What do Flickr members want?
To chat to other photographers and swap stories and tips about where and what to shoot, maybe. To make the odd print sale or win a new client, perhaps. To improve their photography, often.
It’s all of those things, of course, but mostly Flickr membership tends to be about showing your photos to as many people as possible. That’s why members join lots of groups and network like crazy. They want to increase their contact list, gain views and win approval from adoring fans – or at least large numbers of people who have seen their pictures.
What does Flickr want?
Once, it might merely have wanted to provide a platform for enthusiasts to share their images, but now that Flickr is part of Yahoo!, there’s a good chance the site’s owners want it to make money too.
Ooh… Free Photos
Those two desires – an urge to be seen; and a need to please shareholders — seem to be coming together in Flickr’s sponsored groups. These are groups created in conjunction with Flickr, sometimes by marketing firms, to collect large numbers of images from large numbers of people and use them in ad campaigns… without the client having to pay for them.
Wunderman, for example, an ad firm, has created a group on behalf of Ford called “This is Now” to promote the revamped Fiesta. The group is looking for photos that “sum up the essence of ‘now'” and plans to use them on a special portal that will be launched in mid-October. Ford isn’t planning to pay the contributors, and the group rules make very clear that contributors must agree to grant Ford a non-exclusive, royalty-free license until December 31, 2009. In return, photographers get to see their images used in an ad campaign.
“We think this is such a lovely, transparent way for the general public to participate in a communications campaign,” explained Glenn Sturgess of Wunderman to us in an email. “In the past, advertisers have blasted the public relentlessly with their message. It’s an old way of doing things and not particularly nice.
“We want to move away from that model and have a two way conversation. This approach lets people who choose to participate, who want to make a comment, who want to show the world how they see ‘now,’ be involved. It also provides up and coming artists the opportunity to expose their work to many, many people.”
Of course, this is exactly the sort of thing that drives professional photographers nuts. They create works that have value. When companies can pick photographs up for free, the price is driven down for everyone and another source of demand dries up. A corporate client used to paying top-dollar for top images is now able to cut out the professionals and get what it needs from people who measure the value of their work only by the number of eyeballs it receives.
Wunderman clearly doesn’t see it that way.
“[W]e want to point out that there’s no desire to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We’re not a big nasty corporate trying to hoodwink the little guy. On the contrary, both Ford and Wunderman believe in playing fair, giving people the opportunity to be part of defining the ‘now’ and being honest about what we plan to do.”
It’s the People, Not (Just) the Pictures
And perhaps Glenn’s right. Wunderman is certainly being straightforward about its intention not to pay anyone and advises people who don’t agree with the terms not to join the group. Over 1,100 members have ignored that message and submitted around 1,500 photos. As one contributor put it on the group’s discussion board in response to a complaint about a major company benefitting from free images: “people seeing and enjoying my view of the world is good enough for me ;-)”
More importantly, it might not be the photos themselves that are the point of the group. Another company looking to use free images is Nivea, which has just launched its “Kiss & Be Kissed” group to find pictures of kisses to show on its website. Photographers who submit their images are in with a chance of winning a trip to New York to attend a “VIP event on New Year’s Eve.” Everyone else, apparently, gets nothing.
A glance at the company’s website though reveals how images like these are likely to be used. The images submitted so far certainly aren’t professional, and at least as important as the shots themselves are the references to Flickr and Facebook. This isn’t just about photography; it’s also about an ad campaign trying to reach as wide a number of people as possible, showing that the company is in touch with the street and motivating people to look at their products by rewarding them with free publicity for their images.
Flickr members might want to show off their photos to lots of people, and Flickr itself might want to make money. But ad companies want reach lots of people and they’re doing that by paying Flickr for them. It just might be nice if they paid Flickr members for their images too.