Tagged: imgembed

Online Publishing Growth

(originally posted on IMGembed’s blog 2014)

Online publishing has become so commonplace, and tools so ubiquitous and available, that it’s simple to forget how much of a recent explosion this was, how broad it has reached, and how it continues to grow.

Blog use is on the rise, as both Tumblr and WordPress statistics confirm. Within the past 3 years, Tumblr has seen its number of blogs increase by over a factor of 10, from 17.5 million to over 181 million. The cumulative amount of posts (within the same period) increased by almost a factor of 17 from 5 billion to 82.9 billion. WordPress has seen its page views increase over twice the amount within the same timeframe, and is averaging over 14 billion page views per month in 2014.

Driving this growth is content creation in both business and non-business capacities. In general trends, creation of online content is now the cultural norm with Gen C (“generation connected”), with over 90% creating online content at least once per month. This engagement spans generational boundaries (35% of Gen C is over the age of 35), and across nationalities. In the US alone, over 78% of Gen C engage in the curation of content online, and over half of global users do the same. The process of selection, sharing and use is both habitual and commonplace.

Trending in business looks equally compelling, with one-third of US businesses planned on increasing image use in their marketing in 2013, and over half planned on increasing their content marketing output that is inclusive of imagery (blog posts, articles, social media). Clearly, the adoption of content marketing by businesses from small to large has taken firm root, and the growth of image use within content marketing contexts will expand. Image consumption by businesses is going to continue to grow across industry verticals and will reach deep into various levels of the product, sales and marketing cycle, driving essentially ubiquitous integration of use.

Images sell ideas in ways that text cannot. Whether for a commercial context, or editorial, imagery has been proven to increase engagement. As online publishing grows, so shall opportunities for image use.

Where is the new image inventory going to come from to serve the marketplace? From those who take an active part of creating and sharing content online. Business models that allow for participation by both creators and publishers, connect them, and focus on a seamless transaction with significant value add in the process will benefit in the new content economy.

Content Marketing as a Photo Channel

(originally posted on IMGembed’s blog 2014)

As content marketing pushes forward in 2014 through both native ad growth and non-native content channels, marketers will be required to understand the impact of their efforts. A key component within the suite of business intelligence metrics is use tracking. Native ads can deliver metrics back to marketers directly from their partner site, but what about non-native channels, specifically sharing and re-posting?

Photography is a massive greenfield for brand marketers, all of whom value brand participation and sharing above all else. The world’s leading brands seek to engage consumers through photography – no other medium has the immediacy of message in a foreshortened cycle of consumption, and can offer the type of intimacy advertisers seek to deliver upon. More channels are available to deliver photography than ever before, and no other platform or media is as engaging.

How can photographers tap into these channels? By making available their works through platforms that promote the sharing and tracking of images – engage potential marketers directly, and gain exposure through use and dissemination. Traditional sources for imagery – like commercial and editorial licensors – can only penetrate these markets so far, as content marketers seek new sources that offer the flexibility and uniqueness that the web offers.

Native Ad Growth in 2014

(originally posted on IMGembed’s blog 2014)

Content marketing continued its expansion in 2013, disrupting traditional online advertising. The elements aligned perfectly: consumers became less engaged with banner ads, which became increasingly an arcane vestige of newspapers and old technology; likewise, the demise of traditional publishing volumes impacted the ability for new content – at least the ability to increase the supply for the demand of the digital age.

As businesses quickly adapted and channeled resources to generating content, traditional press took notice. Already, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post were highly successful in adopting a native ad strategy. Crafted in a targeted way, native ads can deliver a seamless integration into existing editorial parameters, have a higher CTR and much more measurable in ROI than traditional ads. Nearly 75% of publishers are now offering native ad integration, and even NY Times itself is finally caving in.

Of course, with success comes scrutiny. Lack of transparency for consumers is drawing discussion of industry regulation, but that shouldn’t slow things down too much. Blurring the lines between paid content on news media, and news media on big business (as supported by firms like NewsCred), is a by-product of both advertisers and old media adapting to new technology and behaviors.

With the growth of content creation, opportunities for photographers will expand. Image consumption will continue to be decentralized from major publishers and agencies, out to businesses of stripe and color – anyone who is actively looking to publish online. 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for content, and no story or communication is complete without photography.

