Was Flickr Getty's Second Choice?

Posted on 7/9/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (1)

According to Allen Murabayashi, Getty Images went to Flickr only after PhotoShelter repeatedly turned down offers to have its image collection distributed through gettyimages.com.

The CEO of the New York-based stock company, which recently launched the PhotoShelter Collection, told Selling Stock that during the last two years, Getty Images made several attempts to negotiate a deal similar to the just-announced partnership with Flickr. "They wanted us to do all the heavy lifting... editing, keywording, clearances... But the reason we turned them down was because [the resulting commissions] would not be fair to the photographers," Murabayashi said.

For pro shooters, the fact that Getty keeps the majority of image-licensing revenues is not news. Neither is the fact that PhotoShelter is trying to redefine the traditional stock-image space by changing this paradigm. However, Murabayashi offers an interesting perspective of what he feels was the real motivation for Getty's partnership with Flickr: buyer malcontent, combined with the need to block emerging competition from PhotoShelter.

"Very little diversity comes out of a monopoly. Our recent survey of over 700 image buyers confirmed what we already knew: They are seeing the same images, over and over," Murabayashi explained, adding that PhotoShelter was founded to fill this gap in creative, authentic imagery.

Some will dismiss this as self-aggrandizing, but Murabayashi contends that Getty's desire to distribute PhotoShelter's images validates the business premise of an open, free online platform that accepts professional and amateur contributions, as long as images meet the technical and legal requirements inherent to commercial uses. The photographer-turned-CEO says that PhotoShelter is increasingly penetrating the traditional buyer market with precisely the type of authentic creative content buyers seek and Getty lacks.

Citing strong growth in the number of represented photographers and several big-ticket licensing deals that have previously gone to Getty, Murabayashi sees the partnership with Flickr as "a logical move by a threatened industry leader." In fact, he likens the deal to Getty's acquisition of iStockphoto, which has remained the largest threat to traditional agencies.

While iStockphoto is Getty's one area of major growth, Murabayashi thinks it unlikely that the Flickr partnership will result in the same. He points out that both Flickr and Getty Images have publicly admitted that the deal is more strategic than financial. He estimates that Getty's technical requirements will disqualify over 99% of Flickr-hosted images and predicts that the company will have difficulty tracking down photographers, ascertaining image ownership and obtaining commercial clearances.

Murabayashi also cautions Flickr enthusiasts about the terms under which Getty wishes to license their images, once again offering PhotoShelter as a contrast. "The problems you run into dealing with people who do not do this full-time is their lack of understanding technical aspects, like pricing, and the differences in clearances required for commercial and editorial uses. That is why we have made a significant investment in educating our community." Getty, he feels, is putting forth a superficial perception of embracing the Flickr community, while purposely omitting the contractual fine print of imposing exclusivity and revenue split that averages 75% to the agency.

Asked about the background of its own failed attempt to integrate Flickr-images, Murabayashi said that PhotoShelter did this in response to its photographers, who used Flickr but often voiced concerns over insufficient security of the photo-sharing Web site. In March, PhotoShelter launched a Flickr import plug-in. The company believed that it had a good relationship with Flickr, but there was no formal agreement.

As was the case with the much earlier introduction of a similar tool by microstock Web site 123rf.com, Flickr cut off PhotoShelter for violating its terms of use, which prohibit using its public API for commercial purposes. Murabayashi thinks it more likely that the Getty Images deal was already in the works.

Murabayashi returns to the same sentiment: "I am hard-pressed to name another industry where the creative does not get to keep most of the revenue." On the corporate side, some see PhotoShelter's 70% photographer commission and additional support as an unsustainable model. Others predict that the heft of the Big Three will crush most younger businesses, while the rest dismiss the PhotoShelter's goal of empowering photographers as altruistic nonsense. On the traditional stock photographer side, however, thousands desperately want PhotoShelter to succeed.

Selling Stock asked Getty Images spokesperson Bridget Russel if Flickr was a second choice. She did not confirm or deny, noting only: "Flickr is the ideal partner for Getty Images, and we are proud to partner with them."

Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


  • Tom Hanson Posted Jul 10, 2008
    Self-aggrandizing is putting it mildly. Photoshelter will never get anywhere close to a sales level to rival Getty, Veer or some of the other major distribution platforms (like Alamy).

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