The Dead Pixels Society podcast

Building a better photo-sharing service, with Tom Oswald, CEO of ClickASnap

September 09, 2021 Gary Pageau/Tom Oswald Season 2 Episode 51
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Building a better photo-sharing service, with Tom Oswald, CEO of ClickASnap
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Show Notes Transcript

Gary  Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with Tom Oswald, CEO of U.K.-based photography site ClickASnap about the potential for monetizing photos with advertising, about building marketing tools within the platform, and how to compete with established players like Instagram. 

ClickASnap is a still-image hosting site that pays users for every view of their pictures. The site was launched in 2016 and today has more than  2 million images viewed per month and growing at a rate of 150,000 image views per week.

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Hosted and produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning

Erin Manning  0:02  
Welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. here's your host, Gary Pageau. The dead pixel society podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Photo Finale, and Advertek printing.

Gary Pageau  0:18  
Hello again, and welcome to the dead pixel society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau. And today we're joined by the CEO and founder of ClickASnap, Tom Oswald, who is all the way over the pond in the UK. Hi, Tom, how are you today?

Tom Oswald  0:32  
 Hi, Gary. Oh, good. Thank you very much.

Gary Pageau  0:34  
So Tom, tell me about your journey to founding ClickASnap in 2016.

Tom Oswald  0:39  
Where do we this actually goes back quite away. But we'll go back to 2011. Okay, is actually where we the journey kind of started. So I had a couple of friends who are very, very good artists, very good singers. And they had no chance without a backing of a label. And the chances of them getting a backing label were very low, because there's a huge audience. So I founded a record label called a red dragon records. We ran that founded a couple of radio stations, we had our own CD manufacturing facilities, merged facilities, the lot, so it became quite a big label. And in 2014, YouTube announced that they were going to launch something called YouTube Red. Now YouTube Red was going to take the entire independent music scene on its head. Primarily, I'll go into the massive details of primarily it has to do with the way music was released. And if you were to have your music on YouTube, you have to ensure the music was released to YouTube first. And YouTube had first refusal on basically everything released. So it was going to decimate the music industry. Certainly the independent one anyway. And I thought there was ever a good time to take on one of the Giants. That was it. So we put together a team and we created a video platform in six weeks, okay, that that platform was called vid escape. And we managed to get that to the point where that was paying a cent per view for videos that are on it. And we ran that for about two years and grew it to about half a million users, I guess somewhere around there, that was completely free to use platform that was monetized using various ad streams, YouTube dropped YouTube Red, because of the controversy. And of course, we effectively lost our USP. I mean, our only USP at that point was we weren't Google, we weren't YouTube, but convince people that they don't need to be on a platform of 2 billion users to get their content seen. Right? with that. So we had the choice. I'm an avid photographer, I enjoy doing like Astro photography, high speed photography, that sort of stuff. And I thought, what if we developed a platform that can stream video as efficiently as we can, then why not pivot it to stream photos, monetize those photos, and allow users to get an income stream from just having their photos viewed in the same way, YouTube works the same way Spotify works. And we really would have a unique platform at that point. And the USP would be we just exist, which is very nice. So we pivoted into click server 2016 officially launched it in, I think it was May or June with a interview with Mike Brown, who's one of the top YouTube photographers and grew it from there. So that's how we ended up with clicks that based on

Gary Pageau  3:34  
so how, what's the size of the ClickASnap audience right now.

Tom Oswald  3:38  
We've got 2.1 million signed up users, we have 10,000 signups per day, we have a million page views a day is fast. It's very, very big. It's not as big as Instagram sell. But for a photo sharing platform. It's probably one of the bigger ones,

Gary Pageau  3:55  
I suspect. So what's the business model there? You have, you have a free tier, but you have a paid tier as well correct.

