Getty Images Releases a Free Option and Creates a Strategic Option

March 13, 2014

2:00 pm

Getty stole the headlines last week with its move to “make its pictures free to use,” as all the headlines proclaimed. Getty released 35 MM of their over 150 MM images free for people to embed into their sites for editorial and noncommercial uses. The embed (see what it looks like here) uses an iframe to deliver the image and provide a backlink and attribution to the photographer, with additional sharing tools enabled. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s crippled in many technical ways that will drive many publishers away from using it regularly.

Why did Getty do it? Getty’s betting that one of the best ways to fight copyright infringement is to give people an option to use images for free, recognizing that a lot of infringement cases aren’t really lost revenues but lost opportunities. Getty is now providing people a free option, at least under their conditions of use.

What’s interesting to me is that while embedded video, audio and interactivity is a common part of the web, embedding images isn’t as common. From a user perspective, embedding rich media is easier than managing self-hosting and delivery, but images are easy for most publishers to handle, from irregular bloggers all the way up. Embedding is actually harder for most people making web pages, especially for many mobile and responsive designs today, so why would we want to embed an image? We won’t, unless we get something valuable in return, and it’s hard to see how ‘free’ is enough for most publishers with the current product.

What does Getty get from it? The biggest value in my mind is the option value Getty creates by distributing their photos across the broader web. Getty has the option to distribute advertising through the embed player, and if nothing else, gets the benefit from the logo and branding in the embed to spread the Getty brand across the web. Getty also gets access to the data about how their photos are used, outside of just sales data, and it’s valuable data that can be used to better understand who uses images and how they are viewed. And let’s not underestimate the value of the PR and media coverage Getty is getting. Getty has been experimenting with ways to keep up with the changes forced on them by digital distribution, working with Pinterest, Stipple and others. At the end of the day, Getty gives themselves a chance to learn from how the web chooses to use their images and potentially build a larger footprint across the image-enabled web, and that creates a strategic option for them to leverage in the future.

Is this a groundbreaking innovation? Is it going to change the face of stock? Not hardly. But it’s a smart move, nonetheless, for Getty to create the option for you, and for them.

This was originally written for PHOTO/TECH, a weekly newsletter about the intersection of photography and technology.

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CEO of Foresight (http://foresight.is), building financial forecasts for thousands of growing companies.

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