Continuing on with the Stock-Wizards interview series, we’re happy to welcome Esmeralda Baños, Product Manager at Freepik, an image bank with its own production company that offers more than 10 million graphic resources, including vectors and stock photos for designers. Thanks Elijah for making the introduction and asking Esmeralda great questions.
Disclaimer: As someone who has been consistently critical of the free-download model, this interview is an opportunity to try to better-understand the benefits, if any, of such models from someone on the inside the industry. Therefore, my intention is neither to promote or “dis-promote” Freepik.
It’s great when answers can be heard from the source, so thanks for taking part in this exclusive interview, Esmeralda, and welcome to Brutally honest Blog! Tell us about when and how the idea behind Freepik came to life, how the company was formed, how big is the team and what ethos was behind Freepik’s fast emergence into an industry force to be reckoned with?
Thanks, Elijah for this opportunity. Freepik was born 12 years ago in Malaga, Spain and arose from the idea of 3 friends, since one of them was a graphic designer and was constantly looking for quality graphic resources, thus they decided to create a platform to facilitate that search, so it can be said that Freepik arose from a real need by designers. And, seeing that there were more people with that need, the company grew rapidly.
Freepik Company currently has 400+ employees, 450 exclusive remote designers and more than 18,000 registered collaborators. In addition, Freepik Company not only includes Freepik, but is also the parent company of Flaticon which was born in 2013 and is the world’s largest database of free and customizable small-format resources, Slidesgo which since 2019 offers over 5,000 free Google Slides and Powerpoint templates to create customizable creative presentations to suit any users’ needs and Storyset, a platform that allows users to animate, customize and download illustrations for free and in different formats. Also, 2016 was a key year for the company, since it ceases to be just a content aggregator to produce its own graphic resources. With this improvement you can see how Freepik Company has been and is always in constant evolution, looking for new improvements and markets that bring added value to both the company and users.
Freepik has grown considerably over the past few years, a lot of buzz was generated but I’m sure there were some bumps along the road. Please tell us about the challenges and experiences associated with growth in a fiercely competitive microstock industry.
We have come across a few challenges in these 12 years, of course! The team, for example, has grown exponentially in the past 3 years, going from +100 employees in 2019 to 400+ today, which has been very challenging for the Human Resources Team.
On the other hand, providing the features and content that users from all around the world need has and still is challenging for us because we are constantly working to fulfill their needs with innovation and simple to use tools.
Also, making sure that our contributor community is satisfied with their performance with us, adapting all payment methods or providing them with all the necessary tools and features updates is always on our minds and we all work hard to help our contributors earnings grow with us!
It is not a secret that a lot of established microstock contributors are fairly skeptical about the unlimited downloads business model. What would you say to them to alleviate their concerns and bring them onboard with Freepik approach to sell unlimited download plans and packages?
First of all, we can understand those concerns. An unlimited download plan could be seen at first sight as something that could affect the stocker’s revenue. On the contrary, what we have seen during all these years is that far from negatively affecting our contributors, the unlimited plans and packages have ultimately been good for them. Our subscribers are free to download as much as they want and those downloads means revenue for the authors. But there’s more, with unlimited downloads users develop a deep engagement with the brand and continue using our site and more importantly: they recommend it to their friends and colleagues. We obtain a stable volume of downloads and contributors obtain a stable income.
I was reluctant to try Freepik at first but was really impressed with the earnings. Content started selling almost immediately. How do you achieve that and how your model of reaching out to clients is different from other agencies?
We work really hard on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and content positioning to make the user get to us. The most important thing for us is to make the user get to the content she/he is looking for. If you get that, you’re probably going to get a download and, more important, a happy user. Keywording in that sense, is essential. When an image is tagged accurately it will be found and it will be downloaded.
We also publish a huge variety of content and we try to display diverse and varied search results that can show different aspects of a concept always with high quality.
On the other hand, my offline conversation with an established Freepik contributor revealed that contributor earnings fluctuate and show the tendency of declining year-over- year. Can you tell us how Freepik pricing model works and how contributors should set their earning expectations?
The pricing model is really simple: the contributor obtains 50% of net revenue generated by each download. That percentage can vary if the net revenue varies and we review it when necessary and we always try to make the best decision for the contributors. We also try to offer the contributors the opportunity to earn more with us. We have developed our referral program and we also launch Special Campaigns at Christmas and in other festivities where they can boost their earnings.
About earning expectations, it’s hard to say. Maybe you won’t be able to validate your first invoice in your first month as a contributor, but surely you will have downloads and you will get there really soon. There is no ‘golden rule’ but there are some clues: For example, regularity. It’s important to upload content in a regular way, it really pays off. Also, in order to be a successful contributor you should create content based on trends and on what type of images will be more attractive for Freepik user’s to download. That can make a difference.
Freepik doesn’t currently offer video uploads and editorial content on its platform. Any changes are expected with regards to this in the future?
As mentioned above, from Freepik Company we are always evolving to cover the needs of users and our main mission is to democratize design and make anyone can use our content for their creative projects. That’s why we are working to expand our content to video and sound and, sooner rather than later, it will be available, but we can’t say anything more.
Unlike most agencies that require to sign W-8BEN form, Freepik requires to submit a Certificate of Residence obtained from local tax authorities. This is a major concern for USA contributors and some expressed their unwillingness to get involved due to that. The IRS charges individuals $85 yearly for this certificate and $185 for a certificate for a company.
- Do you have plans of changing the requirement for a Certificate of Residence in the future?
- Can you explain the rationale behind it to alleviate concerns of the contributors who
perceive it as an obstacle to their involvement?
To the first question, we don’t have plans in that sense to change the requirements for a Certificate of Residence in the near future.
