While sharing images on the Internet is as simple as creating a website or uploading to a Flickr stream, earning revenue from the people who look at your pictures has always proved difficult. Writers can embed AdSense ad units into their articles or keyword terms with Kontera but photographers have had to hope for the occasional print sale, usage license or commission to make money from their online galleries. Even Google struggles to match ad inventory with images, and the sight of a beautiful picture in the middle of a screen is always going to distract viewers from the ads on the side of the page.
That might be about to change though if a new idea pioneered by FlipGloss proves successful. Rather than surround a picture with advertisements, FlipGloss incorporates ads into the images themselves. Placing the cursor over a picture element highlights that element and allows the viewer to bring up a floating layer with more information. So users interested in fashion can easily learn more about the handbag carried by the celebrity in the picture or the dress worn by the model. They can learn who the designer is, see thumbnails of similar designs and click through to stores where they can make a purchase, and all without taking their eyes off the picture.
By using large, high-quality images, the ads become content in the same manner as the full-page spreads in glossy magazines like Vogue and GQ.
The site was created by Kerry Trainor, Mike Randall, Robyn VanTol and Christopher Shattuck, the team that had previously founded Launch.com, a digital music service later sold to Yahoo! According to Kerry Trainor, glossy print publishing represents a similar opportunity for digitalization that music represented in the 1990s.
“The print publishing industry is a huge part of the traditional media world, that consumers and advertisers love, that has yet to be translated well online,” he told us. “We are inspired by the unique environment and consumer passion for beautiful, photo-driven print experiences and finding a way to bring their impact online while adding exciting digital features like search, sharing, recommendations and, ultimately, personalization.”
Looking and Clicking at the Image
The photos are displayed against a black background that makes them the focus of the page and are larger even than the flickthrough galleries used on news sites, a welcome degree of respect for a photographer’s work. The question though is whether the advertising model will hold up and how far it can extend. The site has only just launched in Beta so it may be too early to tell how clickthroughs on these ads compare with traditional advertising responses. Advertisers however are charged on a combined CPM (cost-per-mille) basis, which pays a set rate for every thousand impressions, as well as on a CPC (cost-per-click) basis, which pays for each click on an ad link.
That combination is likely to be necessary. At the moment, FlipGloss focuses on beauty and fashion, the same types of images found in popular glossies. But ads in those magazines are intended as branding tools. While lots of people may want to look at professionally shot images of models in designer clothes, few will click through to a designer’s site with an intention to buy a Versace dress or a Martin Katz diamond necklace. Charging on a CPM basis ensures that the site can also earn from the bulk of people who simply want to flip through the images as they would do in a magazine. The attractiveness and large size of the images may also allow FlipGloss to demand a higher price than usual for the ads.
“Our display ads will carry a significant premium because they are ‘full page’, and presented right in the content stream (not tucked around the sides of the page as most display ads are today),” Kerry said. “When you offer brands truly integrated marketing solutions that compliment the user experience, they will pay a premium for it.”
As FlipGloss expands into other categories, including travel and lifestyle, it will be interesting to see how the figures work out and whether advertisers are willing to pay serious amounts for the branding value of the images or prefer to pay more for clicks.
Interestingly, that expansion is being helped in part by photography enthusiasts rather than professionals. FlipGloss has created a Flickr group to accept contributions from photographers and currently works with about a dozen contributors. That may be as much as the site’s small team can handle at the moment, but there are plans to allow photographers to contribute to the site directly, like a photo-sharing site, with the aim of displaying their images supported by embedded advertising.
That sounds like it could be a valuable opportunity but for now at least, the site isn’t paying. According to Kerry, the only reward on offer to photographers during the Beta stage is the thrill of publication but, he assures us, that will change as the site grows.
“[B]uilding a real revenue stream for photo contributors is one of the central goals of FlipGloss. Everybody loves the power of the Web, but one area in which it still fails the creative community is compensation for quality work,” he said. “We plan to share the revenue opportunity fairly with the creators and publishers who contribute content to the experience in the future. We will be announcing some of our first advertiser relationships soon, and opportunities for creators to share in that soon after.”
FlipGloss may yet turn out to be a nice idea that just didn’t work. But it could also represent a new model for ad-supported content and one that benefits photographers by displaying their images online in the size and quality they deserve while still providing an effective way for them to earn from those images. If that does happen though, it could create another problem. Online advertising rates tend to be a fraction of those paid to print magazines. If FlipGloss allows advertisers to move online without losing their branding power, it could be left to photographers who contribute to glossies to worry about ways to generate revenue.