Friday, July 11, 2008

The Curious Case of Getty and Flickr

Just when you thought that Getty was in it's last throws of existence, before its massive library of wholly owned content gets broken up by Hellman & Friedman and sold off for pieces, Getty comes in and lowers the bar that much further. The only upside to the impending Getty breakup will be the mass exodus of the creative content producers (especially the prolific ones) who decide that either PhotoShelter or Digital Railroad are the only two platforms where they can get their images sold.

PDNPulse has written about it (Getty and Flickr: What Just Happened?, 7/8/08), as has Thomas Hawk (Yahoo and Getty Strike Deal to Sell Stock Photography Through Flickr, 7/8/08), and Thomas has some great links on it in his blog entry. Here's my take.

(Continued after the Jump)
Getty, in conversations at what I am guessing is the CTO level, decided to do this deal with Flickr, likely after seeing PhotoShelter announce a portal between them and Flickr, and then get shut down by Flickr. For months and months, PhotoShelter made outreach to Flickr in an attempt to get a commercial key (link) for an application plug-in (API) that would
make a direct connection between Flickr and the PhotoShelter system, so that photographers could send their own images back and forth between their Flickr and PhotoShelter personal archives. But did they really need a commercial API? Users were just sending their own images to themselves, and services like Smugmug use the Flickr API in the exact same way. Then
PhotoShelter obtained a non-commercial API - which is freely available to anyone who wishes to use it for their own personal use. Within a short time, Flickr shut them down, without explanation, and they would just not engage them in discussions about either API permission key.

For some reason, however, Flickr has decided that it in their best interests to have Getty trolling around Flickr for the best Flickr producers, and lock them up in exclusive deals to represent their work, but these photographers would get a paltry percentage of their sales, and I have to ask the question - is Flickr going to be a silent recipient of a percentage of all those sales? Why wouldn't Flickr buy the entire PhotoShelter or Digital Railroad platforms, and scale that technology up to serve the 3 million images they get each day? Could it be that this deal is a precursor to Flickr being someone that Hellman & Friedman see as a future suitor of a piece of the Getty pie (either from a content, delivery platform, or both, standpoint)?

When I spoke at the PhotoShelter Town Hall Meeting (Do the Wright Thing: PhotoShelter Town Hall in Atlanta, 9/28/07), Grover during the Q&A, when asked by an audience member about the possibility that PhotoShelter would be established, and then bought (potentially) by Getty, said "no." Then, to make himself perfectly clear, said "let me be more clear - over my dead body." Getty clearly was interested. Allen Murabayashi, the CEO of PhotoShelter, in his reaction (posted here ) to the announcement of the Getty Images/Flickr arrangement, made a bold statement, that literally puts his (and Grover's) money where there mouth is. He said:
"... one of Getty Images' Executive VPs started contacting us as early as July 2006. Initially it was to use PhotoShelter technology to provide a way for non-Getty photographers to submit images. But once the PhotoShelter Collection was announced, they wanted access to our content because we provided ready-to-license, edited content from thousands of contributors around the world.

They contacted us in July 07, September 07, October 07 and November 07, and we turned them down for one simple reason: It was a terrible deal for photographers (then, as it is now), and did very little to alter the fundamental imbalance in the stock industry."
Now, that's conviction.

I know that the people at Getty think they understand this business. Trust me, they don't. You can start at the top with Jonathan Klein - Mr. Investment Banker turned "lover of photography" (JDK's World, 8/29/07), Mark Getty, who, when the stock tanked, essentially got family money (see: Getty Restates . . . , 6/13/07;Getty Investments L/L/C; and SEC info here, for more insights) by way of Hellman & Friedman to take the company private, and Mr. failed commercial photographer Bruce Livingstone (The BBC & The 'Infinite monkey theorem', 11/26/07), and just continue to work your way down. There are a lot of people there who just don't get it. Those that do, are probably polishing their resumes right now looking to make a move, realizing that the company has finally completed their turn in the direction of the land of really really bad ideas, and the iceberg that lay ahead is emblazoned with the name Hellman & Friedman, which is sure to sink the Getty Images ship.

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.


Anonymous said...

Truly a weird collaboration. I did a very unscientific "test" comparing Digital Railroad imagerequests and searching flicr to find the images. Not much luck, only a few usable.

There might be some gems on flicr, but the workload to get them into the archive (modelreleases, captioning, keywording, checking quality, filesize) and dealing/communicating with photographers that aren't geared towards stockphotography is quite huge.

Very unscientific test here

Anonymous said...

Very unscientific test link not working. should be:

Anonymous said...

ah man. link broke. ok. lets try a tiny url

Anonymous said...

John, maybe if you spent as much time truly understanding the business as you doing rooting for the demise of a company that employs and affords opportunities to a great many photographers,you'd be taken seriously.

You write about Getty with the venom of someone who is a jilted lover.

Michael Sebastian said...

If "anonymous" is the same "anonymous" who regularly posts here to scourge John for his views, perhaps s/he should wo/man up and sign his/her name, and stand behind his/her words, like John does.

Michael Sebastian

Anonymous said...

anonymous is absolutely right.

Jim Goldstein said...

Great take on this announcement John.

I'm all for opportunity, but I'd rather work with an outfit that considers what is best for the photographer not just what is best for the stock photography company. There are plenty of niche agencies out there, in addition to the likes of PS and DRR, who have a much better lay of the land to run their business in such a way they co-exist with photographers rather than run them over to keep afloat.

Those who are courted by Getty on Flickr that don't do their homework deserve the scraps they'll take home from any Getty contract they sign. I'm eager to see how it plays out.

Anonymous said...

Look if WalMart can convince it's customers to use CFL bulbs and reusable shopping bags then maybe John can pass the word on to enough people not to take such a cavalier approach to the value of their photographic productions. Granted Getty doesn't owe anyone a nanometer of altruism, however I think it can't hurt to show the consumer/producer that getting compensated properly for a placement of one's image can be just as exciting as giving it away. Thanks for being here John. I can say with confidence you will never carry any of the blame for the demise of value in our industry. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
John, maybe if you spent as much time truly understanding the business as you do rooting for the demise of a company that employs and affords opportunities to a great many photographers,you'd be taken seriously.

You write about Getty with the venom of someone who is a jilted lover.

Dear Anonymous:

If by opportunities you mean "Credentials" I might agree.

If your saying Getty has help many photographers in your area and across the country please be specific. It appears the competition can clearly define the benefits to photographers but I never hear the wonderful specific benefits of Getty beyond getting to the big game.


Anonymous said...

not sure exactly what happened btwn flickr and photoshelter. maybe flickr was already talking to getty, which is why flickr terminated photoshelter's api.

aside from that, i don't think this is such a bad deal. maybe now, flickr folks will realize their images are worth more than the 'creative commons' license they assign them. and it might prevent others from joining up with the likes of microstock, since getty plans to license any selected images at their 'normal' rates.

the downside is that the general marketplace for stock will get more crowded and competitive. and many flickrites will try to shoot for what getty wants - instead of shooting what they like - fundamentally altering the culture and content of flickr, which in and of itself, is a pretty neat community with fresh perspectives on photography.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

Anonymous said...

Throes, not throws, in this context.

Newer Post Older Post