Tom Oswald  4:01  
We have quite a few different business models. I always have this nightmare when we've never actually used God investment. We've done this all ourselves. But when we have spoken to investors actually explaining the business model is a nightmare. Because there are a range of them. Obviously, you have the free tier which is monetized through advertising. Then you have the various pay tiers, which obviously monetize through the payments. Then you also have advertising on those paid tiers for people who come and look at the photos which supplies the payments per view. We then have a business model where you can sell photos. So we of course have that we then have on site promotion systems. And we have a couple of other ones that are way too complex go into detail in podcast, but there's about 10 different business models within that platform.

Gary Pageau  4:47  
Okay, so how do you keep that all straight managed? How big is your team? There's six of us. Wow. So do you must be outsourcing a lot of that then? No, there's six of us total. Wow. That's quite the lean mission. There are these folks you've worked with for a long time.

Tom Oswald  5:04  
And I know we hired most of them this year. Wow. So up until February or March, there was two of us.

Gary Pageau  5:13  
So ClickASnap is not in the data aggregation business in terms of trying to monetize the users data specifically, is that correct?

Tom Oswald  5:23  
We have no interest in the use of data at all.

Gary Pageau  5:26  
So how is that been received by your customers is that something that draws people to ClickASnap,

Tom Oswald  5:31  
I suspect is one of the factors, I think the biggest factor that draws people to click snap at the moment, is the payments per view, is the ability to monetize, because the south as a photographer to sell your images is a nightmare. Whether it be on a stock site, or as a site like red bubble, you are competing with 10s of millions of people trying to sell their photos for generally quite exorbitant prices, usually, because of the margins that those companies charge, right. So red bubbles, 30, or 40%, most stock sites are upwards of 50%. And those sites are all free to use. So but our site gives the ability for any photographer of any level, to see a direct income from their photography, just by having people look at it.

Gary Pageau  6:15  
But then they also can license the work correct. And they can and how, and how is that function as a part of the business? Is that a big piece of the business or are people attracted to the platform because they want to display their work and possibly, like I said, generate some ad revenue from it.

Tom Oswald  6:33  
We've done quite a few polls. And generally speaking, if we look at across, let's say, a section of 100,000 of our users, the bulk of them, they were if you if you look at the poll, the results are pretty much equal across the same. So an equal amount of looking for payments for view, an equal amount is enjoying the fact that we don't have algorithms. So all of your followers see your content, another equal amount, because we don't have data aggregation. Another one, of course, because actually, those users are an integral part of the way that the platform is going. So we run polls very, very frequently as to what you want. And then we integrate those into the platform. I'm very active with our users. So we've got a Facebook focus group of about 1200 users, who we put our ideas to, and then we take those and disseminate them into the platform. So we're a very, very active, very agile business, which has helped her grow significantly.

Gary Pageau  7:29  
There's a lot of other hosting platforms out there. They're all Yes, yeah. Do you see the data monetization piece is the part that's the piece that sets you apart?

Tom Oswald  7:39  
No, I see, I see that as one piece that sets us apart. We're a platform that basically contains six or seven different platforms in one. I think the biggest standout for most people is actually the payment per view. And we have users that may make hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month just from having their photos looked at. And that's where we are now. Now let's say we stick another zero on the end of our users next year, then we could quite easily see photo photographers making 1000s or 10s of 1000s of dollars per month from their photographs from their images, the same as YouTube has YouTube millionaires, there's no reason why we can't actually do the same with tech snap. The business model scales exactly the same.

Gary Pageau  8:14  
What types of images are the most popular that get the most views? Usually attractive women? Try sort of a lad magazine format me perhaps, right,

Tom Oswald  8:28  
is that the bulk of the bulk of photographers are male. And photos of attractive women are always going to do well. I mean, we don't allow nudity or any of that sort of stuff on the contract. Yeah, I would say that that's that's probably our most popular. I mean, our biggest account is a Russian supermodel, and she's probably got quarter a million plus views. Wow. We do have other come although there's a guy called g justo, who's does he does do nudity, but doesn't that new to some platform, he puts the edited images on the platform, and he probably is our second biggest account. It all depends on how actually how well you present your images. I mean, any good quality image like a high end, it will do extremely well. I mean, our users can join up. And within a couple of hours have a 10,000 views. It's not uncommon. If they have good quality content,

