Tagged: 500px

3 Major Reasons Photo Tech Needs to be Concerned About Rights

The recent explosion of startups devoted to monetizing photography have revealed certain diversity of approach within the photo tech ecosystem, where business models are targeted largely on accelerated aggregation of imagery and either monetization of the audience (data, app charge, etc.) or of the images themselves (advertising, print on demand, licensing/use). Many, like Chute, provide tools for the aggregation of UGC to supplement their campaigns, while others, like 500px, focus on fine art enthusiasts and provide enhanced portfolio tools in a community setting. The variance unfurls like Instagram’s API subscribers: everything from consumer apps to B2B web solutions.

Most all share the view that online images are an untapped resource. In-image advertisers, like Znaptag, seek to push through ads on publisher sites (a similar tagging experience recently departed Stipple helped pioneer). The in-image ad market is heavily populated by incumbents from the ad industry – not photo tech – so often, like other photo tech startups, less emphasis is placed on image inventory and provenance thereof. It’s a volume game, and when the pipes are open wide – and where little regulation occurs – you can expect some trade-off around quality.

By quality, we don’t imply artistic integrity, technical attributes or commercial viability, but the rights associated with an image – the verification of source and the rights granted to an end user. There are many inferior images that reside with image licensing incumbents, just as there are many superior images being aggregated by photo tech startups. It’s how images are sourced, the process, that the industry needs to be vigilant over.

Platform does not equal inventory

The incumbents in photo licensing have the edge in inventory. Existing licensors like Shutterstock, Getty, and others have long placed barriers to entry that reduced-to-eliminated risk for their clients. It was a baked-in process that translated to client attraction and retention, and is still a critical cornerstone of their ability to productize their inventory. While photo tech platforms obsess (and stakeholders watch just as obsessively) over what rights are transferred by each user to them, very few actively qualify each image that is submitted to them.

For many, it’s an impossible task. They exist within the DMCA’s safe harbor provision, and cannot actively be aware of the types of images being submitted to them. With the foundation set, they’re reliant upon opt-in measures (500px, EyeEm, and now Flickr) to build inventory. While this might achieve some success, it is still a decentralized program apart from the main proposition of the platform. Few can create the foundation that a Shutterstock has, which focuses solely on aggregation and distribution for specific audiences. The initial proposition is key – once deviated from, noise level rises and mixed messages ensue.

Infringement claims are rising

Getty’s infringement business is big, and viewed by many pundits as “free” money. Sure, it doesn’t scale proportionately to inventory nor does it scale nicely against admin costs, but it’s growing and others are noticing and coming to the table. Claims aren’t only drawing solutions-minded intermediaries who promise to do the dirty work – this is also a photographer-driven incentive, and those who’ve been infringed upon demand retribution.

Adding to this trend is attention by the government to help copyright claims, which have long been out of reach by individuals due to court allocation and claim processes. Once the doors open up and help facilitate the claims process for infringing use, you can bet even more growth within the infringement industry will occur.

UGC is still perceived as the ‘unwashed masses’ by publishers…and it is

Photo tech startups view the world’s mobile captures as potential untapped inventory rife for exploitation, and in many cases it is, but major publishers are still quite wary of directly sourcing from UGC-based startups due to the inherent risks.

Publishers (and advertisers) will still require confirmation of source, or at least an end use license that provides warranties in instance of a claim. Even the incumbents slip up now and then (Morel), but such anomalies aren’t enough to produce a mass exodus of clients. Risk-aversion is still weighted heavily against startups, whose selection process is non-existent, and any automated or crowd-curated aspects to the platform don’t reflect the rigor expected by potential clientele.

 

Of course, photo tech isn’t aligned with rights on an image level. Notorious terms of services, of which Instagram’s was made famous, was created to be a rights grab. Most startups have adopted similar terms of service, as is common within the culture, but many are quite friendly and transparent. The commonality among them all is a decided pivot away from verifying rights of an image and providing assurances to end users, to shifting risk back onto participating parities on either side of their platform. Despite the volumes of images being added online every moment, copyright law still gives recourse to those who seek it.

 

Watch This Space For The Next iStock

Change agents often come from the outside. Not mired in the near-sightedness of immediate demands and constraints of status quo, new businesses that bring about a new solution to an old problem have the benefit of pure objectivity and the flexibility to commit resources to solving (seemingly) vexing issues for incumbents – or at least carving (seemingly) obvious shortcuts.

The prior wave of change agents to image licensing, deployed unique aggregation methods (crowd sourcing) with simple low cost access (credit system). iStockphoto, Fotolia and Shutterstock all sprung forth from the graphic design and amateur photographer world, where then-present problems – like the complexity, limited inventory and cost of acquisition – were directly challenged with engaging the network effect of the crowd. As change agents, both the network effect in establishing a community and the use of DSLRs were exploited as the primary means to success. The impact to incumbents was transformative, as it displaced the industry and redefined the marketplace and its rules.

Our present-day change agents in image licensing are once again focusing in on network effects and ignoring incumbent rules, and coming from the outside to do it. Where they are coming from is reflective in their solutions, will inform their market success and adoption, and will ultimately become another leader in transforming an industry.

