Tuesday, April 22, 2008

...and then they were free

Back in February of 2007 (Free photos (and $13 Superbowl ads), 2/1/07) we wrote about the (at the time) latest hair-brained idea - free photos. The idea was that if a photo hadn't sold for many months, it would get tossed into the "free" file, in hopes of driving other sales.

A Google search for "free stock photos" (here), revealing just who wants to give photos away for free. In fact, those top Google postions are, in fact, paying for the opportunity to market free photos. Just how much does it cost to place those ads, and what does it cost them whenever you click on them?

(Continued after the Jump)

Well, we did a little research, and here's what we found:
What does all that mean? Well, to appear in that search term's results, knowing we want to appear in the top three positions, we're paying a minimum of $2.47, and a maximum of $3.58 - PER CLICK-THROUGH, to appear in the top 3. When we set a maximum per-click cost of $5, we learned that $3.58 was the most we'd probably pay. Although once we started the ad, the auto-adjusters for those three would likely auto-increase their per-click payment maximums, and the cost would go higher. Setting a budget of $500 a day (just to get a cieling), and with Google looking at the estimated clicks per day, we can expect to pay up to about $310 per day, all for the privledge of giving away free photos, hopefully as a loss-leader to get you to buy one or two. If we were to adjust downwards to $1.50, then we plummet to the bottom 4-6 listings, meaning we lose a ton of traffic because of our placement:

Thus, not only are the photos free, several hundred people a day are clicking on those top three ads (combined) and the advertisers are hoping you'll come for free, and stay over time for a few $1 photos. Considering that not everyone that clicks buys, let's assume that every 3rd click opts for a free photo. That's roughly $10 paid to Google to get one customer come to you so you can give them a free photo. Then, you earn $0.80 per $1 photo sold, should that customer come back to make a purchase. So, if they come back, or buy others, they need to buy 12 photos, just to break even on that $10. But, how many of those, after they get their free photo, don't come back? Even 1 of 3? If so, you have to sell 36 photos to break even on all those click-throughs. Now it's just getting silly.

Next up is iStockphoto, (for now, a subsidiary of Getty Images - NYSE: GYI) giving free photos to the Microsoft Office community (press release) , and of course there's PicApp, critisized by some as illegal. A search for the word "dog" on their site turned up a pink-dressed dog closeup, with a sourcing/credit of "Getty Images". The idea - the photo carries an ad at the bottom.

Lastly, is the silly wabbit that is Free-Stock-Photos.co.uk, who is out Livingstoning Bruce Livingstone. A designer with a snazzy new camera, looking to share his work. Come now, that idea is so played out! Only this time, it's just free - but you have to give us a link!

Just how hard is it to out-stupid oneself these days? I am beginning to wonder. We already have a ton of "shoot for our magazine, we'll give you photo credit" (woo hoo!) offerings. I guess this is just the online version. Next up? Paying for placement of photos in certain uses, provided there's a credit line/link.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

11 comments:

Eric said...

From the iStock release: "“Being a Microsoft Office Online content provider has [...] greatly accelerated iStock’s profile with several new types of users, many of whom have not used micropayment stock images before, [...] Since we began offering imagery on the Microsoft Office site, tens of thousands of Microsoft Office users have signed up to [...] take full advantage of all we have to offer.”

Knowing what kind of work Office clip art is used in, my suspicion is that this effort alone has introduced a lot of people to microstock who would never have thought about paying for photographs before. At the same time, these are the same people complaining that "you want it HOW MUCH? I can get it for a dollar!" just as others shrank from the "$40 roll of Kodachrome" when they could get a roll of film for $5 at the drugstore years ago.

Eric said...

Reading further:
"In partnership with its members, iStockphoto has turned community into commerce, transforming the digital imagery market by encouraging passionate dialogue and education..."

Compare this for a moment to an article on another (and much more positive) Internet photography juggernaut: http://tinyurl.com/6q3k7z
"[Strobist] revenue is more than six figures, all from photographic-supply advertisers. His overhead is zero. [...] 'Strobes are integral to photography, but there's a great deal of mystery and fear among amateur photographers. David's made it accessible and given solutions to people that aren't beyond the reach of your average Joe.'"

iStock and Strobist both are businesses that both benefit from the influx of amateurs to the world of photography. Maybe it's time the photography world stopped worrying about how to cope with the threat of the amateur and started thinking about how to profit from it. (Don't take it the wrong way: when I say profit, I'm not referring to a zero sum game in which one party's profit is the other's expense. For the love of [your deity of choice], don't go starting a microstock site!)

christopher said...

what the istock press release doesn't say is that the images were not given away for free. microsoft bought extended licenses for the use. and, contrary to a normal extended license, you can't use those files commercially.

Anonymous said...

as eric mentioned MS pays istock for those images, so they are not giving away anything for free.

Anonymous said...

So everyone here needs to click each Google pay link for "Free stock photos" a few hundred times without buying anything........

John Harrington said...

Now, I'm NOT condoning that, BUT, it would be funny! (to me atleast, surely not to those footing the click-thru bill!)

- John

Eric said...

http://tinyurl.com/6hkkgy
If you really want to cost someone money, you can get take a $41 chunk out of a student loan shark every time you click on one of their ads...

Anonymous said...

I clicked the ad 30 times.

I know it could have been a waste of 30 minutes or so but I figure since my stock sales have suffered sine this microstock thing started.

They should have figured this into their "cost of doing business"

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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