Gary Pageau  9:22  
how are they driving content? Or how are they How are these views being driven? Is it something you're doing? Is it something that they have to do through their social channels? How does that work,

Tom Oswald  9:31  
because our platform has phenomenal interaction levels. So actually, people scour the recent uploads and the things all day long. And just look for good quality photos. And of course, they end up on the front page, and they have the pro accounts and we've got as I said, I mean 1020 3050 to 1000 people a day hitting that front page. So of course that brings people in we spend a huge amount on SEO every month. So I mean, if they put a proper description in there and they tagged it properly, then Google indexes it pretty quickly. And then that brings us, of course, if they want to boost their views, and yes, they serve across their own social media. But we also have our own automated marketing system within the platform. Okay, you can attach your Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest accounts. And our platform will automatically disseminate your content across those things, not just once, but you can schedule it to be every eight hours, two hours, four hours or whatever, it's completely automated within platform, then you can break that down into albums and all that sort of stuff.

Gary Pageau  10:31  
So you have your own built in marketing platform that they that they can manage themselves,

Tom Oswald  10:35  
exactly think Hootsuite built into our platform, and for a lot less money.

Gary Pageau  10:40  
So what would be the range for a pro account? How much are you? What are some of the levels, six pound a month, that's it, that's the only

Tom Oswald  10:47  
three tiers there's two pound a month for our ad free account for pound a month for our seller and six pound a month for our pro account.

Gary Pageau  10:53  
Have you had any success with people either buying digital rights to pictures or generating sales from like prints or canvas or anything like that?

Tom Oswald  11:03  
We don't at the moment do stop licensing system, we just do digital prints and physical prints. Now we don't have a particularly high physical print sale primarily because our printer is in the UK, shipping outside of the UK is very, very expensive. We're in the process of spending 2 million pounds rebuilding the business at the moment. And we're integrating three more print providers, which will then provide international printing at a much lower cost than what we currently do. So we would then expect sales of those sort of things to increase significantly then, but we're moment selling between 500 and 1000 downloads a week across our platform.

Gary Pageau  11:39  
Wow. That's pretty good. Considering you've only been around for what about five years now?

Tom Oswald  11:44  
ClickASnap is four years old.

Gary Pageau  11:45  
So what is the near term outlook, you've had a period, you know, everyone's had a period with COVID where people are have kind of been parked in front of the screens for a while looking for things to look at. What's the near term outlook as we go post COVID

Tom Oswald  11:58  
in what respect what we think the traffic's gonna do well, with Yeah,

Gary Pageau  12:01  
just just how your business is going to grow. Right? You've got to add staff this year, you're probably going to have to grow some more next year probably,

Tom Oswald  12:08  
I think, as the as people have released from COVID. I think our platform will grow even further because people have the opportunity to communicate with each other easily. Photography, meetups photography groups, that sort of thing. Regardless of whether COVID is there or not, people are still going to go out and take photos. And we're positioning ourselves to move into cliques that Instagram space. Because Instagram has basically said they're not going to support photos. Well, they're not not going to support photos, but uploading photos will no longer get any reach. They want reels and video because they're competing with tik tok,

Gary Pageau  12:41  
right? We just saw that on the CEO just announced that that they don't think they're a photo sharing app anymore, which is exactly the kind of strange ,

Tom Oswald  12:48  
Actually, tha's fine by me. It's a big chunk of our competition gone. And we have a feed within our platform that enables people as I said, to see all of the content everyone's uploaded. So yeah, that's our drive is as people's interaction on Instagram goes down. They've got nowhere to go. So they'll come to us. Do you

Gary Pageau  13:06  
think Instagram will come to regret that and try and backtrack? I don't know. We'll see. Yeah, I just thought it was a strange statement.

