While there has never been so many photos taken and shared online, the world of professional photo licensing is not striving. In fact, most legacy companies have seen their revenue freeze or decline in the last decade, with rare exceptions. While at first contradictory, a closer analysis reveals that part of the issue seems to be linked to antiquated business model that are ill-fitted to our all digital, mobile world.
The few companies in this space that continue to grow, and some as much as 40% YTY, are those that have embraced crowdsourcing, along with an uncluttered pricing model. Heavily relying on technology to process massive intake of content and constantly adjusting algorithms to deliver the appropriate result to clients’ queries, they remain however blind to how, where and when their content is used.
Enters Getty Images. In early 2014, the Seattle-based leader of visual content licensing introduce free images ( 35 million of them) that can be used by anyone, almost anywhere. By using an embed code ( similar to those offered by Youtube), users can freely and legally post almost any image of Getty. In exchange, Getty receives massive data on where, how and by whom their images are being viewed. The last publicly available number was in the billions of views, and that was 6 months after the launch of the program. To this date, Getty has not monetized this data but all signs point to an imminent change : Ms Airey, Getty Images newly appointed CEO, told the Financial Times that one of her goals was to generate new revenue streams for Getty’s consumer business, where imagery can be used for free — such as by layering in advertising. “It’s an advertising opportunity and a big data opportunity,” she said.
Unexpectedly, it’s another Seattle-based company that took the lead. Corbis just announced last week, in partnership with Netseer, that they will start delivering ads on images. Similar to a program created by Stipple, publishers can install a little piece of js code on their site. Using their patented ConceptGraph intent engine using 2.3B concept relationships derived from the text on the page, the picture metadata, and the user profile, Netseer will then automatically deliver the most relevant ad. The result is pin-point accuracy to the ad delivered, resulting in higher CTR. Publishers using Corbis images will have the added benefit of having relevant ads displayed at the bottom of the images, allowing them to actually make revenue with images they licensed.
However where this model is different from the one offered by GumGum for example, is the usage of the data returned. Over time, Netseer will be able to provide Corbis (and publishers) crucial information on which type of images offer the strongest engagement. With this intelligence, Corbis will be able to start creating more impactful imagery for better-targeted results: Data driven stock photography. Furthermore, Corbis will be able to supply brands a complete suite of products, delivering ads on images where their product or services appear. For a sponsor, for example, that will mean the ability to follow through a campaign by having a call to action with every image published of the event. Beyond brand awareness, sponsorship of events can become the starting point of a sales campaign.
Not that Getty could not do the same. In fact, with the embed model, Getty keeps full ownership of the data and can decide which ad network to share it with. Corbis will have to share it with Netseer who could use it for other purposes.While Getty targets consumers, Corbis/Netseer is, for now, only for established publishers, offering Getty a potentially much wider universe of users ( but not necessarily bigger traffic).
Both solutions offer both visual content licensing companies never seen before access to how their assets are being used. In turn, the data gathered will allow them to refine their offering to match an actual demand, rather than trying to guess it. Furthermore, preliminary testing has shown that photos with ads release a much higher return ( in $) to its owners than traditional license fee, possibly making these companies healthy again.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.