Free Photos For Internet Use

Posted on 1/11/2005 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



January 11, 2005

One solution to unauthorized Internet use is to ignore the Internet as a market and simply look at it as a marketing vehicle.

Index Stock Imagery has launched a new service called "Daily Photos To Go" that provides "Absolutely Free" photos for Website and Blog use. The idea behind the offer is to give up all possibility of revenue from the first use in the hopes that a much larger cross section of customers will see the photos (on other people's websites and blogs) and revenue will be generated from licensing second uses.

Anyone can go to click on "Start Enhancing Your Website or Blog Now" and get a Daily Photos To Go Generator Code. That code can be pasted into the website's html, and a photo will appear in that spot on the web page at approximately 150 x 195 pixels in size for verticals and 175 x 150 for horizontals. (If the user wants to stick with a specific or use the image larger there is a charge, but I get to that in a minute.) This photo will be change automatically on a daily or weekly basis depending on the customer's choice.

Currently, the user chooses one of 29 themes. There are 60 horizontal or vertical photos within each theme that will be part of the automatic rotation. (When obtaining a Generator Code the user must choose either horizontal or vertical.) It is expected that more themes will be added and there are plans to let users create their own "Custom Photo Theme" from any of the 800,000 images on the Index web site. Once this feature is available website developers will be able to customize virtually any site with free photos; the only restriction being that all photos will be at the fixed size mentioned above.

So Where's The Money?

So why does a stock agency give photos away for free instead of charging? If someone goes to the web site, sees the photo and likes it they can click on the photo and be taken to a web site that offers them the option of purchasing a poster, creating a postcard using the photo, creating cell phone wallpaper, or purchasing any other rights to use the photo at normal stock rates. Readers can get an idea of how this will work by going to www. and checking out the image that is on the site. When you mouse over the image it gives you the artists name, the image number and the caption. When you click on the image it takes you to the upsell site. Index points out that the model offers branding, targeted customers and upsell opportunities.

Neither the photographer, nor Index, gets anything for this initial use because it is considered to be a promotion - like promoting an image in a catalog - rather than an actual customer benefit.

One big question, of course, is how well will this upselling work? Index says that these products are generating a regular income each month for Index and for the artists. While they won't quote figures they say it is significant enough to be an added value for the artists and Index.

To get an idea of what the photographer's share of these uses might be CEO, Bahar Gidwani provided the following information. The postcards are provided by a separate Internet company called AmazingMail and Index is simply a content provider to AmazingMail. Postcards range in price from $1.10 for a single card to $0.87 per card for a run of 2500. (I assume most customers are ordering a single card or very small print runs, because the higher print runs are very expensive compared to other competitive printing services.)

Gidwani said, "The cost structure for physical products and redistribution works approximately like this:

  • Customer pays X.

  • Distributor of physical product gets between 50% and 90% of X, depending on how much of the value is in their hands.

  • Artist gets the "normal" share of the net (for us, normally about 40%).

"As a result, artists may earn as little as a few cents and as much as a ten dollars, per transaction. To make this type of distribution successful, you need to have a fully electronic infrastructure and a Web Services back end, which we do."

He continued, "We do see upsell throughout our system. Users buy a single postcard, then buy a poster, and then buy a digital image use. They license an image on Photos To Go and then come back to license a larger version on Index Stock. The exact upsell 'conversion' rate, is a secret of our business.

"We agree that we are unique in pursuing this market. We feel that we have been successful in it for several reasons:

  • We were first to do it (started in 1995 with the industry's first e-commerce engine.

  • We have signed up a lot of partners--and good ones. In our experience, only a small percentage of partnerships actually produce revenue, so it takes time to build up this business.

  • Our image base is broad and covers many obscure subjects. This makes us more interesting than a "standard" stock library.

  • We invested early in back end automation."

Mike Bouteneff, Product Manager for Daily Photos To Go, describes the goals of the service as:

  • Increased brand awareness. Part of a new effort to make Photos To Go an image solution provider in the eyes of the web publishing community.

  • Free advertising for content to targeted customers. Users will see images customized for the sites they are used on. "Cat" images will be used on websites relating to "cats," "national park" images will be used on sites targeted towards nature lovers, etc.)

