U2 Manager Behind Digital Marketplace for Picture Lovers, Photographers

By Natalia Angulo FOXBusiness

Digital marketplace compiles iconic photos, creates jobs

Rock Paper Photo CEO Mark Halpern discusses the ecommerce site's strategy to be the digital hub for collectors to purchase iconic pop culture prints.

Rock Paper Photo, a project of Madonna-and-U2 manager Guy Oseary, wants to be the digital destination for pop culture lovers to purchase iconic prints of legends like Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger and The Beatles.

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According to CEO Mark Halpern, Rock Paper Photo’s mission is to compile the most historic moments ever captured on film in a social commerce setting for fans and collectors.

“What’s really unique about Rock Paper Photo is the direct relationships we have with photographers,” Halpern says. “In ecommerce today, there are so many companies that are selling the same products, and we’re out there in a sense creating new artwork.”

The New York-based company originally launched in 2011, and in January re-launched with a redesign that the company says expands its social component.

Halpern and Oseary, along with partner Live Nation Entertainment, say the idea behind Rock Paper Photo is to make photographers’ scattered and buried photos accessible to the public.

“There are so many talented photographers who don’t get the recognition they deserve,” says Oseary.

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How the Network Works

When users go to the site, they can browse and build their own collections. Rock Paper Photo provides recommendations, highlights new releases and points you to individual photographers. Through user profiles, collectors and photographers can meet and interact.

“It’s like having a personal tour of a photographer’s archive,” Halpern says.

He says they’re constantly going back to photographers and asking them what the story is behind each photo and digging through their archives, which he likens to searching for buried treasure, in order to bring new images into the marketplace daily.

“There is a huge supply that Rock Paper Photo wants to capture and sell to consumers who share our passion for great photography,” Oseary says.

Part of the push for the site redesign was to create an automated portal for photographers to submit their work – and get discovered – more easily. On the site, photographers can upload photos, share links to their work with and outside the community and in turn generate new revenue streams.

The Market for Images

In 2012, U.S. photo merchandise generated more than $1.5 billion, with wall décor accounting for 29.3%, and the market is expected to continue developing to over $1.9 billion by 2015, according to a market report from Futuresource Consulting.

Halpern says Rock Paper Photo saw over 50% revenue growth in 2013. He says the increase is due in part to the ecommerce site’s strategy of “capitalizing” on the supply of often undiscovered photographers – old and emerging.

On the site one can find a photo of a teenage Michael Jackson captured by Jim Britt – whose work is featured in The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. – that shows the singer painting a picture of Charlie Chaplin.

Pricing is based on various factors including the photographer’s caliber, the subject matter (living or deceased), whether the photographer is living or deceased, limited edition status and how the image is printed.

The Michael Jackson image Halpern referred to is a silver gelatin print, signed by Britt and starts at $600 in the smallest size. A silver-gelatin print of The Beatles taken by Astrid Kirchherr in 1960 prior to their big U.S. debut sells for $1,200, or $800 in a smaller size.

Halpern says the company today represents about 400 photographers, both amateur and veteran, and has an archive of more than 100,000 pictures.

“There is so much talent out there, there’s genius out there and we’re working to discover it,” he says.

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