Flickr As A Marketing Tool

Posted on 3/30/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Most professional photographers believe Flickr is a site they should avoid because someone might steal their pictures. They think of it as a place where amateurs put the pictures they want to share with family and friends. Todd Klassy is using it very effectively to market his images in his part-time photographic business.

In 2009 we did a story on Klassy after he licensed use of one of his Flickr images to Leo Burnett for ad use and a fee of $10,000. Since then he has been adding to his portfolio and expanding his photo marketing operation. Recently, we talked with him again.

Todd has a regular 40-hour-a-week job in Havre, Montana and only gets a chance to shoot about one day a week. He also acknowledges that he spends 30 to 40 hours a week “on the business side of things (editing, keywording, uploading, marketing, SEO and negotiating right).” Despite having relatively little time for shooting he has amassed a tightly edited Flickr collection of 2278 images and is currently earning around $2,000 a month licensing rights to those images.

Todd’s licensing success is even more impressive when one considers that his areas of specialty are Montana and Wisconsin. In general there is a large oversupply and relatively little demand for imagery from these areas. Yet through aggressive marketing Klassy has been able to build a customer base and generate enough sales that he expects to be able to devote full time to his photography business beginning in 2013.

Among the keys to his success has been use of Flickr to develop focused collections and sets of images. Then he looks for potential customers that might be interested in his work and emails them a link to a targeted set of images along the lines of what they regularly use.

“Most ‘old guard’ photographers would shudder at this notion, and virtually all new, young photographs are busy spending thousands of dollars creating nifty new iPad and pre-packaged printed portfolios. I have none of that. I just shoot the potential customer a link to a custom made folder on Flickr and tell them I'm interested in working for them. Then I send them a link to my portfolio folder on Flickr that shows my published work. (There are currently 119 image in this collection, but he has almost that many more that he hasn’t had time to scan and upload.)  That alone usually opens the door; then I use my gift of gab and sales experience to close it,” he continued.

Certainly, one advantage Klassy has over many photographers is that his “other job,” and his professional experience in general, has been in sales. Thus, he is very comfortable with selling and negotiating.

He says, “Making money using Flickr consists of three very important components: (1) SEO, (2) negotiation/pricing, and (3) customer service (i.e. rapid reaction to inquiries and knowing how/what to say out of the gate).”

“Most people find me because of the 70+ words I use to describe an image. The money isn't in the obvious key words or meta tags. The money is in the unique tags (i.e. Fort Belknap (a tribe), side view, tatanka, wilderness, trio, etc.), and staying within an element/niche. I am now known by many magazines as primarily a Wisconsin, Montana, Madison, and eastern Montana photographer. So I tag every image with things like montana photographer, eastern montana photographer, montana landscape photographer, wisconsin documentary photographer, etc. However, keywording and SEO without marketing would fail.” He plans to release a book in the fall outlining the keywording and SEO strategies that have proved so successful for him. (Watch this space for more about the book.)

When Getty first started accepting images from Flickr photographers, Klassy signed up to have some of his images included in Getty’s Flickr collection. However, he quickly became disenchanted with the relatively low fees Getty was charging for some uses (compared to the fees he was able to get for similar uses), and the very low royalty percentage that Getty offers Flickr photographers. As a result he quickly terminated his contract with Getty.

He acknowledges that Getty helps his direct marketing by promoting Flickr images as aggressively as it does. (Currently Getty has 4,772,920 images in it Creative collection and 413,458 of those images come from Flickr photographers. The Flickr collection is the fastest growing segment of Getty’s offering and the images are given strong preference in the search return order.)

As a result of Getty’s activities professional buyers have become aware that Flickr has some very good images. More and more these buyers are actively searching Flickr for the images they need. Getty encourages its customers to do this by also offering to handle negotiations with Flickr photographers. When a customer chooses one of Klassy’s images and finds out that Getty can’t negotiate that sale, they contact Klassy. “Often they think I'm just an amateur and might give it to them for free. And that's where I make most of my sales; turning a $0 sale into something that pays the bills.”

Occasionally, during negotiations with him, customers will ask him why his images aren't sold via Getty. While he doesn’t say this to the customer, he told me “(1) I have made more money in just those few negotiations than I ever would have via Getty, and (2) Yahoo/Flickr would have made infinitely more money taking a cut of my action. Yahoo/Flickr is losing money in their Getty deal and they don't even know it.”

Klassy has experimented with microstock. When he first approached iStockphoto several years ago his images were rejected. Now he has 101 images on Shutterstock, but he is discouraged by a low acceptance rate of 33% and the very poor royalty return compared to what he earns himself by promoting his work through Flickr. While pleased with his relationship with the people at Shutterstock, he is unimpressed with micro sales in general. He says, “the amount of work I need to do to have an image hosted there vs. the returns it receives is hardly worth the effort.”

For him Shutterstock is more an opportunity to have his name seen than for the revenue it generates. Shutterstock featured his work on its blog before Christmas last year and his Shutterstock sales increased over 75% after that feature. However his Flickr-related sales more than doubled during the same period.

Up to now he has done very little assignment work, mostly because he hasn’t been pursuing it. But recently he landed a large contract with a Montana wheat manufacturer on the strength of this Flickr set. He will begin shooting that project later this spring.

He says, “2011 has been crucial to shaping what I do going forward so I can finally hit the road full time. It requires raising capital, finalizing budgets, making contacts, setting up new revenue streams, getting in shape, etc. etc. etc. Not nearly as fun a making photos, but necessary nonetheless.”

Copyright © 2012 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 301-461-7627, 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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