Taking (Photo) Stock: BrightQube Seeking Venture Funding to Enlarge Burgeoning Web Picture Business

Lee Corkran has spent most of his life working in photography, graphic design, and online media. He’s participated in changes that have transformed his industry as he moved from jobs at the former Sigma photo agency, a news photo provider, to Kodak, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard’s San Diego-based Imaging and Printing Group.

Based on the insights he collected along the way, Corkran told me he concluded a few years ago “that no real innovation” had been applied to the way stock photographs are provided online. So he started BrightQube, a Web site with a proprietary method of displaying stock photos and other images as if they were arranged on a photographer’s light table. Corkran launched BrightQube early last, before the teeth of the recession really took hold, in a fiercely competitive market of Web-based stock photo providers. Yet the number of BrightQube users has grown, and the business is generating enough revenue for Corkran to begin looking for venture capital.

Lee Corkran

Lee Corkran

“I just really have an intense desire to build an online business around photography and imaging,” Corkran says.

Stock photos and images have long been the meat-and-potatoes staple of advertising agencies, graphic artists, and the publishing industry. Agencies typically license images on a photographer’s behalf, and the image catalogs they once published on glossy paper to display their inventory are now increasingly available online at sites such as GettyImages.com, iStockphoto.com, and fotosearch.com.

Corkran contends, however, “going to a digital stock photography site is like going through a Google search, with 300 pages of results.” Users have to click through pages of images, which can make it difficult to select and compare photos.

“This paginated approach becomes kind of an obstacle,” Corkran says. “The existing stock photography sites have pretty much taken a print catalog and put it online. It’s not necessarily what the buyer is looking for. It’s more about what the seller wants to promote,” because favored images tend to be placed on the Web site’s first few pages.

BrightQube offers a different approach by providing image search results in what Corkran calls a “dynamic mosaic”—a single page of thumbnail-sized views that can be easily reviewed, sorted, and enlarged to view pricing, metadata, and other information. The site features more than 3 million royalty-free images that can be purchased and licensed for immediate use, including professional photos from Getty Images, Corbis, and other agencies, as well as amateur “microstock” images. The search function retrieves up to 8,000 images for the mosaic display, which can be scrolled and scanned the way Google Maps users can move North-South and East-West.

“This is what’s groundbreaking about it,” Corkran says. “It turns a very frustrating search experience on its head. You can revise your search by price, type of collection, and other criteria, and our map changes every time you change a search term. This is the real technology innovation that we’ve brought to the industry.”

BrightQube interface

BrightQube interface

Corkran founded BrightQube with Sean Davidson, the startup’s chief information officer, in 2007. They self-funded much of the site development, and raised about $500,000 from Southern California’s Tech Coast Angels and other individual investors to launch the business.

BrightQube has been generating strong sales, and Corkran said the business is now close to generating positive cash flow. He notes that “the nice thing about a Web-based business is that they’re highly cash efficient.”

The company currently has just three full-time employees, and has reached the point of seeking a first-round of venture capital investment to fund the expansion of its business, said John Santoro, BrightQube’s vice president of marketing.

“We’re trying to build an community of graphic designers,” who represent the biggest segment of BrightQube users, Santoro told me. The company has created an email “tips and photos” newsletter to help customers and has been adding similar instructional content to the Web site in a bid to make it an online hangout for designers.

Whether venture funding can be had is another matter. “It’s not my ideal goal to be launching a company in the midst of this recession,” Corkran says. “But the people who understand the problems we’re addressing our intrigued. And we feel like we’re just getting started.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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One response to “Taking (Photo) Stock: BrightQube Seeking Venture Funding to Enlarge Burgeoning Web Picture Business”

  1. Brad says:

    The web opens up all kinds of opportunites to photographers, and anyone else involved in media.

    Stock photography is not the only area seeing innovation.

    Snapizzi was at Photoshop World in Boston and targets event and portrait photographers with it’s tagging technology:

    “…take your pictures.. Once you are done, you upload all of that information to the web, and you’re done. The client then goes through the entire process, from selection to ordering, and you don’t have to do another thing..”