Continuing on with the Microstock Market Wizard series, pleasure to bring you another interview with Taras Kushnir, Founder of Xpiks. Taras is software engineer, architect and mentor. He’s also a photographer and Microstock contributor, so by creating Xpiks he has combined two of his passions: art and programming.
Let’s get started!
Hi Taras, happy to have you with us. Xpiks has made quite a name for itself and is used extensively by Microstock contributors. Tells us about yourself. How did you come up with the idea and what it took to bring it into fruition?
Hi Alex and Elijah. Xpiks was born out of necessity rather than a new idea. My partner started working with Microstock photography some years ago to get some passive income and her main computer was Mac. After she started uploading to several microstock agencies, she realized that it takes a huge amount of time to repeat the keywording and uploading process.
At that time (and now as well) there was simply no software that she could have used on Mac. I believe she tried StockSubmitter through some Windows emulator, but she said it was so unintuitive and convoluted that she would rather do it manually. So I took it as a challenge to help her and in 2 months created a first version of Xpiks. After fixing initial bugs, I wrote about it on a couple of forums and the most adventurous users tried it out. Since that time the ball has been rolling!
You seem to make a conscious decision to base Xpiks development efforts on Open Source software. What tipped the scale towards this approach?
I guess the untold part of the story is that all of the time except recent 2 years, Xpiks was an open-source software itself (in addition to being fully free). There were few people who were contributing and helping me to develop the software. I wanted to make it fully transparent to other people. Transparency creates trust.
The reason I decided to stop making it open-source is that after Xpiks became popular I got contacted not once by some shady businesses that wanted to white-label it and resell to naїve people. I was afraid that they would simply steal years of my work and ruin software reputation. So after I closed the Xpiks source code there were still many open-source components that Xpiks was based on, for example exiftool by Phil Harvey – that powers majority of the software that works with photo metadata. Some of these components are still part of Xpiks as it would be impossible to create everything fully from scratch.
You have roughly 1k daily active users and close to 20k monthly active users and more than 250.000 downloads up to date. What in your opinion makes Xpiks such a popular choice for contributors?
Users love Xpiks for its simplicity and reliability. This is the feedback I’m constantly getting and it warms my heart because this is an acknowledgment of the hard work I was putting in.
As for what makes it so popular, in my opinion it is because of two reasons. First, it’s because Xpiks is “highly available”: it works on Windows, Linux or macOS and it’s translated into 16 languages (and more on the way).
The second is because Xpiks is secure. With Xpiks you always own the content you create or manage. Metadata is written into your files and it’s not owned by microstocks or any third party services. Your files stay on your machine, you do not need to question if you trust any cloud services to own them. And what is as important as that – you do not trust passwords from all of your microstock accounts to a single third-party cloud service. In case they will be hacked (which happens sooner or later with any service), you will not have an emergency to change passwords and banking details for every microstock service you use. I think this is very important in modern digital world.
It seems that the whole world went on a subscription-based model – starting from enterprise software vendors and ending with your direct competitors. Xpiks operates differently and offers a one-time payment instead with optional renewal. What made you go in a different direction?
All in all, people hate subscriptions. We live in times where people don’t own the software they purchase or even their hardware (depending on the vendor). I want to treat my customers in a way I would want to be treated. When they purchase Xpiks license, they own the features they have purchased at that time indefinitely. The model is very similar to Sketch or DxO software.
Tell us about new and exciting features in the latest version of the application? It seems that the development was quite active and there was a record number of new features compared to any of the previous releases.
I’m trying to keep up with the demand of the features requested by customers in the first place. I have a never-ending stream of what people would like to see in Xpiks. Last release (Xpiks 1.6) got significant updates in the uploading part, where I added support for FTPS (new requirement for Shutterstock), background uploading (allowing users to continue editing metadata for new photos or videos), upload history (to prevent duplicate uploads) and one-click retry for uploads that failed.
Also, long-awaited colour-tagging was finally implemented and now users can create virtual collections by assigning each file a colour tag. This allows to create individual workflows for users that keyword and upload many files. Another feature worth mentioning is an in-app support that is available from the user’s fingertips – now it’s more easy than ever to ask a question or get advice.
You seem to put much effort in developing a community around Xpiks and in providing useful analytical information through your blog. How’s the community building process going?
Oh, building software is so much easier than building a community! The latter is where is my biggest efforts are spent now. Xpiks now has a Facebook page, subreddit, email list and Google Group where customers and community members are exchanging information and asking for advice. Sometimes others are helping me with answering questions and this is absolutely incredible. I deliberately invest time into the community building since great projects are only defined by great communities and I want Xpiks to become a great one.
It seems that there are lots of volunteers taking part in the Xpiks project, the software has been translated into 16 languages (and counting). How did you get to reach this level of volunteer involvement?
