Missed Opportunities: Flickr Does It Again!

Posted on 8/19/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Over the years Flickr has built a very popular photo site that has attracted over 6 billion images from image creators. Many of these images (probably a very small percentage of the total) are excellent, marketable images. So good, in fact, that since 2008 Getty Images has added almost 900,000 of them to its Creative Stills collections.

Another equally important factor is that many image buyers have learned that Flickr has great images. They go there (often before looking anywhere else) to find images they can use for their projects.

A significant percentage of the creators, whose images buyers want to use, have no idea what their images should be worth. Often they license them for much less than market prices, or give them away.


This would seem to present a great revenue opportunity for Flickr. They could help their Flickr community members license uses to their images, make it easier for buyers to negotiate rights to such images, build loyalty among their creator community and the buyers and take a reasonable percentage of the fees negotiated. Everyone wins.

So What Did They Do?

Back in 2008 Flickr management decided they didn’t want to handle the editing or the licensing so they entered into an arrangement with Getty Images that gave Getty exclusive access to their community. They encouraged community members interested in licensing rights to their images (not all were) to let Getty handle the licensing. Getty editors searched the collection for images they thought had licensing potential and offered each of the image creators a contract. Eventually, a system was set up so photographers could ask Getty to consider their work.

Later, in cases where the customer found an image on Flickr (rather than www.gettyimages.com) the photographer could ask Getty to handle the licensing for them. We have no idea how frequently this happened, but there is reason to believe quite frequently.

Presumably, Getty compensated Flickr in some way for providing this kind of exclusive access to its community, but that was never revealed.

Fast Forward to March 2014

In March, after more than 5 years, Getty terminated its agreement with Flickr. At that time, It seemed logical that Flickr had finally realized that Getty was earning significant revenue from Flickr photographers. Flickr probably wanted a bigger piece of the action than Getty was willing to give.

If, rather than turning its photographers over to Getty, Flickr were to represent them, and as much as possible deal directly with the end using customers, they could earn significant revenue for the company and pay a higher royalty share to the photographers. Flickr is not an unknown brand.

Earlier this month Flickr announced that it would be “offering a licensing option to its community of creators,” but it was very short of details of how it would work. Now a little more is starting to come out.

In answer to the question of “What happened with the past Flickr and Getty Images partnership?“ Flickr says:
    “Flickr has long wanted to create a proprietary licensing platform that emphasizes strong relationships within the Flickr community. We’ve negotiated a new agreement with Getty Images that allows us to directly connect with our creative community and create wide reaching licensing opportunities. Getty Images is a strong distribution channel, whose first class collection of royalty free and rights managed photographs continues to secure access to photo editors, designers, and a global audience of photo buyers.”
Nothing is automatic. At this point Flickr photographers must be invited to participate in Flickr Curation. The Flickr curatorial team is actively looking for content suitable for licensing. Once located, they will contact the photographer and ask the photographer to sign a “Flickr contributor agreement.” Flickr editors will then determine which of the photographer’s images will be accepted for licensing and decide whether they will be offered as either RM, RF or Microstock.

There is no indication in the Flickr Licensing FAQ that Flickr has any plans to license images directly to customers. It seems that all licensing will be done through distributors and given how upbeat they are about the “Getty distribution channel” it seems likely that many of the images will be offered to Getty for distribution.

To the degree that Getty will be handling the distribution, Flickr will have taken over a lot of the editing and keywording tasks Getty performed previously. Instead of paying 20% to 30% of the gross fee collected to the photographers that have signed contracts with Getty, it will probably pay the same 20% or 30% to Flickr. Flickr will then pay the photographer 51% of “the net” it receives. Getty cuts its costs and wins, photographers lose.

Opportunities For Other Channels

It does appear that Flickr will also be anxious to work with other channels. Corbis, Alamy, iStock, Shutterstock, Fotolia and Dreamstime seem obvious choices. Companies like 500px might even be considered. The question for photographers will be whether the the combined total of revenue from other channels that Flickr decides to deal with will be enough to offset the 49% Flickr is taking from Getty sales. Or will it be better for a photographer just to deal directly with Getty.

Specialist collections looking to expand their offerings may also want to contact Flickr. Currently, Flickr allows users to sort searches by Any License or Creative Commons only. Certainly, in the near future they will add a “Flickr Curation” option. Then agencies looking for photographers who are interested in licensing their work and have images of a particular subject, could easily search Flickr and find images they want to represent. Flickr might be very interested in talking to such agencies since it could save them editing time.

However, the big question remains. Who will Flickr hand customers off to when they find images they want to license on Flickr?

Copyright © 2014 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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