  • Leveraging previously unleveraged content. Daily Photos To Go uses thumbnail images only. This file size, which in the past has not been monetized or leveraged in any way, is now being used to create value for both artists and Index. Now, admirers of a certain thumbnail image can be upsold to purchasing a larger file size, poster, or postcard of that image.

  • Future revenue potential. By introducing a free image tool now, and encouraging mass adoption, Photos To Go can introduce premium versions of this and other image-serving tools in the future.

  • Improved search engine rankings. Increase in search engine rankings, resulting from increase in direct links to site.

    Consumers Or Professional Uses?

    It seems to me that this type of promotion is most likely to attract general consumers, not professional uses. While some revenue can certainly be generated from consumer produce sales such sales have never represented a significant share of revenue in this industry. It seems to me that there are three questions we need to be ask about this line of business:

    • Will Internet marketing somehow lead to an increase in the volume of units of posters, postcards, cell phone wallpaper and other consumer products that the general population is willing to buy?

    • Will use of the Internet somehow make it cheaper to produce these products?

    • Will image creators be able to get a larger share of the amount paid for such products because the product was sold through the Internet rather than in a more traditional way?

    I believe the answer to all three of these questions is NO. Buying habits may shift and more products may be sold through the Internet than through traditional sources, but I can't see that overall consumer spending on such products is likely to increase very much, nor that consumer products as a whole are likely to represent a significant portion of stock photo usages.

    Another version of this concept is worth considering. ( has set up a site that offers "free pictures to the Internet community in return for users publicizing bigfoot in any way possible (web: link to bigfoot; print: reference to bigfoot)." On their site they say, "Use of all images if absolutely free and the survival of the bigfoot service will be assured by plenty of web site traffic."

    This site offers lots of pictures from all parts of the world and they say, "most of bigfoto's pics are from amateur photographers who enjoy seeing their images on the Internet." gets its images from and webshots makes money by providing amateurs with a place to get prints and other photo services. One of the attractions for the amateur users is that Webshots provides them with an online personal gallery so they can easily store their photos and show them to their friends. Webshots recently announced that they have recently passed the 100th Million photo that amateur picture takers have uploaded to their site. In addition to prints, users can put their images on posters, cell phones, photo mugs, mousepads, T-shirts, luggage tags, key chains and calendars.

    While Bigfoto generates no direct revenue it's a very low cost operation because the photos come from the amateurs who regularly post images on Webshots and like the idea that someone else might like their best image so much that they would use it on their web site. Out of 100 Million even if only a few post images and post only their best they have a lot to choose from.

    The big advantage for Webshots in offering the Bigfoto service is in the links. People that use a Bigfoto image can be marketed by Webshots and may become Webshots customers.

    Webshots also earns revenue from a section of their site that offers professionally produced images of high demand subjects that can be used for posters and photo gifts. I know one photographer who has about 250 images in this section of the site and nets about $100 to $150 a month from sales of these products, mostly posters. He receives a very small percentage of the unit price Webshots charges for each item sold.

    Will The Internet Be A Big Market For Stock Photography?

    Many people have argued that the Internet is a big new use for pictures, and because it needs so many images stock photo revenue is bound to increase. Let's look at a few facts.

  • A huge percentage of the images that appear on the Internet are either personal images, or images that can be obtained somewhere for free. Because Internet files are small and 72dpi there is no necessity for large file sizes.

  • We know from the work done by PicScout that 90% of the copyrighted professional images that can be found on the Internet are being used without permission or proper compensation.

    One alternative is to pursue those users and bill them for the usage. That may generate one-time revenues, but is it likely to turn these scofflaws into long term customers?

  • On a long term basis, if significant free imagery if available many users will be unlikely to pay for something when they can get a satisfactory substitute for free.

  • Even if the professionals could somehow band together and prevent professionally produced images from being made available to Internet users for free (unlikely), the increased availability of good amateur images will make it harder for people to charge for Internet use of images.

  • Thus, maybe the best that professional image producers can hope for from the Internet is that it will assist them in marketing their images, but that it will be insignificant as a revenue generator.

  • Copyright © 2005 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

    Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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