Contact Us

Disruptive Competition Project

655 15th St., NW

Suite 410

Washington, D.C. 20005

Phone: (202) 783-0070
Fax: (202) 783-0534

Contact Us

Please fill out this form and we will get in touch with you shortly.

Disrupting Stock Photography With Unsplash

As we noted on Tuesday, one important component of the DisCo redesign was an emphasis on visually engaging content, some of which comes to us from Unsplash, a site that challenges the stock photography industry model.  Unsplash photos are available under the Unsplash License, which allows reuse of photos on their service without permission or attribution.  Unsplash previously offered photos under Creative Commons’ CC0 license, but created their own license last year — copyright nerds can read about their reasoning and some back and forth dialogue between Unsplash and Creative Commons here.

In DisCo’s early days, we wrote about stock photo services like Foap, and how technology can facilitate licensing and reduce transaction costs (while also raising intermediary liability concerns).  Foap is an app-based marketplace, where user-uploaded photos can be purchased by brands for a fee which is split with the photographer.  In contrast, Unsplash photos are free to use, but they are experimenting with different business models including native advertising and working with brands to hire photographers on the platform.

Unsplash competes with standard stock photo sites by offering a free service with hundreds of thousands of high-quality photos that have been submitted by tens of thousands of Unsplash users, rather than traditional licensing models.  Photographers are incentivized to contribute their photos which are viewed and downloaded millions of times due to the client development and community building that can come out of that enormous audience.

Unsplash’s founder recognizes this disruptive competition and the benefits for the creative community it fosters: “New platforms don’t kill industries. They change the distribution.”  He later adds:

“Every industry evolves. Things will change. We can’t be resistant to change no matter how much today’s world benefits us. We face the same fact that every artist and business must face: what we offer today will eventually be obsolete. We can choose to be upset with this fact or understand it is inevitable and continue to adapt.”



Some, if not all of society’s most useful innovations are the byproduct of competition. In fact, although it may sound counterintuitive, innovation often flourishes when an incumbent is threatened by a new entrant because the threat of losing users to the competition drives product improvement. The Internet and the products and companies it has enabled are no exception; companies need to constantly stay on their toes, as the next startup is ready to knock them down with a better product.