Free is a Very Good Price.. if You’re Getty Images

Photography is now free.

Getty ImagesThat’s the message being sent by Getty’s latest business model change in which they allow for free, legal use of most of their stock photo collection. Anyone is welcome to embed a watermark-free Getty photo for online use. Much like embedding a YouTube video, the item will show up inline on a website with a credit and link back to Getty.

While I’m sure we’ll see more detailed analysis (and how things play out) in the days and weeks to come, I have three immediate thoughts.

RIP Stock Photography as an Individual Business

Green Spring Day Lightroom PresetiStockphoto and Shutterstock made it cheap for folks to buy stock photos; Getty’s now making it free for the most common uses. If you thought it was bad how little money you could make selling microsotock, you don’t want to do the math on freebiestock. This seems like the most obvious reaction. But I think there are other implications.

Time for a Downturn in Creative Commons Usage?

I can see this move having an impact on the usage of Creative Commons images across the web. Especially in the web publishing world, it seems the most common introduction to Creative Commons is when bloggers are looking for free photos for blogs. The main source has traditionally been Flickr’s library of Creative Commons photos (available to be filtered via its Advanced Search function) but recently Google added Creative Commons license filtering to Google Image Search as well.

With Getty now offering a sizable library of free-to-use images, the argument for Creative Commons vs. Getty becomes much like the argument between free-as-in-speech and free-as-in-beer software licenses… an argument that is essentially ignored by all but a small number of Free Software enthusaists.

Getty offers a one-stop-shop with easily embeddable images that take care of the credit and linking mechanism. Creative Commons offers only a license, with it being up to the web publisher to figure out how to embed and credit the image properly. I foresee many former Creative Commons-using bloggers making a switch to Getty.

Potential Impacts on Small Business Photography

Looking beyond the personal blog, there’s another big category of web image users who aren’t just personal bloggers but also aren’t big media companies: small businesses. This one hits close to home; much of my photography business consists of working with small business owners to create images for their business. While the strongest argument for hiring a photographer to create images for a business – that one wants images that truly reflect that business’s story and individuality – remains the same, the fact that high-quality imagery will be available for free via Getty is yet another factor in the ongoing cheapening of the value of photography.

Getty frames its program in “non-commercial” terms, but they’re casting a very wide definition of that… for example, all editorial use, even for major players, is non-commercial according to Getty.

Where Are We With Photography?

Balloon's Eye

This is a timely announcement as I’ve had a couple discussions recently with folks about the state of the photo industry. Much like we’ve seen software prices drop to near-zero levels in light of a consumer-driven race towards free apps, we’re also seeing photography prices follow that same trend. At some point, making photography simply fails as a business model. We’re not there yet, but any photographer not looking hard at the big picture runs the risk of obsolescence.

Horse-drawn carriages.
Film-only photographers.

At some point, industries go away…

Photos in this article are not from Getty and they’re not free. I’m some sort of old-fashioned guy.

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