Unsplash Now Working with Brands in a Puzzling Advertising Model

Unsplash takes on a business model that claims to provide paid opportunities for contributors while supporting its operations.

For those who ever wondered how Unsplash has been making money (since they have been giving away your photos for free), the company now shares theie answer: a new advertising model that, they say, was in the works since the platform started. Called Unsplash for Brands, it involves exactly what it says on the label, wherein brands play a significant part on the platform in a bid to make “Advertising that is beautiful and valuable.” This move, they say, will not only keep the company afloat, but also offer paid opportunities for contributors who want to take part in this project.

So, They Can Make Money Now?

In a nutshell, Unsplash has started working with a handful of brands to roll out branded images that are promoted in the website’s feeds and relevant searches. Content creators then can download branded content, which will, in turn, serve as product placement on their websites, articles, and other projects. Apart from paying to distribute their images on Unsplash, the brands also supposedly hire contributors to create images for these campaigns. “Brands get impact, contributors get paid opportunities, and creators get more images to create openly with. It’s a win-win-win.”

“An amazing thing happens when you make something open: it gets used. A lot,” says the announcement on the “superpower” of Unsplash. But of course, everyone loves getting things for free. Put something out there for everyone to use freely and they will flock to it instead of the paid options. So, this doesn’t really come as a surprise. Still, the company saw this level of reach as the key to getting brands to partner with them as a solution to monetization.

This Is Shady

What’s puzzling here isn’t the fact that Unsplash has found a way to monetize the platform; all companies need cash to keep going. It’s more that they didn’t make the paid opportunities a standard practice from the start, not only to fund their operations but also to rightfully and equally compensate their contributors. All in a bid to have Unsplash become a “disruptive” competitor to other stock photography companies.

“Rather than doing what everyone else has done before because it’s safe, we think it’s possible to create entirely new markets with vastly more opportunity for everyone.”


With this current setup, only the users who get hired by the brands will enjoy the chance to earn from the platform — a minuscule portion of the contributor population, as one can imagine. Unsplash, however, gets 100% paid. They’re also now acting as agents that broker paid work between brands and photographers when the two parties themselves could otherwise work out a deal for projects. Some of the companies working with Unsplash on this advertising model — like Google, Timberland, and Harley-Davidson — in fact, have the capacity to pay photographers and creatives for their services.

Now, imagine how the photographers who have been giving away their work for free for years must feel about this development!

This may not be as puzzling to some as it is to us; it’s your choice to give your work away for free on the platform. But, you decide after reading the announcement in full on the Unsplash Blog.