Tagged: pinterest

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.

4 Indicators That Outline the Decline of Image Licensing as We Know It

The annual conference CEPIC recently took place in Berlin, where international photo libraries congregate primarily to seek distribution for their images and/or image collections to represent for their clients. The industry they serve is commercial and editorial image licensing, and their clients are advertisers and publishers of all stripes and colors; the fact that publishing has been in contraction for quite some time has displaced many image licensors, but to add insult to injury the advertisers are showing attrition as well.

Typically, CEPIC has been viewed as the single-most important conference for the dissemination of news on mergers and acquisitions, launching of new ventures and products, and the type of intel gathering that can significantly inform one’s business strategy. What was once a critical gathering full of insight is now devoid of such news and intel, but even a room full of people (the most telling no-show: local photo startup EyeEm) going through familiar motions without any real buzz isn’t proof of an industry in decline. We can look to more conclusive evidence of a decline than what didn’t happen at CEPIC.

1. Diversification from the Big Incumbents

Getty, Shutterstock and Corbis are arguably the largest image licensors and oldest stories within the industry. What have they been up to lately? Moving away from transactional licensing models and diversifying their product portfolios and revenue streams. Getty’s core commercial licensing business has it’s challenges, but their infringement recoupment business has seen significant growth, and they’re seeking other monetization models that are built around the use of imagery online (embedding for data culling, sharing image data to Pinterest users, etc.). Shutterstock has taken significant market share away from anyone engaged in commercial image licensing, and while they’ve almost invented the subscription category through its continued improvement in experience to the end user, it’s still a fixed market. Aside from product diversification (Music, Video, How-To Videos), a key acquisition made in WebDAM allows them to move into the CMS area and – overtime – less reliant upon image licensing revenues. Corbis has all but given up on their commercial offering, instead throwing their chips into the new Branded Entertainment Network. Pivoting toward the entertainment industry carries a larger future promise for Corbis, and leverages their equity in rights and clearances.

2. DIY Campaigns

The skills required to execute a powerful image have migrated from a core group of experts (photographers) to virtually anyone, thanks first to digitization from analog processing, then online distribution. Being able to take your own photo for a campaign, product or reliant upon UGC participation to help market brands and products has significantly displaced traditional markets for image licensing from being the sole source (outside of assignment photography) to a last resort. It’s free (relatively) and you don’t have to sweat rights.

3. Distribution of Photography

The core image licensing industry controls around 250 million images (in abstract), many of which are redundantly available across multiple sites and shared and distributed out across the web. This is a tiny amount compared to the 1.8 billion photos uploaded and shared out on social networks per day. Not including Pinterest, which is all about photo distribution, and Google, which is the defacto site for image search, 1.8 billion is still a staggering number that relegates the image industry to outsiders looking in. Most image licensors expect clients to engage with images on their own storefronts, on their terms, but those potential clients have far fewer impediments to acquiring an image elsewhere…and do.

4. Investments Have Migrated

The investment community has put money back into photo businesses, but it’s all banking on models that are monetization of UGC and closer alignment to customers – the vendor role is an obsolete one. Companies that are getting funded and are getting traction have focused on providing request platforms (reinventing and bringing value around the photographer/buyer relationships), photo communities (aggregating first, then engaging the buy side), or analytics and services that are tied to retail and branding. All of them have a fundamental product identity that is not search/license/download, and for most photography is a means and not an end.


These trends are not the customary topics of conversation among incumbents, and at CEPIC the conversation revolved around shrinking distribution channels, lower prices, lower volumes, and Google’s latest battles with the EU. This is well-worn fodder, but missing the larger picture. The state of transactional image licensing is one of continued irrelevance — there’s a reason why Shutterstock has gained marketshare, and why new offerings crop up that look nothing like their predecessors. A whole new generation has been educated on what image acquisition means, and its expectations on everything from price, use, and point of access are far afield from the realities of years past. This generation, as well, is defining a reality that is broader in scope than image licensors can envision. The good news for those incumbents that solely engage in transactional licensing is that they’ll have more and more avenues available to them than ever before, and their advantages (niche aggregation, robust data, clearances) can position them to take advantage of the new marketplace, but it won’t be easy.

Microsoft’s 3-Step Process to Online Theft

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker and itself a massive consumer of image content for its products and services, has taken the bold step of promoting the theft of images online. Through its newly revamped Office product, Microsoft is replacing an image search functionality – one that routed the user to vetted sources for searching, transacting and integrating content into their online projects – with a general Bing search. While Microsoft is certainly free to remove one piece of Office functionality and push users onto the Bing platform, the methods of how it is doing so underscores a blatant disregard of intellectual property.

On Microsoft’s Office web page Images, it guides an Office user on the acquisition of images for use. Under “Use Bing to get images”, it outlines a three step process:

  1. Open Bing.com (and search for an image)
  2. Hover over your selected item…and Right click
  3. Click Save picture as…in the menu. Save image.

The message is clear: use Bing to download images for whatever intended use you might have. Microsoft does not attempt to educate the user on copyright, use rights or even how unauthorized use of images pulled from the web might expose the user to risks. It would seem that driving Bing traffic at the expense of content owners and generating volumes of orphaned works is far more important to Microsoft than architecting a solution where both parties might benefit from online search and use.

The unauthorized use of images has increased year over year, where it is now assumed that well over 85% of all images used online are done so illegally. Sites like Pinterest routinely expunge image metadata when users pin images, and despite attempts by Getty to monetize their collection by coupling Getty orphaned works with their rightful information, it’s a drop in the bucket considering the hundreds of millions – or billions – of images Pinterest hosts. Google is still the leader in generating orphaned works, and they’ve recently made greater strides in obfuscating information on the rightful owner of an image, while giving easier direct access of any online image from their search to users.

Microsoft, desperate to try and play catch up in the online search market, is brazenly throwing the content industry under the bus in the name of Bing. How it is educating the market on image use and consumption might very well be categorized as reckless, but more so ironic given that Microsoft is a corporation that vehemently defends its own intellectual property with extreme prejudice.

It’s not the lack of viable alternatives that accelerates unauthorized use, but lack of market education and general disinterest on behalf of search engines and social media platforms. What market education there is comes through the wellspring of Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other entities that advocate for free and unfettered access to content, and are intent on rewriting the rules around content ownership and accessibility. Microsoft has joined in the chorus, with a clear full-throated voice.