Flickr Stock – The Way Stock Photos Should Have Been

When you think stock photos, these days you likely think of crowd content web sites like iStockphoto or stock.xchng, rather than traditional, professionally sourced stock image companies like Getty Images (which actually owns iStockphoto) or Juperiterimages. Had things gone differently a year ago, however, the defining stock photo site might have been Flickr.

Flickr is currently the banner site for photo sharing, but users of the site are required choose a license that at the very least demands attribution (and generally limits use in some way) and selling photos isn’t facilitated. About a year ago at the end of 2007, however, there apparently existed a plan that would have changed that.

TechCrunch wrote today about a recent blog post by UX designer Sarah Cooper detailing her work on a cancelled 2007 project at Flickr called “Flickr Stock.” According to Cooper, “The concept of Flickr Stock was to create an online marketplace where existing Flickr users could offer photos for sale as well as purchase photos taken by others.”

The project was apparently abandoned, however, and in July of last year Flickr announced a partnership with Getty Images. Under the terms of that deal, Getty would identify talented Flickr members and approach them about selling their images via a Getty’s marketplace. The partnership is exclusive and invite-only — Getty’s editors control who gets to participate.

Supposedly, Flickr Stock would have been different and would have been open to all Flickr members. That sounds a lot better to us, and it likely would have been more profitable for Yahoo! — it certainly would have been more profitable for members. Though the financials of the arrangement between Flickr and Getty are unknown, there is a ton of money to be had in crowd produced amateur stock photography. iStock’s 2007 revenue was a healthy $71.9 million, of which $20.9 million was distributed to members in royalties.

iStockphoto has just 3.2 million photos for sale — Flickr has over 3 billion images in its galleries. Sure, a good portion of those are things that would never do for stock photos — vacation pictures, party snapshots, screenshots, etc. — but given that Flickr attracts more than its fair share of ultra-talented photographers, it’s a good bet that at least 0.001% of its photos are stock worthy. Likely, that number is a higher.

If 3 million sale worthy photos means greater than $70 million in revenue each year, Flickr might have passed on a gold mine by canceling Flickr Stock. Further, it would allow the hardcore Flickr users who add so much value to Flickr — many of whom pay for that privilege by upgrading to Pro accounts — to make a little back, and back up a few Brinks trucks to Flickr in process. Flickr Stock would be win-win for everyone (except Getty). Let’s hope Flickr reconsiders.

Cooper has removed her blog post, but you can still catch it in the Google cache. Also, be sure to check out our list of 15 stock photo sites where you can sell your photos.

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  • Hendry Lee

    Too bad. I think you’re spot on about this. Building a community is going to be the business model of the future. And such a monetization option, they should have taken it.

    Let’s hope Flickr reconsiders, or perhaps they have an entirely new roadmap in mind? Let us wait and see.

  • brad

    I think this would have made Flickr/Yahoo a serious competitor and that the new partner threw a bunch of money at them to become a partner.. in order to keep them out of the game. I for one would have liked to participate in this.

  • kessler

    yahoo continues to degrade the quality and service of Flickr with each decision they make.

  • StevenHu

    It appears that the idea was abandoned because of its partnership with Getty. Getty will pick and choose which photos to include in their repository. Certainly that will make it easier for us to find good photos – they’ll do all the wading and categorizing for us.

  • SomeIndustryDude

    I bet you’ll find it was abandoned because it’s too expensive to FIND those 0.001% of photos that are salable. On sites like iStock & StockXpert, every image is vetted for legal issues. iStock claims to have over 100 image inspectors with a (I’m guessing) 50% acceptance rate. That’s gotta be an expensive proposition.

    So even if you could do a high level-filter on all the crap in there, to get it down to say .1%, your rejection rate (and therefor cost) would be much higher than conventional microstock. So you might as well just hand-pick the best artists (who produce most of the great work anyway). Oh wait. That’s what Getty is doing.

    And if those images aren’t properly vetted, you end up getting your ass sued off. Ask Virgin Mobile:
    http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/7680

  • jt

    There are already enough sites and people on the web who abuse the licenses on flickr user photos or the API. Hope this idea stays buried and buried deep.

  • Dave

    I wonder if Josh would be so enthusiastic if there was a site giving away journalists work for a few cents.

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @Dave: A site where amateur writers can sign up and post their writing and only end up making a few cents off it? Sounds a lot like Blogger or WordPress (and Adsense). I think those are great services.

    I’m not sure what your gripe is — that places exist where amateur artists can display their work? or that services exist for amateurs to try selling that work at prices you personally think are too low? or maybe that the Internet has created an environment where hobbyists can compete with professionals in some creative fields?

    None of those are bad things, in my opinion. But perhaps I misunderstood the point you were driving at?

  • http://www.mikehealy.com.au cranial-bore

    I agree with SomeIndustryDude. If there are 3 billion images, and 30,000 are good enough to sell Flickr would probably find 30 million are submitted for stock. That would mean either a hell of a lot of vetting, or a very low average quality of stock photo.

  • nikkir

    It’s a shame. Istock could use some competition as they slowly increased their prices.

  • Corey G

    If there was an iStock rival, what would it need to do to be better than iStock?