85111840. Photograph © Eke Miedaner/Flickr/Getty Images
Back in July 2008, Getty Images threw open its doors. Or at least, it pushed them open a crack. The exclusive stock agency wasn’t adopting microstock’s open source policy but it had forged a partnership with Flickr, adding selected images from the photo-sharing site to its commercial inventory. Things went a little quiet for a while but in March 2009, Getty debuted its Flickr Collection, a selection of photos sourced from Flickr’s contributors and available for licensing both on a royalty-free and rights-managed basis. Getty hasn’t released precise statistics to describe how many images have sold, but the company has told us that Flickr images licensed to customers already number in the “thousands” and have been used in creative campaigns in more than 65 countries.
According to Claudia Micare, Manager, Contributor Relations for Getty Images, the collection now includes more than 60,000 images provided by more than 6,000 photographers in more than 100 countries. To Getty’s own customers, those images show up in search results in the same way as other photos in the inventory. Editors browsing Flickr can also buy the images they see by clicking a licensing button above an available photo. They’ll then be taken to the image on Getty’s website where they can make their purchase.
Rates vary, of course, but even royalty-free images start at $5 for a 170 x 113 image suitable for Web use and rise to $300 for 3008 x 2000 pixels.
“Several photographers have had multiple sales on their imagery, some generating five-figure licenses or hundreds of dollars in royalties for the photographer,” said Claudia.
Joining those 6,000 contributors has become a little easier recently too. In September 2009, Getty created its Call for Artists group, inviting anyone on Flickr to submit a portfolio of ten images for review by Getty’s editors. Almost 11,000 Flickr members have joined, offering more than 50,000 photos to the group. In addition, the editors will continue to browse the site, offering licensing contracts for images that catch their eye.
Sell Your Flickr Cat Photo
The subjects that Getty is choosing vary tremendously too. Claudia Micare noted that Getty is interested in “all subject areas,” including conceptual pictures in all categories, as well as hobbies, travel, nature and pets. Even Flickr members’ famous love of cats has been respected. Getty offers 940 of them.
Some of those pictures appear to be typically stocky but the real draw for Getty, says Claudia, is the “authenticity” of the images on Flickr. That’s certainly how the stock agency is selling the collection to buyers, placing the images in contrast to the “posed,” “model-y” and “fake” images that turn up again and again in stock collections.
“When we launched the Flickr Collection, it was our goal to choose photos that created a commercially viable collection, while preserving the inspiration and unexpected nature of the images that are so prevalent on Flickr,” she told us. “The images that have been selected offer unique, fresh, high quality, individualistic perspective and vision that our global customers value and desire for their communications.”
The choice of image may affect how the image is sold. In general, photos with “simple and clear” messages tend to be offered on a royalty-free basis while more “complex or subtle” photos often end up with rights-managed prices. It’s Getty’s editors, however, that choose the pricing model, not the photographer.
The emphasis on authenticity recalls Photoshelter’s attempts in 2008 to create a stock inventory of natural images to supply a demand identified in the company’s survey of buyers. Their attempt failed, leading some to comment that what buyers say they want and what they actually buy are two different things. Others though pointed out that as long as buyers have subscriptions at major stock agencies like Getty, it will always be hard for smaller agencies to make sales. With thousands of Flickr images already sold, it does appear that Photoshelter’s problem wasn’t the commercial weakness of the photos, but the strength of the competition.
Exclusivity is Strict but Not an Issue for Enthusiasts
And Getty has also been reactive. The company’s willingness to accept images from the enthusiasts on Flickr only came after it noticed that the site was offering products that it couldn’t supply itself.
“As Flickr members created more images, our customers were looking to sites like Flickr for inspiration and fresh images, and would often try to license images,” says Claudia.
While being on Getty allows photographers to reach large buyers and receive the full value for their work, there are challenges. Few the images containing people that are uploaded to Flickr come with model releases, making sales challenging, and Getty’s exclusivity terms are strict. Images are placed exclusively with the company for two years and can’t be removed without terminating the agreement. The contract continues to renew annually.
That might be an issue for professionals who have already placed their images elsewhere or who are uncertain that Getty’s Flickr collection would be the best place for them. For enthusiasts though, who don’t expect to sell the images elsewhere anyway and who are still allowed to use the photos for self-promotion, limited edition fine prints and Blurb, the exclusivity isn’t really an obstacle. Spanish enthusiast Manuel Navarro, for example, is happy with both the exclusivity arrangements and the service he’s receiving from Getty.
“I’m not a professional photographer, so I never thought to make commercial use of my photos,” he said. “I know that these requirements may be restrictive, but I think this might be a good opportunity to show my photos out of my Flickr page, and get some small profit.”
The seven urban and landscape scenes that Manuel offers through Getty are fairly traditional but many of the images in the collection are as quirky and unusual as you might expect from Flickr. The company has only accepted a tiny proportion of the images submitted through its Call for Artists group (it wouldn’t reveal the exact proportion, but in a group discussion, Tom W. at Getty Images, likened the process to sifting for gold) but it’s just possible that Flickr’s contributors are bringing a valuable, fresh addition to stock photography and Getty is providing a useful, if small, channel to bring them to buyers.