The year 2018 is soon coming to a close. It has been a rather quiet year in terms of news worthy items but a few stand out which will have significant impact in the upcoming year. In no specific order, here they are:

The end of the ICO powered blockchain :

A year ago, right about this time of the year, the stock photo industry was ablaze with news of a new technology bound to revolutionize and disrupt it. Emerging from the media hype around bitcoin, Blockchain for photos was to redefined everything we knew about licensing images, forever. Armed with white papers claiming immediate fortunes, numerous companies launched ICO’s ( Initial Coin Offering) looking to raise funds for their themsleves. Ranging from the most famous, Kodakone, to the least known, Photochain, each one was going to bring image licensing into a new golden area, making both users and investors very rich, very fast.

One year later, and the balloon has popped. From Kodakone who allegedly hasn’t paid its employees for months to Copytrack who is battling legal issues in Germany, without forgetting Wemark who retracted its public offering, none have seen the light of day. Not surprising, their model was flawed from the beginning. The stock photo industry, both on licensor and licensee side, has thrived on a strong relationship of trust. They don’t need smart contract or copyright proof everytime they license an image. And if there’s ever a doubt, some countries, like the USA,  already has a long established legal entity that does just that. It’s called the Copyright Office.

photo of Cryptocurrencies and dollar bill
Crypto currencies and photo industry might not be a good match

Thus offering a permanent ledger with no legal standing functioning on a “first in gets the rights” is useless. Especially in an industry where the copyright holder is not always its licensing agent and where the same image can be legally represented by dozens of different companies.

Furthermore, in order to function, it has to be associated with a similar image search web crawler, a solution employed for years by numerous companies already successfully processing copyright infringement cases. Without using the blockchain.

Last but not least, a complex, disruptive technology to protect copyright using cryptocurrency based transaction is not really what the stock photo industry needs right now. Rather, it would much benefit from a solution that would generate more revenue from existing and new clients.

Needless to say, even if some might make it to their final phase ( having a working service), there is little to no chance of seing them thrive.

The unstoppable rise of Unsplash

It happened before. And like the first time, the professionals of the photo industry dismiss it. The first time, it was called Instagram and after years of fighting it, it is now an integrral part of the marketing toolset of anyone in the visual space. This time, it is called Unsplash. And the lesson will be the same.

The photo licensing world does not yet fully understand that the value of an image lies in the number of views, not in how much it was licensed for or how much it cost to create. For the entity that would like to use an image, the only element that matters is “if I use that image, how much views will it get me”. That’s it, nothing else.

Unsplash growth chart
The incredible rise of Unsplash

Unsplash, by accident, has hit it right in the nail. People come to Unsplash not because the images are free (there are hundreds of free photos websites) but because they are extremely well and tightly curated. The images offered are positioned exactly in today’s trend, responding to seekers desire to communicate with their audience. The limited choice makes the decision process easy, simple and fast. It also helps that with two clicks you have your image on your desktop. It is a seamless experience from search to download.

The result is an incredible growth which now towers over the combine downloads of all stock photo agencies, combined. And it shows no signs of slowing down. Last time we witness this was with Instagram which is now a multi billion dollars business.

They have just recently started monetizing their content by offering different levels of advertising on their site. To note: Their offering includes branded content, something we had predicted here. Financial results will be the true measure of its success. stay tuned

Google and copyright IPTC

It took decades and many, many arguments but Google finally made the first step to officially recognizing that images have a copyright. Pushed by the combined forces of Getty Images and CEPIC legal actions, as well as a pending new legislation in the European Market, it now displays IPTC copyright information on its Google image search results.

Screenshot of Google image search result
The new Google image search result with its copyright info.

This important step will have the immediate consequence of reviving the usage of metadata usage for everyone. While not announced, it is predictable that this will enter Google’s ranking algorithm, especially when dealing with news images. An image with copyright information has less chance of being “fake news” than one without.  As well, a site that uses copyright informed images has more legitimacy than one that doesn’t.

It will also allow Google to start referencing images with their copyright owners in order to supply its upload filter, if this becomes mandatory via the EU directive. More on that below..

Getty breaks free

It’s been a big year for Getty. It finally (sorta) broke free of its financial allegiance to equity firm Carlyle Group. It also changed CEO. And it raised half a billion dollars to pursue its growth. Quite a series of major event for any company.

The $3 billion cash deal, the third time Getty Images was sold, was organized by the Getty Family and just $300 million shy of what Carlyle had initially paid for the company. According to the press release, the equity firm still keeps a management say, albeit probably very reduced. So while Getty Images regains control of its destiny, it is not a clear cut. Furthermore, the Koch Brothers, with its $500 million ingest, probably has a also a seat at the table. Nevertheless,  the company seems poised for new beginnings and new conquests.

Screenshot of Foto by Getty
The now defunct Foto by Getty, the company failed attempt at transforming its content into a media offering

The upcoming challenge for the stock photo leader is to keep its closest competitor, Shutterstock, at bay while finding more progressive ways to monetize their formidable content. Stuck more or less at the same revenue for years ( estimated at ~ $800 million), the stock photo powerhouse has been unable to clear a path to renewed growth. Not by lack of trying, like free embedded images or more recently turning its site into a media offering, but rather by failing to connect new products with a sustained demand. It is, however, not a Getty only issue. All stock agencies are having a hard time calibrating their offering in an economy that sees 2,5 billion images shared a day (for free).

If 2018 has been the year of reacquired freedom, 2019 has to be the year of acceleration. Not only to leave the competition behind but because finding the new right sustainable growth model is a priority for any stock photo agency chances of survivals.

Europe copyright law

It’s like Brexit but it doesn’t involve the UK. Rather, it’s a formalized separation between creators and the sharing platforms. It is the narrowing of the value gap via legislation. And some say, it could be the end of memes ( we managed over 5,000 years without them so we should be okay).

In short, the EU approved a directive which will require sharing platforms like Youtube, Facebook, Pinterest, and others to either remunerate ( as in, get a license) the content they use or block it. This will apply to all 27 countries members of the European Union.

European flag
Europe would like content sharing platforms to be respect copyright. Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

That is all good, it seems. However, as there is no practical process in place to apply this rule, it is left to platforms to auto-regulate themselves. Which they will, but probably not in a way that will make content creators happy. The most obvious is to pay a flat fee to copyright collection agencies and leave it to those agencies to figure out who gets what.

The issue here is that collection agencies are not monitored by anyone and are free to redistribute money to anyone, anyway they feel. So much so that it is estimated that less than 10% of the money collected gets redistributed and most often as one lump to either big photo agencies or trade organizations (like ASMP). Not to photographers.

In short, while the intentions are good, the implementation might lead to another form of abuse ( and another legislation ?). The less depressing scenario is if sharing platform institute a content ID system similar to Youtube’s, as it has already distributed over $3billion to creators via revenue share.

The road to hell is paved…Time will tell, rather quickly in this case. Early 2019

The people we lost:

Last but certainly not least. We lost some great members of our community this year. Two of which we were close with and will be missed very much. We will miss Scott Braut, for his acute intelligence and exceptional generosity, amongst many other wonderful attributes. We will miss Roger Ressmeyer, for his immense positive creative energy and his caring kindness, also amongst a torrent of great qualities. Both are and will be, terribly missed.

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