Do you ever consider how differently you use the internet today than when you first started using it?
In the 25 years or so since most of us have been online, plenty has changed.
Today, we find much of what we need through Google, but we used to head to the likes of Lycos, Altavista or Ask Jeeves with our queries instead.
Similarly, we may be active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, but we still remember our first forays into social networking courtesy of MySpace and Bebo.
Our devices have changed as much as the websites we use too. Smartphones and tablets are, after all, relatively recent tools. We didn’t use to authorize payments with our fingerprints, or perform searches using spoken commands, or have built-in cameras scanning our faces for identification. But today, we take all of this for granted.
And yet, throughout this whole time, the way in which we upload and view images online has essentially remained unchanged. We send an image out into the world as a JPEG and that’s typically how it remains online.
If you’re a casual internet user sharing everyday photos, you may not see any issues with this. But if you make a living from photography, or you’ve found your images being used without your permission, or if you’ve perhaps been on the receiving end of harassment involving your images, you’re more likely to wonder why we continue with such an antiquated and unsecure way of sharing something that’s either personal or valuable (or both).
Much of what has changed in this time has been enormously beneficial to photographers and anyone else keen on sharing their visual creations.
Few would dispute that the democratization of photography, and our ability to reach people we’ve never met in all corners of the world with our images, has been a wonderful thing.
But for professional photographers, image libraries and anyone else making a living from providing high-quality images to others, the battle for this work to be fairly valued has only become more difficult over time.
There are many reasons for this. Stock photography libraries once gave photographers an ideal opportunity to monetize their work, typically for print purposes, and this used to be reasonably lucrative for these creators – particularly if such images were used on the cover of magazines with a high enough circulation.
But as the price of high-quality photographic hardware started to fall, many more people started capturing and selling their images. And when there are more photographers contributing to these services, the slice of the pie for each contributor only stands to get smaller.
The nature of purchasing images changed too. Instead of just buying a single image, subscription-based models encouraged high image consumption for one low cost. Royalty-free licensing models, which allowed purchasers to use an image without the same restrictions as rights-managed images, started to become more attractive too, with the obvious consequence that photographers would not be able to expect any further fees from a licensee once such an image was licensed.
As microstock libraries started to gain prominence, these companies could only compete by lowering their prices, resulting in even smaller fees for photographers. Separately, copyright-free image services – which provide a simple way to search for images in the public domain, free of almost all restrictions on usage – were gaining traction, which led many people to question why they needed to pay for the images at all.
This is all before we even start to consider the ease with which images can be stolen from search engines and social media platforms, which today are the two main avenues for people searching for images online. As our research shows, it’s largely through these channels that online images are stolen today.
Just like an article has an author, and a piece of music has a songwriter, images have a creator. While many images that appear online are credited to their owner or photographer, the majority are not. This gives the impression that they do not belong to anyone, and that they can be copied and used without permission, which in turn devalues them even further.
Of course, a credit only does so much; many such images, and even those that have watermarks embedded within them, are often stolen too. The result is that out of the billions of images that are shared every day, it’s estimated that around 2.5bn of these are stolen and used without authorization.
The free movement of images also goes some way to explain why this is the case. We continue to rely on image file formats that were created before the internet was widely adopted (albeit with revisions), which can be easily copied without anyone knowing about it. Once your image is out there, you can never be completely sure that it only exists where it was initially uploaded.
How does in-image advertising help?
All of the above explains why licensing revenues have steadily gone down over time, and why anyone holding the rights to images needs to consider a different approach if they’re to continue to profit from them.
As it is, a stock photography industry worth $2bn is in decline while over $132bn is spent on display and video advertising every year. Following the money makes the solution obvious: bring advertising to images.
How does it work? When used in conjunction with image streaming, in-image advertising allows rights owners to capitalize on the interest in their images while at the same time protecting these from being used without authorization.