When stock photography company Getty Images announced its agreement with Flickr to broker photo sales on behalf of the site’s members, one of the attractions of the Yahoo property was its size. According to the press release issued at the time, Flickr was then attracting 54 million visitors every month and its 27 million members had uploaded more than two billion photos. That was in July 2008. By April the following year, the number of photos on the site had grown to 3.4 billion, and Flickr was continuing to grow at a rate of 90 million new photos and videos a month. Today, Flickr has about 5 billion images. That’s an impressive growth rate until you realize it only makes Flickr the fourth largest image store on the Web — and that according to Pixable, a photo management service, Facebook now receives 6 billion photos each month, more than Flickr’s entire inventory. The social media site is on track to hit 100 billion images by the summer of this year. So has Flickr had its day? Is Facebook now the Web’s most important photo-sharing site?
Judging by the features Facebook has been adding to its photo-sharing services, Marc Zuckerberg’s company certainly seems to think so. In February of this year, Facebook rolled out its new Photo Viewer, a slideshow that lets its 500 million active users “browse more photos faster without having to lose your place.” Its image tags already do more than help the site deliver search results, the only function Flickr’s tags offer. They identify faces automatically, allow multiple images to be tagged en masse and, most importantly, they push images into the timelines of the people who appear in the photos, giving them instant viral power.
Success on Flickr still relies on steady networking, and participation in groups and discussions. On Facebook, it’s enough to have lots of friends and the time to tag them in photos to get your images seen.
Facebook for Wedding Photographers
The advantages haven’t been lost on wedding photographers. They advertise on Facebook using demographic data to target engaged women in their market area. And they upload tagged images to their business pages to push their photos in front of potential new customers on the guest list. Inviting viewers to add their own tags helps them to reach people they couldn’t identify themselves.
But while Facebook is now an enormous image depository and has the kind of social connections that Flickr lacks, its benefits seem to stop with event photographers — the people who can get the most from those social connections. Landscape photographers can’t tag the mountains in their images, and stock photographers can do little on Facebook with the pictures in their portfolios. Getty Images’ page is a public relations channel rather than a commercial site that makes sales. Fotolia’s page tries to draw in potential buyers with free images, and iStockphoto doesn’t appear to be on Facebook at all.
Top microstock photographer Yuri Arcurs is one of the few non-event photographers to make good use of the social media site. His page has more than 26,000 “likes” and offers updates about his business and his latest shoots. Even Arcurs though doesn’t attempt to sell through Facebook — at least not photos. His photo gallery contains fewer than 30 images, mostly shot behind the scenes. The only items he promotes on his Facebook page are branded tools, such as his SteadyPod, which are aimed at other photographers. For Arcurs then, Facebook can be a branding tool but not a photography-selling service.
That isn’t true of Flickr. Getty, which now sells “thousands” of images on the Yahoo property, has brought a level of professionalism to a service which photo buyers had already been using to source original imagery. You don’t have to look to hard to find examples of photographers who have sold images they placed on Flickr, even for sums large enough to buy themselves new cameras.
And while Flickr can’t automatically push tagged images to potential new clients it can push photos onto the pages of other photographers. The contacts you make on Flickr get to see your latest uploads when they log in; upload frequently enough and you can ensure that a steady stream of your images are passing across screens around the world. The number of those screens will depend on the number of contacts you’re able to generate on the site, and the proportion of image buyers they include may be no different to the proportion of potential clients among the group of guests who see a wedding photographer’s images on Facebook.
No less importantly, those Flickr viewers who aren’t buyers — and they’ll always be the bulk of the people seeing your images — can still deliver valuable rewards. They’ll add comments, ask questions, point you in the direction of similar images and offer critiques that will help to improve your photography.
Facebook is the Old Flickr
When Flickr started, it was often portrayed as a site for vacation snappers and a place where people shared images of lolcats. That it could also be a place where photography enthusiasts swapped ideas and experiences, critiqued each other’s work and laid down challenges tended to be hidden beneath the piles of casual users. That it was a place where usage licenses were bought and sold was one of photography’s best-kept secrets until Getty made everything official, first with a collection and then with a complete licensing plan.
The rise of Facebook as a photography platform hasn’t changed those benefits. If anything it’s made them easier to acquire. As casual users upload their photos of friends, family and felines to Facebook, the social media site may grow in size but it leaves Flickr to grow in quality. Wedding photographers can still win new sales and clients by using a service that’s relies on personal connections rather than images themselves, but other kinds of photographers — especially stock and art photographers — would do better by sticking with Flickr, a site more often used by image buyers.
After all, while size was important to Getty when it teamed up with Flickr, it was mostly the quality of the original, creative and unusual images on the site that the stock company really wanted — and which it now sells.
You can learn how to use Flickr to make photography sales in our book The Successful Flickr Photographer.