Sean Mooney, CEO of Photokore

Business - February 18th, 2011

With a unique insider’s view of Japan and the Asian market, Sean Mooney launched as a venue for photographers and graphic designers to showcase their work throughout Asia and the world. At the site, amateurs and professionals have an equal opportunity to upload their work for sales worldwide.

Why did you decide to start this business?

I’m half Japanese and half American, and I’ve lived in Japan for over 30 years. The majority of my career here has been in advertising. Over the years I have held senior management positions with several Japanese and joint-venture ad agencies. My experiences in advertising culminated with a book on advertising in Japan, “5,110 Days in Tokyo and Everything’s Hunky-dory: The Marketer’s Guide to Advertising in Japan”.

Before launching Photokore, I joined the world’s largest stock photography company as managing director of their Japan operations. Later, I was also given responsibility for Southeast Asia. That’s when I started to notice certain trends. There was a strong demand for photos that met the needs of the Asian market, but Asia-centric content was difficult to find. At the same time, the prices of traditional stock photos were out of reach for the majority of Asian marketers. It was obvious that a microstock solution to these problems for the Asian market would result in a viable business.

How does the site work?

Photokore is a royalty free microstock photography site, dedicated to offering the best Asian images to the world and high quality global images to the Asian market – all at extremely reasonable prices. With today’s digital cameras, it’s now possible for any photographer, not just professionals, to take great images. All a photographer has to do is register with us for free, then submit their work to If the submitted images meet our quality criteria, they are uploaded to the site for customers to browse and purchase.

Our content is entirely user-generated, coming from amateur and professional photographers from around the world. We also welcome graphic designers to upload their images, as we carry illustrations as well. Whenever a sale is made, the owner of the image earns a royalty of the sale. However, the image itself is never sold. What the customer is purchasing is a license to use the image. The photographer or illustrator who uploaded the image will retain all ownership, copyright, etc to their photo. That’s why they can “sell” the same photo so many times, and earn royalties on each sale. The images are then used in ads, posters, web sites, the list goes on.

The Photokore site is presently available in four languages – English, Japanese, Chinese (simplified), and Korean. In the near future, we will offer even more languages.

What Japan-specific challenges does the site face?

“Challenging” would be an understatement to describe the difficulties we had finding the right tone of voice for our Japanese site. As a creative community, we did not want the language to be too rigid and formal. At the same time, it was imperative that we be polite and use honorific speech so as not to offend, and be taken seriously as a business. Finding the right balance of casual and formal will continue to be an area of focus for our Japan operations.

What kind of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Ask for help. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by the knowledge you can tap into through your friends and even casual acquaintances, and by how willing they are to share that knowledge with you.

What do you do in your spare time?

Whenever I have spare time I go out and take photos, some of which have made it onto our site. It never ceases to amaze me how I’m always learning something new every time I go out with my camera.