Hudson River Crash Inspires Breaking News Image Marketplace Spread

New startup Spread is aiming to make it easier for amateur photographers to monetize their hobby by providing them a simple, straightforward marketplace through which they can sell their snapshots and services directly to media organizations looking for on-the-ground photos of newsworthy events without the costs associated with having reporter resources on location.

Spread co-founder and CEO Amin Torres originally came up with the basic concept behind the startup three years ago, when U.S. Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York City. Torres was near enough to snap some photos of the event, one of which made it into a New York Times slideshow. Torres has run into a number of such situations over the years; as an NYC resident he’s been able to capture photos of various newsworthy events over the years, but finding the right distribution channel to get convert those photos into paydays has been difficult.

Ever since the Hudson crash, Torres says the idea has been percolating, gaining strength and substance “year after year as mobile phones have gotten better cameras, stronger internet connectivity leading to faster distribution, and as better cameras become more and more accesible to regular citizens.” That led him to seek out technical partner Korbin Hoffman and theyset about creating Spread.

Currently in invite-only beta, Spread offers “breaking news images,” Torres notes, not stock photography. The target audience, at least initially, is “online publications, newspapers, magazines, [and] blogs.” Aside from allowing any of its users to upload any photos for licensing purposes, Spread also includes a photo request feature, which Torres says “can be of news images or creative images, and is [Spread’s] response to stock photography.” Through photo requests, like an example Torres provided which calls for two photos of the NYC skyline, Spread’s photo shoppers can avoid “a library of generic, overly sold and used stored images” and instead get fresh, custom pictures tailored to their needs.

Spread’s revenue model is based on taking a cut of every photo sale made through the site, but Torres points out that his company is more generous than other similar established offerings, for both photographers and media buyers. Spread splits the first sale of all uploaded images 50/50 with photographers, and charges photo buyers a flat rate of either $75 for digital publication resolution, or $100 for high-res print quality. Torres notes that Spread also automatically includes royalty pay-outs for all photographers, delivering 10 percent of each additional sale after the first; most other professional photo sales services pay only a one-time flat rate for images. Publications set a price up front for specific photo requests.

In comparison, the cost for a publication to use a photo from the Associated Press varies based on photo size and the publication’s circulation/readership, but AP gave an estimate of $100 for digital use (based on a publication with one million monthly visitors), and $250 for print use (based on a publication with a circulation of one million, quarter-page or less in size). Those costs only apply for a monthly license as well, whereas a publication that purchases a Spread photo has lifetime rights to use the photo.

For photos sold via the photo request feature, photographers get a better deal than if they sell existing images: Spread keeps only 12 percent of the sale price, with the rest going to the picture-taker. “The reason why we give a larger portion split to photographers on the photo request is because photographers have to read the request and then plan to go out and take images to full fill the request,” Torres explains. “As opposed to breaking news images that the photographers most likely will take because they happen to be on location or nearby.”

Torres is currently in funding talks with NYC-based angels, but said he couldn’t reveal anything at this time. So far, the project has been bootstrapped by the founders.

Spread is definitely on to something. Its model makes it easy for even small publications to get timely, context-specific images without taking on the cost of hiring a full-time photographer or even securing the temporary services of a freelancer. But there’s one big challenge that could upset the cart: companies regularly put out calls to their readers or viewers to submit media for their free use, as with CNN’s iReport. Or publication just take things from image sharing services like Twitpic (sometimes with permission, sometimes without), as happened with Stephanie Gordon’s now-famous snapshot of space shuttle Endeavour’s last mission. Torres thinks that Spread offers more than companies can get chasing down free sources. Time will tell if the market agrees.