Googlegate 2

Posted on 1/22/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In the growing clamor and uproar about the free images available through Google Drive Rick Becker-Leckrone, CEO of Blend Images, made some points on the Stockphoto blog that are worth examining.

Rick pointed out that, “the (Google Drive) deal is for images in ‘Premium Access’ which licenses bulk content deals largely for new-media, non traditional, usages… (and is) exactly like any of the other deals that have been done in the past when a software manufacturer wants to have some clip art images in the box for use in demoing (demonstrating) the software.”

This raises a question. Does the fact that something has been a standard practice in the past necessarily mean that it will work – or is appropriate – for a new set of circumstances?

In the past software developers often needed a few sample images to show off the software. Such images needed “to be somewhat up to date and relevant, but not necessarily the best content available. Due to the small number of images it's not likely the collection will be that useful for clients for actual end use, but does show off the technology nicely. From Getty's perspective it's a $150,000 sale where the imagery is not likely to get a lot of exposure or end-use by potentially paying clients,” Rick continued.

In the Google Drive case users can not only see what is available in the Google catalog, they can go to Thinkstock and “nominate” 10 images for addition to Google Drive. Over time this curation process can easily move a significant portion of Thinkstock’s best images to Google Drive if there is no limit on the number of images that can be added. After reviewing the current collection ( it seems to me that the quality level is very high. Image creators should remember that back in print catalog days agencies might have had a million or more images in their collection and only 4,000 or 5,000 in their print catalogs. But 80% of their licenses were of the curated images in the print catalogs. This is what editing can accomplish.

In most PA cases in the past there was a limit on the number of images offered if they were to be made available for use by anyone. Some customers may have been given unlimited access to the Getty database, but in those case only the paying customer could use the images, uses were tracked and creators were paid a proportional share of the fee based on the total number of images used.

Number Of Images Involved

Is there a limit with Google Drive? It started out with 2,000, quickly grew to 5,000 and in the last couple of weeks seems to have grown to 11,781. ( Is there any cap, or eventually will all the images on Thinkstock that Google is willing to pay a one-time fee of $60 for be available on its site?

Who Will The Users Be?

Rick makes the point that the people who use these free images are not people who would pay for images. I’m not so sure. I agree most Google Drive users are unlikely to go to macro sites to look for images, but micro sites draw a whole different clientele.

Why do the images have to be FREE instead of Google telling customers that they can use any image on its curated site for $1.00 or $2.00? It is still a better deal than they are going to get anywhere else. Google doesn’t really believe that everything on the Internet must be free. They charge a monthly fee for access to Google Drive. So why do the images have to be free?

If there was some minimal charge then Getty could understand how frequently certain images are being used, identify the users and begin marketing to them. Users would also begin to understand that images have some value rather than always being free.

When images are Free image creators have no way of knowing how frequently certain subjects are being used and where they should concentrate their efforts when planning new production. Even a royalty of a few cents is better than nothing because it provides creators with some idea of demand.

Some argue that a $12 fee upfront is better because some images will only be used a few times and the royalty will never match the one-time fee. But from the creators point of view the market intelligence derived from pay-per-use should not be discounted.

How much use is there likely to be?

In many of the previous Premium Access deals the new products being developed never generated much use or revenue. Google Drive is likely to be a very different proposition. In 2011 Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Google Apps had 40 million users, and 20 million of them use the three applications Google Drive is offering. Use of this service is likely to explode as Google heavily promotes it and more and more people start working in the cloud.

Rick said, “I was once told (by a very reliable source at Getty) that if Premium Access was it's own agency - only PA sales - it would be in the top 5 grossing agencies in the world. Kinda makes you think.”

It sure makes me think. Is PA a top grossing agency, because it makes so much money, or because revenue has fallen off for so many other macro agencies? I would put Alamy among the top 5. Their revenue in 2011 was under $23 million. While $23 million seems like a big number Getty’s Creative Stills revenue, and the revenue of many macro agencies, has been dropping substantially in the last five years. Could the number of Premium Access sales have had anything to do with the decline?

As best I can tell, while a high percentage of the units licensed by Getty may be through Premium Access the lower prices per-image-used aren’t resulting in more overall use of macro images. In theory, if you’re giving customers volume deals then they will use more images. But based on what creators and Getty’s “image partners” are telling me not only are revenues going down, but the number of units licensed are either staying flat or declining. Granted, I’m making this observation based on a very small sample of information. I would be interested in hearing from Getty’s suppliers who are seeing a different trend.

Macro image licensors have complained about Premium Access since it was instituted in early 2007. The Google Drive application may demonstrate how counter productive it can be when it comes to generating long-term revenue.

See the previous Google Drive article for more background.

Copyright © 2013 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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