The practice of allowing visual media to be embedded on an external site by an anonymous user has seen widespread adoption (thanks, YouTube), so that any site in the business of publishing content uses it. By allowing readers to share the video/photo itself, and not a page link, it incentives use and reuse by offering bespoke contextualization of the object. Moreover, it gives the source publisher the ability to generate outbound links and traffic data in a more meaningful way. With the adoption of embedding by lay online publishers commonplace, many photo startups and incumbents within photo tech and licensing have exclusively focused on embedding (like IMGembed) or integrated it as another solution for their clients (like Yay Images’ “streaming” service and Getty’s embed program). While there’s clear demand, there’s ambiguity over how best to monetize using an embedded feature: per-impression fee, subscription, in-image advertising, data mining? Interestingly, photo-tech seems much more interested in plotting new paths than its retail-focused counterparts.
Houzz, the Pinterest-inspired home-décor community, recently secured $165MM in new funding. The start-up doesn’t hide photo sharing as being critical to its success – it’s right there in the global nav, immediately next to their logo: “PHOTOS”. Their embedding feature on every image (over 4.2MM) serves a clear purpose: to link back to Houzz.com. Embedding images from Houzz is simple and requires no registration. Embeddable codes are served up with every photo; Houzz delivers the image from its server, with a link back to the page on Houzz where the photo is published. There’s no credit line on source from Houzz on embedded images (and, once embedded on another site, you can easily save the photo/orphan).
Given their reliance upon photos for their business model, one might expect a bit more intelligence for how embedding is leveraged beyond just an anonymous share out and link back strategy. Houzz could employ a metadata strategy that better promotes both the content of the photo and its source (look to the Getty/Pinterest partnership), thus strengthening their brand and connectivity with users on the supply side as well as the user side. Also, utilizing visual recognition technology could create a more powerful selling platform, and allow Houzz to use the photo as a distributed point of sale among its retailers and partners. Embedding, when viewed as a vehicle for a more robust and deep engagement, can take on added dimensions.
Perhaps the most interesting use of embedding technology for photos – at least for those who aggregate and license – is in NewsCred’s recent launch of their Image Editor. NewsCred is in the business of creating and licensing content for content marketing purposes, and images are in all if not most of the content they license and distribute to other companies. Their platform tracks use and provides analytics, but their core service is as an aggregator and licensor of content. While NewsCred has for a while had multiple sources for visual content, it emphasizes as part of its marketing for the Image Editor access to “12.6 million stock images from Getty Images and our new partner Shutterstock as well as 28.1 million editorial images”. Clearly, putting it in the hands of the user is a lean toward customization of their service, but it’s also another pivot away from managing downloads on desktops. As part of a contained experience in using photos in content marketing, it benefits from use analytics which NewCred’s suppliers, NewsCred, and its end users can utilize.
If the practice of embedding is as much about control as it is ease of proliferation, the creation of “content on a string” by NewsCred and other content creation/management companies (as opposed to pure aggregators like Houzz and Pinterest) leans heavily on the control premise. Of course, the big differentiator lies within rights: aggregators who open themselves up to crowd sourcing have real limitations on how they can interact with that content. Pinterest drew the ire of the photo licensing industry after its launch by virtue of its inability to support accurate rights holder information, or even proper links, and was viewed as a massive orphan work generator (it has since made product improvements that address this). Where UGC imposes barriers for photo tech and aggregators, photo licensing companies like Getty hold the advantage with a vetted inventory. Still, the strategy is one of proliferation and not one of containment – but shouldn’t it be both? Embedding can provide clear value to the user (hassle-free access, customization) and to the rights-holder/publisher (tracking, analytics, sharing). Building those channels of use, through proliferation, is of high value. How that network is exploited becomes the central question to monetization.