In some ways Instacanvas  is a simple business, one similar to a couple of other "turn your Instagrams into printouts" enterprises. It provides a simple, secure way for fans of an image to acquire a print of it on stretched canvas, just like a genuine artwork, and have it delivered ready to hang on their wall. The company opens to the general public today.
It's a simple enough idea, and there is a plethora of easy-on-the eye imagery on Instagram that's ripe for the picking--with all those sepia-toned, faux-over-processed, and fake tilt-shift effects in place. Instacanvas's cofounder and CEO Matt Munson explains the company's origins to Fast Company: "It started with the idea that there are these billions and billions of photos being created every day on Instagram and other social media platforms, and some of us on the team had an interest in selling artwork, and some of us had talked about buying it. And as we looked around all we were seeing on the walls of our apartment was mass-produced artwork that we'd bought at Ikea or Target--things we really had no personal connection to."
And thus a market opportunity was discovered.
"So," Munson continues, "it seemed like it may be interesting to facilitate the ability for Instagram users to sell their artwork and to turn it into a physical item that someone could hang in their home."
And that's where the company starts to look different than its competitors. To minimize the effort of joining up, it's designed to take just a few clicks, and the site even builds a gallery for you, with a vanity URL. And, adds Munson: "As we looked at the idea...what we found what was compelling about it was that it has the promise to be the first amateur art marketplace where the artists that were selling the pieces and coming into the marketplace brought with them this huge following of people that already love their artwork."
Basically Instacanvas has the right kind of simple hooks to also allow professional artists who "exhibit" their work on Instagram to actually monetize this distribution channel, and the business model itself is a viral one--feeding off the already-viral nature and wild success of Instagram itself. It's different than other art portals, which also allow artists to sell copies of their work, like deviantArt , thanks to the intimate social tie to Instagram and this very viral sharing system. Proof that Instacanvas will work in this professional mode comes in Munson's assertion that most of the artists he's signed on during the company's closed beta test phase have "anywhere from ten- to a hundred-thousand followers." And if you're still dubious that there's even a demand for this sort of product, consider that the site's traffic is pushing 1.1 million uniques a month, drawn from 30 countries.
There are a few details to sort through: Artists make just 20% of the sales cost of the print, which at the starting price of $40 is just $8. And there're a few questions about Instagram as a safe IP-haven, given recent grumblings about the "rights grab" that Instagram's terms and conditions include--with articles like Wired's "Why Instagram Is Terrible For Photographers..." as a great example. With Facebook's  recent purchase of the site for a billion dollars, these worries may have multiplied as Facebook's not exactly everyone's best friend  when it comes to IP ownership. And for Instacanvas itself you may ponder if API or IP moves by Facebook could disable their business model--promises by Kevin Systrom that nothing will change aside.
"Facebook's pushing big traffic to us...and we've gone from zero to around 10,000 Facebook followers in three weeks," Munson points out. And as far as rights ownership he noted: "We haven't seen any inkling that that would ever change, and obviously there would be an enormous backlash in the community--so in that sense they'd be destroying the value of the entity they'd just acquired...It's a very different thing the way people use Instagram to take a beautiful picture they want to share with the world verus a picture of your friends having a beer at a party on Facebook."
[Image: Flickr user Amy Loves Yah ]