Flickr Joins 500px As Stock Agency. Is Instagram Next?

Flickr Joins 500px As Stock Agency. Is Instagram Next?

We knew it was coming but it wasn’t just the expectation that made the announcement from Flickr such an anti-climax. The declaration that the photo-sharing site will now provide its own way for members to license their images, following the end of its agreement with Getty, was also disappointingly short of details. Flickr’s members can sign up for the program at where the site’s “curatorial team will provide assistance, outreach and connectivity to help you get your photos licensed.” When those curators have found “exciting and credible opportunities” they’ll send a Flickr Mail to give the photographer details about the licensing program.

In addition to licensing opportunities with photo agencies, Flickr is also promising to showcase images on the Flickr blog and across parent company Yahoo’s properties. The sign-up page includes logos from the BBC, Reuters and The New York Times, as well as Gizmodo and Monocle.

At launch, that was all the information that Flickr made available. A discussion on Flickr Central, the site’s forum, was  ignored by Flickr’s usually active community organizers even though participants talked favorably of car payments and vacations that the old Getty agreement had enabled them to fund. Few other details have been released so we don’t know how much photographers will be paid; how large Flickr’s own commission will be; whether images have to be exclusive; how they will be used; or what sort of photos are most likely to sell.

At the moment then, the marketplace still feels very experimental: instead of leaving all the work to Getty, Flickr’s staff now also appear to be taking requests from publishers, looking through the images of signed-up members, offering appropriate shots to buyers and contacting photographers to arrange the deal. More details are likely to leak out as photographers start to make sales through the new process, but both Flickr and Getty did provide a statement in response to an article in Techcrunch.

Mid-Stock Through Flickr, Microstock Through Getty

The contents of that statement weren’t promising. Flickr’s arrangement with Getty isn’t entirely dead. Instead, the two companies appear to have a new arrangement that allows Flickr to match images to buyers and under which images in Getty’s Partner Program will continue to be made available on and through iStock.  Payments for those sales will be delivered through Flickr.

“For images licensed from Getty Images websites we will pay a royalty to Flickr, whichthey will then share with the photographer,” Getty told Techcrunch.

In a comment, Thomas Hawk spoke of “a significant opportunity here to disrupt the multi-billion dollar stock photography business earning photographers and Yahoo considerable revenue” but other commenters were more skeptical. One noted that the presence of two middlemen between the photographer and the buyer was unlikely to result in higher payouts for image-makers.

A sales process for Flickr members that is so far opaque and unusually complex contrasts sharply with the model rolled out earlier this year by 500px. The company’s Prime marketplace started with a flat $250 for images, paying photographers 70 percent of the sales price. All licenses were initially royalty-free and although images didn’t have to be exclusive (and exclusive photographers receive the same payments as non-exclusive contributors) exclusivity can provide an opportunity for larger buy-out deals. Since the launch of Prime, 500px has also made some exclusive rights-managed deals with some photographers and added a new “single-use Web/social license” that costs $50.

So the competition is now between a platform that offers an unknown amount for unknown rights and one that promises photographers $170 for each royalty-free sale or $35 for each single-use Web license.

A New Stock Market For Artistic Images

Flickr’s announcement is unlikely to create a giant sucking sound as photographers leave 500px for the older site, but there are no costs to signing up and indicating that your images are available for sale. Some photographers on Flickr might hold back until more details became available but for now the only risk is to exclusivity on 500px so registration, even among photographers who use both platforms, is likely to be high. There’s little to lose at the moment.

Although we still know little about how Flickr’s new sales process will work, it is becoming clear that the photography stock industry is now going through another process of change. Professional agencies are continuing to provide imagery from professional photographers to major publishers for relatively high fees (even if those fees are sometimes lower than they used to be) but as microstock no longer appears a viable option for enthusiasts hoping to earn regular streams of cash for their photography, photo-sharing platforms are starting to offer a new mid-level solution.

The prices may turn out to be higher than those paid by microstock users and the images are more interesting too. Sales made on 500px have included high-quality stock-type imagery but they’ve also included the kind of landscapes and atmospheric shots that the site’s members have become famous for contributing — and which photography enthusiasts enjoy shooting the most.

The continuation of Flickr’s deal with Getty and iStock, however, and the recent addition of a cheaper license on 500px suggest that agencies are still unwilling to give up on the low-budget image demand from bloggers and Web publishers. Both Flickr and 500px appear to be developing a mid-stock outlet for their members while retaining a foothold in some form of microstock.

500px’s greater openness and simplicity, as well its first move, has given it an advantage in the battle between the two sites as a sales platform but Flickr members generally find that they receive more sales requests than 500px’s members do.

Both sites though have a weakness in mobile which is why eyes should now be turning to Instagram. Money is being made on Facebook’s property but it mostly takes the form of commissions from brands hoping to cash on the audiences of top contributors. If the site starts to license images too, both Flickr and 500px will have a real fight on their hands — and photographers can expect a promising range of opportunities from mid-stock to microstock

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