Here’s the deal: Photography is all about sharing and social media is all about sharing. In fact, social media is specifically about sharing photography. So why is it that the extreme majority of those who take pictures for a living cannot make a living with social media? After all, if ever there was a tool invented for photographers, it’s social media. It is to image distribution what Photoshop is to image editing.
Let’s break it down. The only hurdle is for photographers to figure out how to generate revenue around all the photo sharing happening around them. How to transform this insatiable need to share images into an income? Right now, the photo industry – professional photographers, photo agencies or distribution platforms – is convinced that models invented for the print world should and must work. You want to use my image? Tell me what you want to do with it and we can figure out a price (in the royalty-free model, the price is dictated by size, which is also a factor of the expected usage).
Traditional Revenue Model Won’t Work With Social Media
For a traditional client, such as a magazine or advertising agency, that’s not a problem. For social media, it just doesn’t work. Why? Because those who post pictures are not traditional clients. They are everyone, and they have no idea what the end usage will be. They just like the image and want to share it. The usage, in other words, is in the image. The image dictates the usage. Some images (the vast majority) will never be shared while others might put “Gangnam Style” to shame.
How to price that? Well, unless someone devises an algorithm that can predict the sociability of an image, the old model (charging based on usage) is not the answer. Ideally, if one would really want to keep the old model, you would need to charge once the sharing is all said and done, review all the usages and bill accordingly.
Other, more realistic, ways to compensate photographers for their work? Here are some suggestions:
- If you don’t want to license images individually, which would be a good idea since that is the way the market is going, you could create a social media flow of images. Against a recurring fee (weekly, monthly, yearly), you deliver a certain number of images to be used on social media. You charge for the flow, for the creative inspiration. While photo agencies like Getty and others already offer that to their editorial clients, there is no reason why it couldn’t be applied to social media and individual photographers. It doesn’t protect you from re-sharing of some of your images. And, it demands that you have established yourself as a sure provider of excellent images.
- Create some made-for-social-media images and price them. Those long horizontal pictures for Facebook timeline or Google + are not always easy to get and /or resize properly. Like wallpapers for computer desktops or screensavers. Bundle and sell. Repeat for each and every social media platform that is popular. People will love you for helping them.
- Sponsored collection: Have an interested third party pay for you to give away your images for free. Red Bull, for example, has a whole photo agency dedicated in serving media for free with all the images of the events they sponsor. Sure, their logo is on every single one. But think of it, a viral image can beat any multi-million-dollar campaign.
- Let the traffic on the image dictate its value. The more an image is seen, the more it pays its owner, automatically. Stipple works like that.
Social Media Isn’t Marketing, It’s a Revenue Opportunity
They are many other ways for photo professionals to generate revenue using social media. Problem is, most of them see is as a marketing tool instead of a revenue opportunity. While for any other industry, that is true, in the case of photography, the photograph is the product and social media should be the market.
So what’s next? Start charging for social media. Stop looking at Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit to try and figure out how they can bring traffic to your site but rather as full-blown publishers. Like with any clients, look at what images they are using: when , where , how, who are the decision-makers and reach out to them. Hint: the decision-makers for photography on social media are not the CEOs or VPs of the companies. They are the users. Create a pricing structure that works for users, that makes their life easier.
Finally, put some social media pricing on your website so that people who would like to use your images legally have an opportunity to do so. Give them, and yourself, a chance. In other words, don’t fight it – embrace it.