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Interview Series: Sean Prior, CEO of Wavebreak Media

Sean PriorWe are very happy to interview Sean Prior, the Founder and CEO of Wavebreak Media. Wavebreak Media is one of the strongest and most prominent players in the stock media industry. Sean shares how he got there and gives insights into the stock industry and what to expect in the coming years.

Thank you very much for participating in our series of Stock Performer customer interviews! Tell us, where do you live and where are you from?
I live in Cork, Ireland.

When did you discover your interest in photography and media content?
I was a late comer to photography and video and only started in my mid to late twenties. When I do things though, I tend to give them all my energy, so I worked hard on learning about photography and the industry. I still feel like I have an enormous amount to learn.

Why did you decide to make it your job?
I made the jump about 8 years ago. I decided to just give it a go and took the leap. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate people giving up their jobs, rushing out and starting in the business though. I made sure I had enough of a cushion to survive, at least, the first few years with very little income. I didn’t have a mortgage or a family to support at the time. I am not sure I would have done it if I had people dependent on me, as it is a tough road. Nevertheless I haven’t looked back and don’t regret the move one bit.

How did you find micro stock and why did you get involved? Has it changed your life?
I started just as hobby videographer making short videos on travel. It was just a hobby but I loved it and decided that it would be a great career to have full time. It’s completely changed my life. It’s been a long road and it took incredibly hard work to get Wavebreak to where it is today.

People sometimes just see the more glamorous side but there is definitely a less glamorous side to the business, one which requires a great deal of planning and detail. There are a lot of excel spread sheets to work on!! I’m lucky that I work with a great team.

Wavebreak Media is one of the biggest players in the stock industry. Was it a challenging road to the top?
Wow! I think that is the first time I have read that on paper i.e. ‘Wavebreak are one of the biggest players in the Industry’! That’s pretty awesome to read and I will be delighted to share that with my team here. I’m not sure we are quite at the top, but we are constantly progressing and it can definitely be challenging. We are always trying to find new ways of doing things better and I think that has helped us a lot.

Everyone in our company comes from outside the industry which is an amazing fact. In theory this should make it even more challenging but perhaps it also gives us the advantage of looking at things differently.

Is there any image in Wavebreak Media’s portfolio which you could say is your favorite?
I just can’t pick out a favorite image. Honestly, for me, it’s an impossible task! It would also be an injustice to my team to single out one particular image. There are so many great images that we have worked hard on to produce over the years so it’s just impossible to pick out just one.

Dentist - Copyright Wavebreak Media

“This is our current in-house photo recently shot by our Director of Photography”

Would you say that pictures you like personally are also pictures which sell well?
Not really. I have seen some images sell really that really that weren’t stand out images. It’s a really fickle market and sometimes nearly impossible to predict. Some images that I thought were outstanding never sold at all. It’s pretty crazy and can be extremely frustrating.

What makes a bestselling image? Have you discovered the secret formula?
If I discovered the formula then I think I would be writing this from a beautiful beach on a remote island! The key for me is to try to pick up on a trend and run with it. That being said, this can very hard to do. If your able to get a bit ahead of the market and see what is coming down the line then that does help. It is not easy though.

I would recommend anyone to look inward also and to see what your own strengths are and to try and concentrate on these rather than spending a lot of time worrying about the competition. If you can find something that’s unique and makes money and focus on developing this area then you can do very well. E.g. Someone on an oil rig with a property release and a camera could make some serious money in this industry!

The micro stock market is huge, there is a lot of supply and demand, although it isn’t always easy to identify where the demand comes from. How do you analyse the market? Which role do analytics play? Is it an important part of your workflow?
This is becoming more and more important to us. One regret I do have is not starting this earlier. It should be an integral part of any workflow. How can you spend money when you don’t know you are actually making that money back in sufficient time. If you are getting the mix wrong it can quickly become a serious problem as you run out of funds for shooting.

Do you believe in “quantity” or “quality”? What is most important for you and why?
A bit of both I think works well. We are trying to marry the two at the moment. Producing large amounts of high quality work, well, that’s the
Holy Grail of Stock Media. Ask me again this time next year!

What does your typical production process look like?
It is extensive and highly detailed. The pre-production is a huge part of our process. Planning is everything. Nothing should be left to chance when you are spending a lot of money on production. The roles in our company are very defined and everyone knows what they are responsible for. This is very important. Rocking up with a camera and just shooting may work when your overheads are low (and I would actually advocate this method for low
overhead shoots, as it helps get new and unique content). But it may not be the best method when you have lots of mouths to feed and a big production.

Would you recommend photographers to take risks and invest in employees or assistants, or outsource, to help them in their production process?
I would never recommend taking risks. Stock photography for me is a series of calculated bets where the risk should be reduced at every opportunity.
Outsourcing can be good but needs to be managed well. If not, you can quickly find all you’ve done is double the workload. I would recommend
finding people who really love what they do and then everything else will take care of itself. In my opinion, passion and interest are everything in this industry. Building the right team can make a huge difference to your business. Usually, the biggest stunt to growth of any business is the
founder of the business who fails to cede control and empower people as the business grows. Again, another mistake I have made along the way and
probably continue to make today.

Where do you think the stock photography business is going? How do you see the next years?
Massive volume and low prices i.e. pricing continuing to erode as the subscription model completely dominates. I am not so sure that is a bad thing either i.e. which would you prefer (a) sell 10x images at .40 cents per image or (b) 1x image at 3 USD per image. As the library grows so
too does the differential.

What is your advice to our readers to become or remain successful in the upcoming years?
My advice to people is do not to seek advice from me!! I have made a lot of mistakes and continue to do so. The only thing I would say is that maybe one should always try and identify the mistakes early before they get out of hand.

Tell us, when you are not doing photography, how do you relax and enjoy your free time?
I enjoy all sports but soccer is the main one. I’ve played soccer most of my life and moved into helping manage my local team this year. Other than that, I like hanging out with my family and doing all the regular everyday family things.

Thank you very much for your time; it was a pleasure talking to you!
Thank you for the great software and I wish stock performer every success.

You enjoyed this interview? Then read more here: Interview Series

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