When we created the PhotoShelter Collection, we aimed to change the
face of the stock photography industry by fundamentally altering the
dynamics of how photographers were treated, and in turn, providing
visual diversity to buyers that simply didn’t exist. Tens of thousands of
photographers from over 130 countries signed up and started uploading
their images to PhotoShelter, and the buyers have followed. Each month we have
stolen sales with major clients away from Getty and have become an
increasingly large thorn in their side.
So it’s flattering to hear that Getty Images is validating our approach and recognizing our success by reaching into the flickr
community. No other competitor in their history has forced Getty to
change their model. This is a great sign of
encouragement for us. Getty’s CEO Jonathan Klein describes this new
endeavor as “the best imagery from a fresh collection of high-quality
images chosen by us from Flickr’s diverse and prolific community.” If
it sounds familiar, it should be, something very similar is printed on
But rather than compare lexicon, let’s clarify some of the key points and differences of this announcement.
Klein stated in a Seattle Times
piece that the deal “for us is not significant, but it’s strategically
extremely important.” Flickr GM Kakul Srivastava corroborated this by
saying, “From our perspective, on the Flickr side, we’re not expecting
this will be a huge stream of monetization for our members…The
relationship, in the licensing piece, is purely between the
photographer – the Flickr member – and Getty Images itself.”
if it’s not really about making money, what is it about? Why would the
market leader (which is now held by a private equity firm whose sole goal is to make money) strike a deal in such a public fashion if they didn’t
intend for it to make money? Why would flickr consent to not taking a
transaction fee? What is of such “strategic importance” to Klein?
answer is in Getty’s historical moves. It’s about locking out
competition from the industry to ensure a continued, virtual monopoly.
Getty pays flickr for an “exclusive” deal to be their preferred stock
content distributor because they are threatened by an open platform
like PhotoShelter. Consider that if PhotoShelter succeeds, not only
does Getty lose market share, but they invariably will have to give
back more of the profits to photographers because they will need to
compete for content.
As much as Getty would like to position
this move as an open embrace of the community, it’s not. Instead, it’s
a way to lock out competition, and allow them to continue with status
quo. They’re hopeful that this infusion of content can somehow staunch
the flat/declining growth of their traditional licensing revenue, and
why not? Their growth has historically been predicated on acquisition
of boutique agency content until they bought virtually everyone up, and
alienated thousands of photographers and buyers in the process.
In this new deal, Getty Images will hand-select photographers from flickr, and tie up their images in their standard exclusive agreement and compensation schedule. This means 20% on royalty-free images, and an average 35% on rights-managed images. It also means the individual cannot determine which images are submitted, nor set a price point or the license type. Exclusivity means that the individual cannot determine the best distribution channels for his/her images.
On the other hand, PhotoShelter allows virtually any photographer to participate. We give photographers 70% of the sale, and allow them to determine which images they want to submit and set a licensing type and price point that suits their desires. When one of our photographers made an $8000 advertising sale last week, he was pretty thrilled to learn that he would be getting a check for $5600 (i.e. double what he would have received from Getty had they even accepted his image in the first place).
More importantly, we’re trying to create a sustainable environment where contributors are nurtured and cultivated into photographers with intent to sell. Our School of Stock and Shoot! The Day event are proof of our commitment to engage and educate our community to make more money from their photography.
Klein further states, “I think photographers would be much more concerned if 2 billion images from Flickr would find their way into microstock,” and yet they are perfectly happy with the growth of iStockPhoto and taking 80% of the sale from their contributors. There doesn’t seem to be any visible commitment towards photographers in terms of protecting their rights or compensating them fairly.
We live in a free market economy with buyers dictating the dynamics of buying and selling, so I’m sure you’re wondering about the buyer-side equation. One could say that buyers are getting the flickr content that they always wanted, but the reality of this deal is that Getty is simply adding a collection that is sourced from non-professional photographers through a non-scalable model fraught with logistical complexities. They have said themselves that they don’t expect this to be a significant revenue line for them; it’s a perfunctory, competitive move that will be met with both curiosity and skepticism by buyers and that will fail to deliver meaningful diversity to buyers over time.
A monopolistic environment never breeds the diversity that Getty is claiming that is it gaining. And without making efforts to teach photographers about the commercialization of photography, chasing something like a model release after the fact will turn out to be an expensive proposition. Could their standard contributor split soon become a special “flickr” split for even less commission? When this flickr content is bundled into subscription agreements and photographers are literally receiving pennies in commission, we’ll be back to where we are – namely a set of disenfranchised photographers who believe that deflating image prices is an immutable reality of the industry.
Now before you yell that this is a case of sour grapes from an upstart, let me explain why this is more of a David & Goliath story. You see, one of Getty Images’ Executive VPs started contacting us as early as July 2006. Initially it was to use PhotoShelter technology to provide a way for non-Getty photographers to submit images. But once the PhotoShelter Collection was announced, they wanted access to our content because we provided ready-to-license, edited content from thousands of contributors around the world.
They contacted us in July 07, September 07, October 07 and November 07, and we turned them down for one simple reason: It was a terrible deal for photographers (then, as it is now), and did very little to alter the fundamental imbalance in the stock industry.
Getty absolutely knows what PhotoShelter represents in the industry and what we are trying to accomplish. We represent an incoming threat to the old 20th century way of licensing imagery. And let’s make this very clear: we’re in this to beat Getty by standing up for the photographer and giving buyers the diversity that they’ve been seeking. So let the chips fall where they may, but in the meantime, we’re gonna swing for the fences and try to change the image marketplace for good.