Ad Men Seek Flickr Photos and Flickr Members

Photography: juliebee

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.

11 comments for this post.

  1. Lew Said:

    I totally agree with you!!! If flickr members are posting their photos and Flickr is getting paid for some of them, but members are not....not acceptable!! Maybe flickr could morph itself into a "Stock" fullfilling company. without all the rules of a stock agency. we keep posting for fun, companies find what they want and pay for it. Huh?

  2. Aaron Said:

    The photo market is changing, and Flickr is a big part of that. Traditional professional photographers will yell and scream about the "amateurs" giving away work for free, but when there is an ample supply of free photos, it will become harder and harder to justify a hefty price for comparable work.

    Photographers will either embrace the new reality and adapt their business, or they won't survive.

  3. terily Said:

    Aaron, you obviously don't make a living off your work, right? So we should just "adapt" to not being paid? Hmmm what industry are you in? Maybe it would be okay for YOU to not be paid for your work. Hey, maybe we can get bailed out by the government, too?? Cool!

  4. David Said:

    I've found Flickr to be very important for advertising myself as a photographer. I may be giving some work away for free but if it causes the phone to ring and bring in business because people like my work that's a good thing. I don't mind some businesses using my images for free as long as I'm given credit. If a company like Nivea doesn't credit the photographer than that is outright stealing. If a credit is given that is marketing. What is the price of having your work and name seen by thousands of people?

  5. Embassy Pro Books Said:

    The internet has changed the playing field for many industries not just photography. Many of business owners have shut the doors to their business because of the web. This is life, you have to find way to tweak and adapt in order to move forward. The internet has allowed people to become business men and women over night who might have not had the opportunity in past years.

  6. Aidan Said:

    I'm impressed with the comments here - seems like people are facing reality squarely, and recognizing that it's never as simple as the article makes it out to be.

    I work with photographers for a living, as the photo editor for a travel website. If we paid the fees that most photographers want, I'd need a budget well over $3 million a year - not gonna happen.

    The article makes it out like corporations aren't paying just because they don't have to, and that's plain wrong. Many corporations have budgets just as tight as the average photographer's.

    lastly, David makes a good point. How much would a photographer pay for national exposure? The people involved in the Ford ad aren't taking advantage - they're swapping goods. Exposure for Credited use. Yes yes, I know, exposure is nebulous and doesn't usually pay. I know this as well as the next guy. But when it IS a valued commodity, well, we should just let it sit there unused?

    Frankly, I'm tired of seeing these sorts of complaints from photographers. Figure out that what the market will bear is what it will bear, and if you don't like it, get out of photography.

  7. Rich Said:

    There are a number of points that you raise, that I would agree with but some that don’t appear to be entirely objective. The advent of the Internet, social networks and Online sharing sites (like Flickr) have to some extent changed the game, along with low cost digital photography this seems to have re-ignited the medium for a new audience. You can Google images from a wide variety of sources Google don’t pay anyone to display these on their search portal- just about anyone can right click and download these, consumers don’t have to pay.

    As an amateur photographer for some 22 years now, I have moved away from the dark room and onto the desktop. And while I have long sought to progress my skills and artistic repertoire, I’ve never been too bothered by the lure of commercial success, sure I’ve entered photographic competitions, more for the competitive experience, than the T-Shirts or baseball caps!

    I agree that the world should be fair and greatness should be rewarded, but how does one define the reward; financial, self-satisfaction, fame, career development or even fun. To me ‘This is now’ Flickr group is less about exploitation of the individual but more about an opportunity to share with others sponsored or not. My images were rejected by the way, but I’ll have another go.

  8. DeAnna Troupe Said:

    Personally, I think it's appalling that Ford wants free photos for something they're going to make money from. Are they going to give people free cars so they can get exposure for the new car? I doubt it. They expect to get paid for their work, it's no different for a professional photographer.

  9. Tim Olsen Said:

    It's all a bunch of crap. I'm cancelling my Flickr account!

  10. cencurut Said:

    Yup, based on my personal calculation, Flickr make at least five figures on yearly revenue either comes from direct advertisement or selling photos to big Ad company.

  11. Alfred Thornfield Said:

    The difference between professional and amateurs is that an amateur only has to get it right some of the time. A professional has to get it right all of the time. Professionals will again loose out.
    As the old saying goes "Flattery will get you everywhere"

    Pandering to someones ego isn't a good way to do business.

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