To the second question we understand that obtaining all that documentation, specially in some countries, is really annoying and expensive. We do understand that and we do empathize with the struggles of our contributors. The reason why we are doing this is because it’s what the Law stipulates in our country. Although paperwork is annoying, the double taxation agreements between Spain and other countries are a guarantee for the contributor about paying a fair tax rate.
Let’s move onto other features that present new contributors with some change in paradigm. Freepik has a different approach to keywording. There is a huge positive upswing in that approach since it limits keyword spamming and as a contributor, I appreciate it immensely. But there are some rules that take some time to get used to, for example:
- Not only it is impossible to re-keyword the items, you can’t send a request to support to do make adjustments.
- FTP access is not given to contributors unless they reach Level 3, which is at least 500 approved items. It translates to a lot of manual uploads just to reach the customary level of interaction with the agency. Can you comment on that to better understand this approach?
Regarding the first question, once content has been submitted for review it is indexed and modifying it would alter our search results and could even be detrimental to the article itself which would have to re-rank and gain relevance in the search results for the new term that has been added to it. We are continually working on improving our algorithms to help content rank better.
As far as the second point is concerned, the 3-level system was created to make users improve themselves in order to achieve better features such as FTP uploading, which is much more convenient. We knew that 500 items it’s a high number and some months ago we reduced the volume of required content to go from Level 2 to Level 3 from 500 approved items to 100 approved items. We have included aids to the keywording process, such as draft metadata and warnings when you include content that is not in trend to make it easier for authors. We are also working on improvements to make keywording easier for contributors, which we hope to have ready later this year. One fact you might find interesting is that 67% of our contributors are already at level 3.
Another question about keywording that some might find unorthodox is a discrepancy between submitted keywords and actual keywords that appear for approved items. The answer given by support was that Freepik system intentionally removes some keywords based on internal criteria. It could be great to learn about the rationale of this approach.
Freepik is always looking to provide the best service to its users. Images rank as they gain relevance in search results and in that process some terms are not necessary or do not help the image to rank. The classic less is more.
Would you kindly offer general tips for those contributors who are looking to increase their earnings from their photos and vectors? Which types of content stand out to buyers in 2022?
We want our contributors to make as much money as they can with their content. We strongly suggest that you visit our Trendy Keywords page, that you can find on the Contributor’s panel to seek for fresh suggestions. We update it once per month so you have time to think, create and upload the content.
Unfortunately, due to the turbulent times we live in, all content related to Ukraine is in high demand, but beyond this sad topic, there are certain trends to highlight, especially in photography. Users want to download real, fresh and authentic content: images that are natural, that show real places and real situations. This is what users looking for content for their social media, marketing campaigns and creative projects want.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) was all the rage for the last couple of years but more and more businesses show signs of backing off a bit from the trend. What AI usage (if any) Freepik sees for its platform? If it is already in work, what place does it have in your digital ecosystem?
Freepik Company is already relying on Artificial Intelligence to make users’ search, among the more than 30 million resources on the different platforms, as accurate as possible. However, like video, this is another area where we are working and we cannot give much more information as we are at a very early stage.
Do you view Freepik as a threat to the traditional microstock agencies or do you see it as a happy middle ground for clients that prefer a different business model and freedom of unlimited access to resources?
Freepik’s mission is to bring design to everyone and facilitate creativity.
Freepik is a known destination for people looking for free resources. What would you say to people who plan on using free assets that have identifiable people or logos in them? Are these clients covered license-wise or do they need to use their own due diligence approach?
Our free content is so for personal and commercial purposes and users must attribute the author. Users who download free content from Freepik are informed of the conditions under which they can and must use the items they download. All content that is free is registered and licensed in such a way that end users can use it with full guarantees for both themselves and the designers who created it under the conditions that are fully explained and available in our websites. We are very strict about copyright issues.
Some industry leaders advise contributors to submit images to both free and paid tiers. What are your thoughts on that? If you would advise it – how in your opinion contributing to free resources would work to benefit contributors?
Each of the two levels of licensing has its advantages and choosing one or the other depends entirely on your goals. If you are at a point in your career where you want to make yourself known, get your content to as many people as possible and receive feedback to learn from, but you are not so concerned about profit, probably having some or all of your content for free will help you with that goal. You will get a lot of visibility and your prestige doesn’t have to be affected. You can be a great designer valued by your peers and admired by users and have your content free.
On the other hand, if you are looking to distinguish yourself and you are at a point in your career where you are not looking for so much visibility but a higher profitability for each of your images, you will be more comfortable having your content under payment.
There is no best or worst option, it depends on you, where you are more comfortable and what you are looking for and you don’t have to always be on one or the other side, you can try each, combine them…up to you!
Can you tell us about your roadmap? How do you see Freepik in 1-5 years from now?
Freepik Company’s roadmap is to continue promoting creativity by making it more accessible to everyone, offering quality graphic tools and resources that users can use for free or very affordably. Therefore, we will continue to expand our universe with all the resources that users need and reach the corners that we have not yet reached (although we have already covered 99% of the countries in the world), so that everyone can live the Freepik experience. In addition, we will continue working on improving The Freepik Feeling, that is what it feels like and how people describe what it is like to work at Freepik Company, making our community work in the best possible conditions.
What are your thoughts on the general state of microstock industry developments in the near future? Do you see some tectonic shifts in the current landscape or rather a gradual change?
I think we are in a wonderful time with a lot of people doing great things in terms of product, user experience and innovation. It’s really exciting to see but I can’t foresee what will happen in a few year’s time.
Thank you very much, Esmeralda, for taking your time to speak with us.
I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Lisbon, Portugal on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage (especially with a recently-acquired drone). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.
Most recently I’ve gone all in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images.
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