What Google's Similar-Image Search Means to Traditional Stock Industry

Posted on 4/23/2009 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (4)

The search leader continued expanding its image-related offerings with Similar Images, an experimental search feature from Google Labs. While Google did not pioneer the underlying image-recognition technology or image-to-image searches, the company’s increasing attention to all things visual offers insight into online image-consumption trends. For stock producers and marketers, this foreshadows both opportunities and challenges.

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Copyright © 2009 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


  • Fred Voetsch Posted Apr 23, 2009
    "...refusal to make their images more easily accessible via search engines may prevent image piracy, but it is also preventing sales"

    Very true. As an AdSense user I see how advertising via Google is holding up well even in the most serious recession in decades as advertisers move increasingly to Google's targetted and highly effecive ads to bring in customers.

    It may be possible to suvive and even prosper for established photographers without using the web and Google but the Internet is increasingly becoming the standard method for reaching image users of all kinds.

  • Ellen Boughn Posted Apr 23, 2009
    Julia...you have it nailed. The intersection of user behavior and search technology is close to making it possible for photographers with niche collections to license directly to clients who find them by google search.

  • Rohn Engh Posted Apr 24, 2009
    Google Images is a nice place to visit, but no serious photo researcher wants to live there. It will never be a threat to specialized stock agencies or independent stock photographers who specialize.

    But the standard everyday Google text search engine is a haven for photo researchers. Here’s why.

    As the Internet grows, it’s becoming clear that photo researchers for magazines, book publishers, graphic houses, corporations, etc. cannot afford the time to physically look through the growing mass of images streaming aboard the Internet. Not if they looking for a highly specific image to satisfy their customer.

    “The long tail search” has now been discovered by most photo researchers. And they’ve discovered that Google search and the other text search engines, MSN-Aol-Yahoo et al, can make life easy for them.

    It seems an anachronism to suggest that using a text to find a picture works better than searching through images themselves. But professional photo research is moving that direction and leaving Google image concepts and traditional image search facilities behind.
    Using the example in your good article, you chose ”Capitol Hill Washington DC”. In my Google Images search, I found 200 images or was it 2,000? But as we all know, we could shout out the window and a dozen photographers would come running down the street waving their great photos of “Capitol Hill Washington DC”.

    Photo researchers know they can find specific photos about Washington DC –and they know a standard Google text search (not Google Images) will supply them with just the lead(s) they are looking for.

    Let’s say you’re searching for “Capitol Hill Washington DC Amtrak Schedule Board”. Approaching your search through usual image search channels, you’re at the risk of suffering “tired eyeballs syndrome,” searching through inappropriate images at Alamy, PhotoShelter, Corbis and others. Or you may get frustrated time and again getting, “Your search yielded no results. Please try broadening your search criteria…”

    How to locate the source of such an obscure image?

    Here at PhotoSource International we work both with photographers and photo researchers. Back in 1999 we began building a website called The PhotoSourceBANK where photographers could enter keywords describing specific photos they have available (or could easily take). Each photographer can enter up to 3,000 keywords and phrases. The PhotoSourceBANK is free to researchers and now contains more than a million keyphrases (long tail search tags) and combinations of keywords and tags. We asked photographers to gear their keywords to what they think a researcher might enter into a Google text search.

    Despite valiant efforts to find a highly specific picture, many photo researchers who are up against a stone wall find the solution to their search is the PhotoSourceBANK. We advise them to include the word ‘photosource’ at the end of their search phrase. As our PhotoSourceBANK grows, more and more researchers are finding a “text” search is more convenient than an image search. We now have 3500 researchers on our mailing list.

    We’ve only been offering this service for ten years, but as the database grows from a million to a billion words, it promises a revolution in photo research, thanks to advances and improvements in Internet search.

    Try it.

    By typing a standard Google search for “Capitol Hill Washington DC Amtrak Schedule Board” a space, and then the word ‘photosource’ you’ll see that Google will provide a contact result where you can go to find a photographer who has your exact photo need and a deep selection of photos in that niche area.

    You phone, fax or email the photographer, ask for a LightBox selection of pictures to review, select the one you need, negotiate a fee, and receive a high-resolution picture of your choice in a matter of hours.

    The beauty of this system for photo researchers is that photographers who shoot in specific markets usually have a passion for that niche market, are up-to-date on the subject, and available for additional consulting on the subject matter. You can’t get that with across-the-board microstock or Flickr shooters.

    Do photographers enjoy keywording their images? No they don’t. “I’m a photographer, not a library scientist!” they shout at me. But once they get a taste of the amount of business a goodly amount of keywords generates for them, there are no more complaints about the tedious task of entering more tags and keywords. Plus the meta data can keep selling their images for them when they retire. The meta data will be useful to their heirs, and also make their image collection attractive to stock libraries, museums, historical societies or universities should they want to donate or sell their archives down the line.
    It all evolves around good keyphrasing!

    –Rohn Engh

  • Tom Morgan Posted Apr 30, 2009
    From another angle... The Google 'similars' facility opens up new possibilities for tracking commercial infringements of popular images. It also has the potential to help with the issue of 'orphan works', as similar works will be more readily findable/traceable, hopefully to authoritative sources.

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