Keep An Eye On Flickr

Posted on 9/25/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Flickr has over 10 billion images. A significant percentage of them (probably a majority) are Private and not available for Public view, but that still leaves a lot for the Public to consider.

Since 2008 Getty has sourced more than 1 million images (about 12% of Getty’s creative collection) from Flickr.

Many image buyers have learned that Flickr has some great images and often go there to search for images for their projects. But, negotiating rights and getting high res images can be a hassle because the customers have to deal individually with each photographer.

Nevertheless, a few of the photographers who have carefully keyworded their images earn more annually from customers finding their work on Flickr than 95% of the contributors to iStock, Shutterstock and Fotolia and probably more than 95% of the contributors to Getty Images.

The point being that there are a significant number of quality images on Flicker. Check out these comparative searches for a random group of subjects on Flickr, Shutterstock, Alamy and Getty Images.

  Flickr Shutterstock Alamy Getty Images
Woman office 88,875 1,370,434 313,119 99,524
Woman computer 32,565 464,843 267,018 88,641
Cell phone 613,815 1,130,898 175,614 131,591
Wind energy 78,260 94,836 80,415 17,091
Solar Energy 102,500 74,026 46,881 6,652
Oil drilling 31,595 20,863 10,300 12,233
Cargo ships 127,205 122,162 15,749 5,616
Container ships 151,194 92,526 12,081 5,616
Landscapes 7,011,508 3,929,335 644,854 757,102
Fishing 6,179,782 282,922 538,064 55,098
Koi 265,849 6,859 6,108 1,253
Babies 6,821,012 1,201,163 153,618 140,590
Family Picnic 164,288 19,576 17,891 4,198
Tigers 3,237,625 88,331 45,336 6,959
New York 13,525,759 364,229 1,912,777 139,020
Los Angeles 5,970,087 651,188 1,807,656 60,770
China 8,250,084 676,676 996,999 210,357
London 12,198,326 195,807 2,776,897 130,820
Israel 3,383,676 88,539 258,994 20,095

It seems clear that Flick’s collection is weak when it comes to some of the most popular stock subjects such as business, industry, lifestyles and model released people. But, Flickr has an overwhelming number of images in the travel, landscape, scenic, nature and wildlife categories. While many of the people images may not have releases, a large percentage of them are of family or close friends. Since the customers must deal directly with the photographer who probably will be able to clear releases for a specific customer the release problem might not be as big an issue as when dealing through an agency.

On top of having to deal directly with the photographer to negotiate rights, another reasons Flickr isn’t a bigger threat in the existing market is that most of the images are poorly tagged or keyworded. The vast majority of contributors have not been concerned about trying to earn revenue from their images so they haven’t spent much time keywording.

Auto Tagging

Flickr is trying to change all that. Back in May it introduced automatic tagging of all images in its collection. Initially, it seems to have been a disaster. A photo of a woman wearing face paint was tagged “ape” and “animal,” and a photo of a concentration camp as “sport” and “jungle gym.” Many photographers wanted to be able to “opt out” of this automatic procedure. It is not clear what Flickr has done or whether their auto tagging has gotten better.

About the same time Microsoft introduced auto tagging ( for captioning photos and it had similar problems.

While many companies are trying to solve the problem of too many images with auto tagging, in general the software seems to be a long way from being ready for prime time.

Moving Into Licensing

After realizing how much Getty was benefiting from being able to license Flickr images Flickr decided it wanted a greater piece of the action. They were unable to negotiate a better deal and in March 2014 Getty terminated its agreement with Flickr.

In August 2014 Flickr announced that it would offer its community of image creators a licensing option, eventually call Flickr Marketplace.

Now, almost a year later, Flickr has created a “Curatorial Team” that is going through its collection and inviting selected photographers to participate in Flickr Marketplace.

Flickr’s plan seems to be to select images to be marketed and make sure they have adequate keywords, and releases if necessary. Then they will make deals with “distribution channels” to market these images. The arrangements are to be non-exclusive.

Flickr is telling contributors that it will offer two types of licenses:
    1.    Royalty-free (RF) – Royalty-free photos are licensed at set prices based upon the file-size the customer purchases. The end-use is not specified (though certain types of uses that are defamatory, pornographic or illegal are banned) so the customer has a lot of flexibility in how they use the photos, and can use them multiple times.
    2.    Microstock - On the more budget friendly side of "traditional" stock photography, a microstock license allows for similar flexibility to that found in RF, but caters to buyers looking for more affordable options.
It is unclear how they will determine whether an image should be offered at traditional RF prices rather than Microstock prices. It is not clear whether the photographer will be allowed to make that decision or whether that is a decision reserved to Flickr. It does seem that they do not intend to license anything as RM or on an exclusive basis.

Getty Images and iStock will be among the distributors used, but it is not clear whether the same, or different, images will be made available through other distributors. There is no indication that they have placed any images with distributors yet, or how soon that might happen. It appears that photographers will not have any say with regard to which distributors are allowed to license their images.

What To Look For

Without a doubt there are some great images in this collection, if Flickr can manage to solve a few problems.
    1 – Flickr must find a way to surface the best images and those likely to be in greatest demand.
    That requires experienced human editors. By going through Flickr’s billions, Getty’s editors found one million images they though would sell. There is every reason to believe that was successful for Getty, but it took time. Is Flickr prepared to hire enough “curators” to do this job?

    2 – Flickr has more images on virtually every subject than anyone will want to consider. But volume alone is not the answer. The trick is identifying the best image on every particular topic and finding a way to get them to the top of searchs. Flickr has a huge amount of data on “likes,” and that may be useful, but it is not clear that the images other image creators and friends like are the images customers will want to use.

    3 – Flickr must solve the keywording problem. Indications are that auto tagging will not do the job and that experienced, human keyworders will be needed to maximize the revenue generated by the best images. The problem here is that technology people want short cuts. They want automation to solve all their problems. If they stick to that strategy the best images are likely to stay buried.

    There is some indication that Flickr intends to remove tags that individual photographers might have put on their images and only use the tags created by their auto tagging software.  According to the Flickr FAQ, “With our different distribution channels, these new tags will be the only ones used for licensing purposes and will allow buyers to easily find your Flickr photos on their platform.” This would certainly lead to disaster.

    4 – Flickr must decide whether it will license images directly to customers, or only through distributors. Clearly, a lot of customers already search for images on Flickr. Flickr could keep 100% of the fees those customers pay rather than giving up a huge share to distributors. But Flickr would have to build a marketing and selling side of their business and the indications are they don’t intend to do that.
There is potential for Flickr to be another very disruptive player in this industry, but Flickr and Yahoo have a history of delaying decisions too long and missing opportunities.

Copyright © 2015 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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