2018, Unsplash raised over $7 million through a Series A funding round led by OST, who contributed both cash and brand tokens. Currently, Unsplash is focused on expanding their platform and making it more accessible to both individual users as well as brands.

This means that Unsplash might not be making money yet for its parent company, Getty Images. Getty itself went public in the second quarter of 2022, and its August 2022 investor relations report shows that 2021 was its first profitable year since 2017. In 2021, Getty made a net income of $117 million from total revenues of $919 million.[15]

 

Conclusion

We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post on Unsplash’s business model and how it makes money.

Unsplash has created a unique business model that is taking the photography industry by storm. It has proven to be a successful way of monetizing free photos and content, while also giving back to the community at large.

We think it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Unsplash and other companies like them, as they continue to grow and evolve.

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Sources

  1. Mikael Cho Medium
  2. Betakit
  3. Unsplash
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  8. Unsplash
  9. Growjo
  10. Getty
  11. Growjo
  12. Crunchbase
  13. Bloomberg
  14. Getty
  15. Getty