I started Unsplash and now I’m starting a book

But I have no idea what I’m doing

Mikael Cho
Nov 19, 2015 · 6 min read

Today is a big day. It’s also a scary day.

For the past year, my teammates and I have been working on a book to give back to the people who have given to Unsplash, the photography site we started that offers up 10 (do whatever you want), hi-resolution photos every 10 days.

Two and a half years ago, we were making a website and needed a nice background photo.

We spent hours scouring stock photography sites but nothing hit. So we decided to team up with a local photographer and shoot our own photos instead.

We ended up using only one — so instead of letting the rest of the photos go to waste, we put them up on a $19 blog, named it Unsplash, and gave them away for free.

You could ‘do whatever you want’ with them. No cost. No attribution needed. No strings attached.

We figured that if we had such a hard time finding good, hi-resolution photos, maybe a few other people were facing the same problem.

We figured if our photos could help a designer or two, our project would be a success.

So you can appreciate how surprised we were when, after two hours, these first 1o photos were downloaded over 20,000 times.

Unsplash hit the top of HackerNews, a website community of entrepreneurs, designers, and programmers and it started spreading. We couldn’t believe it.

Now we ran into a new problem. Where were we going to find the next 10 photos?

As an afterthought, when we launched Unsplash, we added a link that said, ‘Submit a photo.’ We never really expected anyone to submit anything.

A day before our next campaign was scheduled to go out though, I saw that people submitted photos.

And we aren’t talking selfies or cheesy leftover shots from family vacations. People were submitting photos that were so good I had to shake my head in disbelief. This wasn’t ‘stock’ photography. These were some of the most powerful photos I ever saw.

From its humble beginnings, Unsplash has grown into a community of over 8,000 photographers who’ve generously submitted 30,000 photos that have been downloaded 50 million+ times.

Unsplash photos have inspired writers like Deepak Chopra, musicians like Owl City, and products like Medium.

None of this would have been possible without a community of people who believe that sharing their work to support someone else’s work is worthwhile.

We wanted to find a way to thank these people for offering up photos for all of us to use without expecting anything in return.

This is why we’ve decided to make a book.

We’ve built websites before. We’ve written blog posts before. And we’ve started businesses. But, as we quickly found out, doing a print book is a whole ‘nother world of crazy.

After months and months of writing, editing, designing, (and hair-pulling), we’re super excited with the result:

The Unsplash Book is almost complete and will be a 250-page collection of inspiring photography accompanied by original art pieces and essays from some of the world’s most innovative creators, including:

Over 100+ writers, photographers, and illustrators have come together to make this book happen.

Now… for the scary part:

Today, we put the Unsplash Book live on Kickstarter. A $75k all-or-nothing campaign.


Making a print project is risky in itself with substantial upfront costs. But we decided the right and only way to do this book would be to share the profits from the campaign with the contributors who appear in the book, making the margins for this project even tighter.

While we aren’t able to feature every Unsplash photographer in the book, the amount we‘ve set aside to cover our own costs will be reinvested back into Unsplash to help make it better.

Even though it might be financially riskier, we hope by making a book this way, we can inspire even more people to create.

Comedian Louis C. K. inspired me when he said:

“I learned that money can be a lot of things. It can be something that is hoarded, fought over, protected, stolen and withheld. Or it can be like an energy, fueled by the desire, will, creative interest, need to laugh, of large groups of people. And it can be shuffled and pushed around and pooled together to fuel a common interest.”

We want this book to be rocket fuel for a common interest.

We want to support the people who have made Unsplash what it is. The people who inspire us to create and share our work.

This is the best way progress can be made.

To keep Unsplash free, ad-free, and pleasurable to use, we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours a month to continually create a better experience.

If you’ve enjoyed Unsplash or just want to support a community of generous people, anything you can give will help. This book is one of the most substantial projects of my life and I hope we can make it across the finish line.

If you can’t put any money towards this campaign right now, it’s all good. It would still make a great difference if you could share it with someone you think might like it: unspla.sh/kickstarter-book

Everything you can contribute, be it money or words, moves this project forward. It celebrates the people who give, without expecting anything in return.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read this.

Got an idea?

Work with the best designers and developers. Over 10 million people have used products made on CREW. And over 3 million people have read our blog. Subscribe here.

Mikael Cho

Written by

Founder/CEO @unsplash @mikaelcho