Ubaid Zargar

Focussed on content that AI can’t create: ImagesBazaar’s CEO Sandeep Maheshwari

The founder of the stock images portal sheds light on how the company is navigating the impact of generative artificial intelligence.

The ascent of generative AI presents a formidable challenge to stock photography websites that have long relied on acquiring licensing rights from professional photographers. These platforms traditionally invested substantial resources in curating and procuring high-quality images to cater to diverse customer needs.

Now, algorithms can autonomously generate images that mimic the style and content of traditional stock photography, often at a fraction of the cost. This shift threatens the traditional revenue model of stock photography portals, and has left most of these companies finding ways to stay relevant.

However, ImagesBazaar, a stock photography website, has found the rise of AI works in its favour. As per Sandeep Maheshwari, the famous motivational speaker who founded the company in 2006 and operates as its CEO, the past couple of years have been remarkably successful for ImagesBazaar, particularly due to the rise of AI.

"Interestingly, the rise of AI has helped expand the image market exponentially. Brands that weren't investing in images for their creative and marketing works, are also now actively participating. Consequently, we’re able to capture a chunk of that expansion as well,” he says.

Focussed on content that AI can’t create: ImagesBazaar’s CEO Sandeep Maheshwari

The company's business model, as is true for other stock photography websites, is based on the subscription models catering to agencies, brands and other organisations that require the content Imagesbazaar produces, but do not have the time to create it on their own. With more brands familiarising themselves with the use of photos in the wake of AI, ImagesBazaar has seen more subscriptions coming in, with an increasing number of brands wanting to subscribe.

However, despite the current success, there is a shadow of uncertainty regarding the sustainability of this model in the long term. As AI continues to advance at a rapid pace, the technology threatens to outstrip the capabilities of traditional stock photography platforms. 

Maheshwari believes that as long as the company keeps providing services that aren’t available in the market, it will keep finding business. He isn’t opposed to the rise of AI, as in his own words, ‘you can’t win that battle.’

Focussed on content that AI can’t create: ImagesBazaar’s CEO Sandeep Maheshwari

But he underscores the limitations of AI-generated imagery within the realm of legality and ethics. While AI can produce compelling visuals, commercial usage demands adherence to legal frameworks, such as securing model release forms. He points out the legal complexities and risks inherent in using AI-generated content without proper authorisation, cautioning against potential violations of intellectual property rights and the repercussions faced by infringing parties.

He says, “There are some things that AI can do and some things that AI can't do. Or things AI can do but you cannot use them legally. For instance, if you go on any of the AI platforms and start creating images, you can use them for your own purposes. You cannot use it commercially. For that, you’ll require the model release form. You need to check whether that image resembles someone or not. That's the grey area where AI is currently at, and there are a lot of cases where you’ll find that AI images have violated the rights of so many people.”

ImagesBazaar is also strategically pivoting towards content creation that capitalises on the inherent limitations of current AI capabilities. While AI excels at generating static imagery, the platform leverages its human photographers' expertise to produce dynamic content that AI struggles to replicate convincingly. Images featuring people in groups, intimate family portraits, and vibrant scenes of animate entities remain areas where AI often falters, producing results that fall short of human expectations. 

Maheshwari says, “We have focused all of our attention on creating the kinds of content AI isn't capable of creating or generating. AI is good at creating a face of a single person. But if you want AI to generate the face of a joint family or a big team of people working in an office setup, you would see that there will be a lot of flaws. And it's not going to be usable if a client wants a good-quality image. So we deliberately focused our attention on creating this kind of content in the last two years and it paid off well.”

Focussed on content that AI can’t create: ImagesBazaar’s CEO Sandeep Maheshwari

This has also affected the marketing strategy of the company, which has typically been very active in print advertising. For the past couple of years, ImagesBazaar has abstained from advertising itself and has instead invested its resources in creating high-end content. 

“We used to be very heavy on print advertising. We’ve had our ads placed on many newspapers including The Times of India. But for the last two years, we’ve taken a different approach. We’ve pivoted towards focusing on the kind of content we make instead of spending lots of money on advertising. And it has worked in our favour. The past couple of years have been remarkably successful for us.”

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