How Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Will Change the Business of Stock Photography


Photo courtesy of Discfree.com.

I sold my first photograph last month. For $500 I gave Choice Hotels the rights to a photo that I took of the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland for a national advertising campaign for one year. Maybe you’ve seen the commercial (although if you read my blog there is a good chance that like me you haven’t seen a television commercial in years). The commercial has a family throwing out cue cards to the tune “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash. You know the song, “I’ve been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattua, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo, Tocapillo, Pocotello, Amperdello, I’m a killer…”

I suppose selling out side by side with the Man in Black is probably not the worst way to go. I might think that Cash’s side of the sell out was more with Johnny’s heirs than Johnny except I still recall a little diddy he did for Taco Bell back in the day when he was still alive. Of course in today’s world when even Bobby Dylan is hawking lingerie and selling his special edition CDs at Starbucks you truly might say the times they are a changin’.

What’s interesting to me about selling my photo though is not the $500 that I was paid for it but the fact that in this case a national advertiser bypassed the traditional stock photography houses of Corbis and Getty and found me directly as an amatuer photographer through the internet. I suspect it was Google’s image search where they found the photo. For a while there the photo that they used in the commercial was on the first page results for the term “Grand Lake.” Subsequently Google seems to have dropped that particular photo but for a while it generated a lot of hits to my page via their image search.

It seems every few months Google reindexes their photos and a bunch of my previous photos get dropped and a bunch of my newer ones get picked up. I’m still not sure why or the rhyme and reason to one’s Google Image Search Page Rank, but I seem to consistently be up there.

I suspect the $500 that I was paid for the photo is probably less than a national advertising campaign’s real value but it’s what they offered and I was more interested in the process than I was the money. But it does bring up an interesting point and that is will the advertising community begin to move away from the stock houses of places like Corbis and Getty in favor of a large growing pool of cheaper quality work by amateurs? Especially as Google and Yahoo refine their image search technology and places like Flickr and Webshots begin to offer tagging technology that competes with professional photography meta data this may increasingly be the case.

The question is will advertising firms increasingly look away from the traditional world of stock photography in favor more cutting edge, and also perhaps cheaper, online sources.

Although I haven’t seen the commercial yet, discfree.com saw it last night on the World Series of poker and took the above digital photo of the commercial for me. The original photograph is here. By the way, the commercial seems to have a repuation for being somewhat annoying and is included in an epinions article on TV ads which just won’t go away.

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8 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Congrads I remember when I sold my first image back in 98. It’s like a little push to shoot more.. One of the best parts is seeing someone looking at your image in aww after it’s in print ..
    Plus, your right the fact that the PR company by passed the normal stock images and found yours is killer ~ again congrads …
    MuddyRabbit~

  2. AF says:

    Interesting information, thanks for sharing this.

    Just out of curiosity, had you planned on selling any of your pictures, or was the idea totally on their end?

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    I’d never planned on selling photos per se, but then I’d never really given it much thought. Lately I’m starting to think though that an interesting business model could be created playing matchmaker between advertisers and top amateur photographers through things like Google Image Search and Flickr and am certainly thinking about it more.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately for you, your lack of research regarding the proper licensing fee for your photo caused you to be paid much less than the real value. For example, using a prominant stock photo pricing tool, 1 photo for a 13 week national television advertising campaign should license for between $1500 – $2700. I guess you can figure out what it should be for 1 year (52 weeks).

    Individuals who “sell” photography as a lark rather than as a means of primary income will always be taken advantage of by the buyer.

  5. Thomas Hawk says:

    Wow, those sharks! Hey, but I did use the money to buy a cool new Canon lens and got a nice little education out of it!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Now that you’re educated, maybe next time you’ll be able to afford to get a nicer “L” series lens and perhaps also fund a nice photo trip.

    I don’t know what you do to get paid, but I’m sure you’d balk at at taking an 85% pay cut or drop your fees to 15% of their current level.

    You do some good work. It’s a shame for you or anyone just giving it away to companies who can pay market rates.

    Good luck!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Nice thought, but I think there are WAY to many photos flooding the internet. I have been in to photography on, and off for over twenty years, and would love for nothing more than to have my photos used for major stuff. Money, well no biggie at first. But as they say, supply and demand=$$$.
    Bob. http://www.flickr.com/photos/4pizon/

  8. MLG says:

    Yeah, I remember that commercial, thinking, “I think that was the Grand Lake Theater sign…” I grew up down the street from that theater.