It never stops to surprise me how many people have decided to dedicate tons of their time to translate Xpiks into their own language. Currently, Xpiks has about two thousand words to translate. It must have been very useful to people to make them invest that much time to help the project. I hope this involvement will keep the same pace as long as I’m invested on my side to create a product that is actually useful to people.
Is Xpiks a team effort or are you a single person managing and developing it?
While I’m probably contributing the most, I consider Xpiks to be a team effort. For a long time it was an open-source project, there were always couple of people helping me here and there with the development. There were lots of translators that made Xpiks speak other languages. Also I sometimes get some help from freelancers with various things since Xpiks is so much more than just a desktop software: it actually has a server backend, blog with ever updating content, email list, Facebook group and what not.
It is actually very hard to manage all of that accomplished as a single person. Right now I’m actively looking for a marketing specialist that would help me with developing blog and social media. So if you are the one – please get in touch.
It is not a secret that lots of contributors have their earnings reduced due to Shutterstock changes to contributor payments. Famous 10 cents! Do you notice that people uploading less these days? What are your thoughts on the latest industry trends?
I did not notice that people started uploading less. Even the opposite, people are uploading more than ever and more users than ever every day. I’m very sorry about Shutterstock earnings changes. Big and evil corporations are, well, big and evil. The only thing I can do to support contributors is by providing them good tools that will save their time and, thus, money. As well by sharing information (like the deep earnings analysis I did) and creating a helpful community that can maybe find a solution or at least support its members.
While industry is dominated by big players, their politics or pricing make room for others and this is what I see as a trend: birth of new microstock websites, be it solo-founders with huge image base or some new niche companies, specializing in local markets or specific content.
How would you differentiate the services offered by Xpiks from what I assume is your main competitor, Stocksubmitter?
This is a topic for an article, too much to cover in a short interview answer. And also I will be biased to answer this question, as a creator of Xpiks. The gist of what I think would probably be that StockSubmitter was a great software for its time, but I read lots of complaints on forums about its issues and usability. Xpiks does not have these problems. On the other hand, Xpiks lacks the feature of automatic submit in version 1.6, but this feature is in development and this difference will shortly be nonexistent.
One of the unique features that Xpiks offers comparatively to any competitor is writing metadata correctly into EPS vector files. To my knowledge there’s no other software on the market (maybe, except of the Adobe Illustrator itself) that can correctly do that.
Not a day passes without some article in the news mentioning AI. Is this something that Xpiks takes advantage of or plan on integrating at some point?
AI is such a buzzword that I’m kind of hesitating to answer this question. Xpiks already has fully automatically generated keywords based on image recognition (will be released shortly in version 1.7), automatic support answers based on natural language processing (NLP) and automatic selection of similar images based on image recognition and statistical methods. Would you call it “AI” for marketing purposes? Probably yes. Would I call it “AI” in a conversation? Definitely no.
What agencies are currently supported for image and video upload?
Xpiks supports all agencies that provide FTP or FTPS upload support. That makes probably all the agencies out there except, maybe, iStock.
Speaking of Istock, they use custom keywording vocabulary. Do you support uploading images and videos to iStock?
Xpiks did support iStock in past, but nowadays they banned all software that is not “exclusive” to iStock (like Deepmeta). Probably they do not want contributors to upload to other sites. So unfortunately right now it is out of the equation.
Another industry buzzword is ‘cloud-integrated software’. What are your thoughts on this prevalent trend? Do you have plans on making Xpiks work as a service available through the cloud?
It’s a popular trend nowadays indeed. Its main purpose is to make an illusion that people own the software they purchase. Xpiks has a different ideology. While Xpiks does use some cloud functionality (like updates, for example, or image recognition) and will use even more in future, it will be an offline-first software without any online accounts needed to run it. I want it to be the software people can rely on at any times, not only when they have an internet connection.
Any plans on developing a mobile app for Xpiks?
This is the most popular customer request lasting from probably one of the first released Xpiks versions ever. I do have plans for mobile Xpiks when desktop Xpiks will reach a certain level of sustainability. Right now there are few important features that are in the works and after they will be done, I will take a serious look at the mobile app.
Did Covid pandemic impact your work somehow or is it business-as-usual in Xpiks land?
The pandemic has certainly impacted my life, but not the Xpiks development or ecosystem. I think I even started working more on it than ever before. Now that I’m reflecting about it, it seems that it might be a good idea to actually take a vacation at some point.
Tell us about your future plans for Xpiks development.
Currently the biggest thing in Xpiks development is the new plugin system. It will make Xpiks extensible to other ecosystems: think Lightroom integration, integration with “special” websites like EyeEm, fully automatic keywords generation from image recognition, model releases, automatic submit, earnings statistics and so much more. This system will allow Xpiks to make the next step in its evolution and provide more value to the customers. There are already few cool plugins in the development and this is something I’m really excited about.
Thank you, Taras for this opportunity.
I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (mid-2021??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.
I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography