Flickr Stock – The Way Stock Photos Should Have Been

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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.