Tom Oswald  13:14  
Video is it for an advertising speaking from experience, if you've got a business that you run on advertising, video is far more profitable, it is about 10 times more profitable than banner ads. Now Facebook's dying is slow, but it is dying. Instagrams revenues only five or 6 billion per year. Because actually, the way people use Instagram isn't does not work well for fixed ads, like banner ads, etc. But it does, of course work very well for video ads because of rails and people, the way people go through them. I think that's what they're looking at is they need Instagram to start picking up from Facebook's business. Well, it's

Gary Pageau  13:54  
gonna be interesting for other people to step into that space like yourself, because they got big because they did photos great. And it's not like the interest in photos has gone away anywhere. It's not like that's just that's going away. So it's sort of like I said, it's sort of a strange move, because they're kind of walking away from their core business and the competition in the space are moving into is quite extensive.

Tom Oswald  14:19  
Well, it's Tick Tock really isn't. I wouldn't say it's competing with YouTube, necessarily, because it's not long format video that they're interested in doing it is they've lost most of their user base on the 30 or never get had it in the first place. Now. Tick Tock and snapchat have got that right. So I strongly suspect that's what they're going after. And the only way they can do that is by video. We plan to introduce video to our platform, a later date, will it be long form it won't be short form.

Gary Pageau  14:48  
So of course the photo industry and just to kind of going back to the traditional side has always been very camera focused. Have you seen or I should say what percentage or what little Have your users are like mobile phone only? Or you already have people who are the, the they have a camera and they tweak it in Lightroom or Photoshop and then they upload. Are they mobile first 80% of our users on mobile, mobile only are mobile first mobile

Tom Oswald  15:16  
And, wow, that's only going to expand. I mean, photos are cameras on these things nowadays, I mean, are incredible. Yeah, I mean, I have two very, very high end cameras. But I mean, I don't have them on me nine times out of 10. Right. So here's my phone. And unless I'm specifically doing a photo shoot, I don't have it on me. But if I'm out and I see a nice tree, or a sunset or something, my phone will take in for image display purposes on a mobile, which is, again, a big chunk of traffic, my phone will do a perfectly adequate picture. There's no point in me uploading a 50 megabyte resolution image, because most people will not see anywhere near that quality.

Gary Pageau  15:57  
Now, you mentioned earlier, you're you're into Astro photography, what got you into that? I like tech. So that's so have you found much success with using a phone for that? Or is that where you need the value?

Tom Oswald  16:09  
No, I had a 12 inch cassegrain telescope to do that, and a nine foot refractor. And it took me nine months to photograph my first galaxy, because it is a very, very difficult thing to do. Because of course, you're doing six hour exposures across an object that's moving across the sky. So I did that for about two years. And then I couldn't go any deeper into space without getting a bigger telescopes and dropped that and then moved recently, I've just moved into high speed photography. So we ordered a camera last week that will do 1.1 million images per second in full color

Gary Pageau  16:45  
rich cameras that photon know that s 16. I can't say I've heard of that one. Can't get that one. At the local shop in the high street, I imagine.

Tom Oswald  16:55  
No, they're custom built in Japan and then shipped over. I like really technical imagery. I'm not really I'm not interested in landscape of portraits and stuff like that, unless someone asked me to do it. But this camera will give us the ability to, for example, photograph a spinning bullet coming out of a big gun. So we're going to use it for some really cool footage and images that we're going to use with my business basically through Instagram real

Gary Pageau  17:17  
nice. So where can people go to get some more information about your company and your plans?

Tom Oswald  17:24  
Well, they won't find my plans anywhere. To find information out it's just Google click snap there is we're in the press almost every week of some sort. Yeah, there's a lot of blog information. We have a very active forum. We've got a click some discussion group. We have a Yeah, there's a lot of information out there about us. And of course that's growing every single week. I mean, through podcasts like this news, roll forecasts, everything.

Gary Pageau  17:48  
Well thank you, Tom, for your patience and your time and wishing you the best in there in the coming year.

Erin Manning  17:54  
You're welcome. Thank you. Thank you for listening to the dead pixels society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www the dead pixels

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