Acquisition of Unsplash by Getty 2021 – Learnings

Post by Megan Flottorp

Mid-spring, it was announced that Getty Images had acquired Unsplash. In a surprising move that saw too would-be rivals join forces, questions were quickly raised about how these two distinct approaches to photo providers could be brought together.

Mikael Cho, the founder of Unsplash, was quick to make the terms of the deal clear. In a statement published on the website, he explained,

“This is not one of those tech acquisitions where the company is bought to be shut down. Unsplash will continue to operate as a standalone brand and division of Getty Images. The entire Unsplash team will be staying and building Unsplash in the direction we have been. The main difference now is we have access to the resources and experience of Getty Images to help accelerate our plans to create the world’s most useful visual asset library.”

In a world of buy ups and conglomerates, these were indeed comforting words to many. Not to mention prompted a sigh of relief from the many businesses, entrepreneurs, and creatives who rely on Unsplash’s free content to enhance their online presence and visual appeal. So what’s the deal behind the union of these unlikely bedfellows?


The acquisition of Unsplash provides a complementary service

Although they seem to be adhering to a different business model on the surface, a closer look reveals how these two platforms can work together. Getty has built their success as a licensing operating, generating upwards of $800 million a year. In contrast, Unsplash has established its reputation as a free but easy-to-use and well-curated photo platform — accessible to anyone looking to add attractive visuals to their content.

While Getty Images has been focused on cultivating its go-to status with professional image buyers, Unsplash is the default for casual users who value its ability to provide both content and inspiration.  In an uncertain online climate populated by consumers with increasingly flexible needs, the joining of these forces covers the gamut for visual content.

Summarized by Getty Images, with the combination of the Getty Images, iStock, and Unsplash brands,  they will be “uniquely positioned to reach and enable creativity and communications across the full spectrum of the world’s growing creative community.”


Leveraging free content

As pointed out on PetaPixel, “Getty has long understood that free content is an indispensable feeder for new paying customers, and there are not the only ones. Shutterstock has many very lucrative referral deals with free photo sites, and Adobe Stock has just recently made a good chunk of its offering entirely free.” This is not a new trick. Customers are drawn in with the promise of a freebie and will end up paying for a more suitable image.


A balancing act

Of course, the perfecting of this business model has by no means been achieved. Still, Getty now has all the tools it needs to continue experimenting with its free/advertising-based revenue approach. Unsplash generates a lot of traffic — aka untapped revenue potential for Getty.

Ultimately, this acquisition demonstrates how, for a company to continue growing, many are looking to join forces with a complimentary service they don’t currently offer. In this case, the acquisition also includes a whole new audience of online photo-seekers. Whether it will change how users use either platform remains to be seen, but there is no arguing the fact that Getty Images has asserted its dominance in the stock photo realm.

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