Getty, Flickr and the Land of Really, Really Bad Ideas

Just when you thought that Getty Images was in its last throes of existence, before its massive content library gets broken up by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman and sold off for pieces, Getty comes in and lowers the bar that much further. The only upside to the impending Getty breakup will be the mass exodus of the creative content producers (especially the prolific ones) who decide that PhotoShelter or Digital Railroad are the only two platforms where they can get their images sold.

What the Deal Means

PDNPulse has written about it, as has Thomas Hawk. Here’s my take.

Getty, in conversations at what I am guessing is the CTO level, decided to do this deal with Flickr, likely after seeing PhotoShelter announce a portal between them and Flickr, and then get shut down by Flickr.

For months and months, PhotoShelter made outreach to Flickr in an attempt to get a commercial key (link) for an application plug-in (API) that would make a direct connection between Flickr and the PhotoShelter system, so that photographers could send their own images back and forth between their Flickr and PhotoShelter personal archives. Flickr never responded.

But did PhotoShelter really need a commercial API? Users were just sending their own images to themselves, and services like SmugMug use the Flickr API in the exact same way. So PhotoShelter obtained a non-commercial API, which is freely available to anyone who wishes to use it for their own personal use. Within a short time, Flickr shut them down, without explanation, and would not engage them in discussions about either API permission key.

For some reason, however, Flickr has decided that it in their best interests to have Getty trolling around Flickr for the best Flickr producers, and locking them up in exclusive deals to represent their work. But these photographers would get a paltry percentage of their sales, and I have to ask the question: Is Flickr going to be a silent recipient of a percentage of all those sales?

Why wouldn’t Flickr buy the entire PhotoShelter or Digital Railroad platforms, and scale that technology up to serve the three million images they get each day? Could it be that this deal is a precursor to Flickr acquiring a piece of the Getty pie (from a content or delivery platform standpoint, or both)?

PhotoShelter Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

When I spoke at the PhotoShelter Town Hall Meeting last year, Grover Sanschagrin was asked whether PhotoShelter might be bought by Getty. He said no.

Then, to make himself perfectly clear, he said, “Let me be more clear — over my dead body.”

Getty clearly was interested. Allen Murabayashi, the CEO of PhotoShelter, in his reaction to the announcement of the Getty Images/Flickr arrangement, made a bold statement that puts his (and Grover’s) money where their mouth is. He said:

… one of Getty Images’ Executive VPs started contacting us as early as July 2006. Initially it was to use PhotoShelter technology to provide a way for non-Getty photographers to submit images. But once the PhotoShelter Collection was announced, they wanted access to our content because we provided ready-to-license, edited content from thousands of contributors around the world.

They contacted us in July 07, September 07, October 07 and November 07, and we turned them down for one simple reason: It was a terrible deal for photographers (then, as it is now), and did very little to alter the fundamental imbalance in the stock industry.

Now, that’s conviction.

I know that the people at Getty think they understand this business. Trust me, they don’t.

You can start at the top with Jonathan Klein, Mr. Investment Banker turned “lover of photography”; Mark Getty, who, when the stock tanked, essentially got family money by way of Hellman & Friedman to take the company private; Mr. Failed Commercial Photographer Bruce Livingstone, and just continue to work your way down.

There are a lot of people there who just don’t get it. Those who do are probably polishing their resumes right now looking to make a move, realizing that the company has finally completed their turn in the direction of the land of really, really bad ideas, and the iceberg that lay ahead is emblazoned with the name Hellman & Friedman, which is sure to sink the Getty Images ship.

[tags]stock photography, Getty, Flickr[/tags]

6 Responses to “Getty, Flickr and the Land of Really, Really Bad Ideas”

  1. Getty ate so many photo agencies worldwide, along with its fellow carnivores at Corbis, throughout the nineties that they pretty much helped create the death of the business. They first overpriced clients out, then they underpriced photographers out, by creating photodiscs and the like for the low revenue clients.
    And now they are on the way out, having walked among the bodies for a decade, no wonder they caught the same illness in the end.

  2. God knows what is happening and what these big thuggs are doing over there. I know onething, they make money from our work and then finally eat us up, very much like `Black Widow Spider' or praying mantis.

    God save us !!

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