Getty Images, the well-known photo licensing company, is making a risky, yet potentially very lucrative change to its business model: It’s letting people embed photos on their blogs, social media feeds and websites for free.
Getty’s photos have long been watermarked so that online publishers couldn’t use them unless they paid a licensing fee. The evolution of the Internet and rampant social media sharing of photos has made that profit model more challenging, however. People have increasingly grabbed images off other websites without crediting Getty or the photographer. It’s also become much easier to find low-cost or free photos from other non-Getty sources online using image-searching tools such as Google Images.
Though Getty has seen its revenues increase in recent years thanks to digital licensing, the transition has been particularly tough on the professional photographers whose photos Getty licenses, according to The Verge.
Starting this week, however, the Getty is removing the watermarks from 35 million of its photos and making it easy for bloggers and other online publishers to embed the photos without paying a licensing fee—similar to how someone might embed a YouTube video.
"We've seen what YouTube's done with monetizing their embed capabilities," Craig Peters, a business development executive at Getty, told The Verge. He added: "The principle is to turn what's infringing use with good intentions, turning that into something that's valid licensed use with some benefits going back to the photographer, and that starts really with attribution and a link back."
The hope is that people will no longer steal Getty photos from other websites now that Getty is giving them away for free and will instead embed them directly from Getty’s site. But from a user perspective, however, embedding photos for free may come with some significant downsides. Embedding a photo will allow Getty to change the photo, replace it with an advertisement or remove it altogether any time they want. It essentially gives Getty greater ability to control and ultimately monetize the use of their photos as the company sees fit. (It plans to start out by putting caption ads on its photos and making money off the ad revenue.)
Getty’s new business model speaks volumes about how the Internet and digital world are changing the way businesses small and large make money. It’s been harder to profit off licensing and asking people to pay for content because so much now is easily available online. This new reality is forcing companies to rethink their profit models and embrace the power of online sharing rather than pushing back against it.
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Photo: Getty Images