Tagged: photo tech

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.

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.