A Case of Online Attribution

(originally posted on IMGembed’s blog 2014)

The recent decision on the Morel case, in which Editorial photographer Daniel Morel brought copyright infringement and DMCA violation claims against the AFP and Getty Images, was much more about the systematic failure of well-worn business practices within photography, rather than willful infringement by the defendants. While AFP and Getty took the stand, and were certainly culpable, it was more interesting to understand who was not there: both the person that took the images from TwitPic and republished the photo under their name, and TwitPic.

From TwitPic, AFP came across the images – all of the Haitian earthquake in 2010 – and used while crediting the wrong photographer. Getty picked them up from AFP’s feed and made them available to news publications; both licensed them directly to publishers, with the wrong attribution. Daniel Morel never received payment, and tried getting his images removed from distribution once immediately made aware.

By then, the distribution system had gone through its mechanizations: AFP assumed the images were attached to the right creator, and Getty assumes anything AFP gives them is legally “clean”, that all rights were cleared by AFP. The publications who license from Getty, in turn, make those same assumptions: that through the whole chain of operations sufficient due diligence was made and rights were secured by all parties.

The fly in the ointment (or wild card), however, was TwitPic and its agnosticism toward content and attribution. Despite their terms of service being clearly violated, there was nothing preventing the infringing behaviors on TwitPic’s platform. As a distribution model, it’s great for photographers to quickly gain access to a wide audience on breaking news, but does little to nothing around securing attribution for broader re-publication.

Attribution is a core value to Imgembed’s platform, and allows for content creators to hold that association through online use. In a hypothetical use case, a photographer like Morel could use Imgembed as one of his/her photo channels and realize the immediate benefits of embedded attribution, online use and monetization of their imagery, and tracking its use across the web.

There’s a wide disparity between traditional media conduits and their aggregation/distribution practices, and how photographers are capturing and sharing their imagery – the expectations on both sides, and through the Morel case, have revealed how wide this gap is. As a system, Imgembed is an end-to-end solution that brings together the parties that mutual benefit from online use, because photographers and publishers should meet somewhere other than court.

Embedding Images: The Promise of Proliferation, The Tension of Control

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.

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.

Where Have The Customers Gone?

The short – and perhaps pithy – answer to where licensees of stock imagery congregate these days is “Shutterstock”, but the longer answer is more interesting, and reveals client-side fragmentation even with recent supply-side consolidation.

Nearly twenty years ago, the stock agency landscape was fragmented and analog, two of the requirements for Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein’s success. Their biggest achievement – like successors iStockphoto and Shutterstock – was in building a platform that had no peer in delivery to customers, across speed and accuracy of search, ease of use and price. Klein often referred to “the power of the platform”, and certainly today no one can boast platform power better than Shutterstock.

In recent past the value prop post-recession was price. iStockphoto and their peers instigated the balance of market share shift toward inexpensive credit-based prices, but the real battle in the trenches was around ease of use and access – price was important, but given the overall increase in price variance industry-wide it gradually ceded its argument to access. Market education, and the guidance of expectations fostered from mobile apps, informed customers along immediacy and not price.

Content was an afterthought, as oversupply afforded plenty of options in one place. The more customers turned to Google for image searches, and organic means of finding content via social platforms, the more fragmented the market became as did the noise-to-signal ratio. The non-exclusive nature of the industry in some ways worked against itself and siphoned off traffic from iStockphoto and Fotolia, as they all represented the same content, so why not go to Shutterstock’s all you can eat buffet?

So, where are the customers now? There are more of them, yes, and they are licensing more for shorter duration of use, so volume increased. The major problem with identifying where the customers are is tied to their behavior – they’re everywhere, yet nowhere (specific), spread out across the social graph and business landscape. More than ever, they’re finely and narrowly segmented from the personal publisher/passive user to seasoned ad campaigner. Moreover, they’ve moved on from traditional content sources, and often the only and earliest affiliation they have with licensing images is from iStockphoto, who set expectations that few businesses have been successful in emulating years later.

To reach customers with the type of network effect and scale of an iStockphoto or Shutterstock, you need a platform and truly unique proposition. For aggregators, the good news is there’s plenty of content on the market for free; rights grabs by Instagram and other apps, who aren’t even in the business of licensing, show how easy it is to gain broad rights to content. If you’re focused on licensing from the outset, like Foap, it’s a simple and transparent acquisition strategy (and a mobile one). The only real way to capitalize on acquired content, and engage customers, is to continue to shorten the span of the act of licensing, so that it becomes a mist in the background – the deus ex machina that simply grants permissions and exchanges money simply, effectively, and quickly.