In a prior post I outlined how the second wave of user generated content platforms are generating significant momentum. Many new businesses that seek change agent status see the path strictly through mobile, while others mobile is secondary to their platform.

Not all mobile aggregators will survive without solving the client side of the business. Foap, a stock photo startup focusing on mobile capture harvesting from the crowd, differentiates itself by its request platform experience. Perhaps similar to what OnRequest Images attempted to spearhead years ago (but prior to the benefit of present market conditions that make aggregation possible), Foap is communicating a personalized and unique source of corporate branding/marketing content (“Missions”). Competitive to Foap in the request platform space is startup Snapwire and ImageBrief. Where Snapwire is more centered on engaging the mobile photographer for their request platform, to ImageBrief mobile capture is an afterthought (perhaps due to their inception prior to a viable commercial mobile capture market).

More unique paths to transforming the industry are being carved by outsiders, all stemming from equally unique places. EyeEm, often referred to as the Instagram of Europe, has been explicit on its interest to enter the image licensing market (as well as monetizing its visual recognition technology), and has both the content and the resources to leverage against its competitors. Mobile-focused, EyeEm will no doubt stake further advantages in its ability to generate a network effect through its community of users – likewise with Scoopshot, who upped the ante on incumbents Demotix (Corbis) by not only committing to the network effect of mobile, but also more importantly of Twitter. The ethereal 500px are photo enthusiasts who have succeeded in aggregating (largely DSLR) along the lines of best of breed, evangelizing curation over all else. While they have outsider status, is their proposition unique enough to be transformative?

Some of the most compelling propositions to the image industry are still from technology, through attempts to monetize things like visual recognition tech (Stipple), but some non-incumbents might have a leg up on the competition purely based on where they’re from. Like iStockphoto, Imgembed comes from the design industry, which is a critical bridge between the needs and requirements of customers – or, more succinctly, the customer is defining the product. Imgembed seeks to solve the current gaps within unauthorized use, attribution and monetization, through an end-to-end system that provides transparency to all parties involved. Their platform could eventually be an immediate answer to not only closing gaps in the industry, but define how licensing is conducted. Given their broad exposure in the design industry, and proven ability to build an effective and influential network, they might be the change agent in a crowded field of aspirants.

UGC: The Second Wave

A year ago, image licensing platforms Shutterstock and Fotolia – both user generated content platforms – secured an IPO and substantial private equity (respectively). At the time this signaled a resurgent interest in photography business models, no doubt tipped off by Instagram’s $1B valuation and acquisition by Facebook. Today, this interest is materializing in the capitalization of a few seasoned startups in the image industry. It’s an odd array of similar-yet-divergent value propositions and models, but they all seem to be vectoring toward monetizing UGC from mobile within the commercial licensing industry.

The activity seems all outside of the US, where conditions in getting user traction and (against US trend) seed capital might have been more favorable in recent past. Finland’s Scoopshot, who cleverly leverage Twitter in a ploy to aggregate news imagery, secured $1.2 last month. Swedish company Foap built a mobile photo app enabling a photographer to sell to an end user, and recently secured $1.5M in capital for pushing its 5.7M images out into the US market. German company EyeEm, billed as Europe’s Instagram, secured $6M to exert its collection as well as leverage their own visual recognition technology. The most recent winner is Toronto-based 500px (who have built an extremely popular destination around best of breed/curated content) and have been pivoting toward commercial licensing for a while – it secured $8M to go full throttle.

While this level of capital isn’t a massive windfall, it is a story line that continues across many other startups who have focused on mining photo apps for end use licensing, and other outliers with similar models. They all seek to displace brick and mortar mainstays who have been unsuccessful in mobile aggregation for their market. Engagement and education of mobile photographers to make available their property for end use commercial licensing is fraught with hassle, and the return compensation is low enough to be a barrier for any involvement.

Where there has been decent coverage around investment, other startups have been flying under the radar. Snapwire, an angel-funded startup with the simple proposition of mobile aggregation for end use licensing (via a request platform), has been modeling their message around empowering the mobile photographer to monetize – there’s no subtlety (or aggregation pull) in pure commercialization, and Snapwire is quick to convey a deeper connection to mobile photographers via creative collaboration and pure photographic passion. Snapwire joins already existing ImageBrief, a request platform launched with DLSR-pros in mind and now certainly less agnostic about method of capture. Any UGC business knows that the joy and discovery in applications such as Instagram is a key component to participation, and critical in the success of any UGC startup with an eye toward the transfer of rights required for commercial licensing.

There are enough lessons learned from the first wave of UGC (iStock, Shutterstock, Fotolia) to apply to mobile capture. First wave aggregators did a good job of expanding the market by making content more accessible (i.e., cheaper, faster), but fell short on innovating on the supply side – particularly in the realms of content curation and mobile. The second wave of UGC – squarely focused on mobile – might benefit from the lessons of the past. Even though they face a crowded market with overlapping value propositions, they’re intent on making inroads to the millions of new and emerging artists, empowered by improving image quality on the cameras they carry in their pocket.