Using Images To Mine Data

Posted on 5/1/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

It’s No Longer About The Image. It’s About The Data That Can Be Mined Using Images.

The value of images is declining. The value of data that can be mined by tracking image use is increasing.

Advertisers (the people with the money) could care less about the information – text or visual – offered by media. All they want to know is specifically who is looking at, or for, what. Once they can identify the specific interests or needs of individuals they can precisely target relevant sales pitches to only those who happen to be interested in a specific product or service.

John Wanamaker of Philadelphia department store fame used to say, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

With the Internet advertisers are getting closer and closer to being able to say, “When I pay for an ad impression, I know the person seeing it has an immediate interest in the product or service I offer.” Tracking what people are searching for, and who, specifically, is looking at something is much more important than the quality of any image.

The people with the money don’t care if the image that appears on a web site is a great image the consumer loves, or a so-so image she passes over. The important thing is knowing and understanding what she is seeking. Then advertisers with related products can tell her what she should be buying.

Have you noticed that with increasing frequency consumers of print media and TV are being told, “more information (especially pictures) can be found on the company’s web site.”  A newspaper, magazine or TV channel has no idea which of the hundreds of thousands of viewers is actually interested in any of they stories or ads they deliver. But, if they can offer enough of a teaser to get the viewer to go to the web for more information then they know exactly who is interested in which topic.

If a person in New York is searching for information on flights to Turkey, advertisers promoting tours, and hotels in Turkey want their ads to pop up when that consumer does searches. They don’t want to waste their ads on people going to other locations. If the person doing the search is in Instanbul, then the ads that pop up may be for local shops or restaurants. If the New Yorker makes a reservation in April for travel to Turkey in June, then in June the New Yorker should start seeing ads for restaurants and shops in Turkey whenever he does any kind of online search.

All this requires, not only the collection of lots of data, but often coordination among different databases to get a better understanding of each individuals interests and needs.
While a great deal of data is already being collected the gathering and coordinating of this information is still in its infancy.

What’s This Mean For Stock Photographers

Ad budgets are being spent on gathering this type of information and targeting specific consumers, not on creating something that is thrown out to the broader universe of consumers in hopes that some small percentage of the viewers will be interested in the product. Sure some broad universe promotions will still be needed to promote brand new ideas that no one knows exist, but the number of these will decline as more targeted advertising increases.

Targeted advertising will also need photos that illustrate specific products or services, not generic photos. That means the designers creating these targeted promotions will often need to hire a photographer to produce a custom shot, rather than trying to find a stock shot.

This Gets Us To Embedding

For photo distributors the information about who is looking at certain photos and the stories connected to those photos may be much more valuable than the photos themselves.

Nobody’s sure of how valuable. But as the value of photos declines it seems logical to try to collect data related to photos in hopes that it will become a supplementary source of income. However, the data that is worth something is the web or email address of the end consumer, not the keywords that photographers often think of as “data.”

Knowing that a publisher or design firm purchases hundreds of photos on a variety of topics for use in a variety of different promotions is basically worthless. The question is specifically who will eventually be interested in the subject matter connected to the photos. Even knowing the URL where the photos appear is not enough. To have anything of real value you’ve got to be able to track those who look at specific pages on a given URL as well as the subject matter of the information on the page.

Getty’s solution is to make photos available to web site developers for free in exchange for the right to capture the web address of the people who look at the page where the photo appears. They also want to control the size of the picture on the page, display a credit line and their logo under the picture and provide a link back to their site in case someone who views the picture wants to license its use.

The PressFoto solution is less intrusive, in many ways more user friendly and in the long run may generate more usable data. While PressFoto charges a minimum of $1.00 for the first 100,000 views of an image, it does not require any copyright or source identification under the photo. It also makes it easy for the user to adjust the size of the image and even insert copy over the image. In addition, the customer also has the assurance that the image will always be viewable on its site. Getty has reserved the right to remove its images if they choose, or if the image contributor decides to remove the image from the Getty Images collection.

Dmitry Shironosov, CEO of PressFoto makes the point that there are plenty of people around the globe who rather than stealing are happy to pay a little money for the images they want to use. He says, “ImageRent is the perfect solution. It provides legitimate and cost-effective access to a massive library of great images at an exceptionally reasonable cost.”

Initially, PressFoto will only track the number of times an image has been viewed, but because it is being viewed on the PressFoto web site they will know the users web address and have the potential to eventually track who is viewing each image. They don’t plan to turn this feature on immediately. The rental system makes it possible for them to wait until a significant number of images have been rented, and customers have become comfortable with the idea of giving up some of the data generated by their site, before PressFoto actually moves to the next stage of recording and monetizing the data.

Many microstock customers are already comfortable with paying $1.00, or a little more, for the images they need for web usage. Offering a rental option also gives microstock sites a chance to raise the small file size prices for those who want to purchase images outright without chasing away users who think they can’t afford the higher price of owning the image.

In the near future, I expect many microstock companies to follow PressFoto’s lead and offer rental options.

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, 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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