We spend a lot of time listening to photographers. They’re at the heart of what we do: ensuring that photographers are fairly rewarded for their work is what Picfair was founded for. Our business model reverses the prevalent industry trend that sees licensing middlemen taking the majority of royalties - an average of 74% - away from the photographers who fuel them. At Picfair, we only make money if our photographers make more.
But photographers losing the lion’s share of their royalties isn’t the biggest problem facing the photographic community. The biggest problem is the warped deal that every creative will be offered at some stage in their career: give away your work for free, in return for … “exposure”.
The image licensing industry deserves a small part of the blame here - for years, the process of licensing images has been (for some) prohibitively expensive and (for absolutely everyone) excessively complex. The market leader - the one you've probably heard of - has over 75 million ways to license an image. If you make something horribly difficult to buy, people will try to get it for free.
But none of this is the photographers’ fault. And the truth, however awkward it might be for those who use images for their work, is that no image should ever be free. The argument isn’t a controversial one. When any business uses an image - whether a media organisation, an agency, or a SME - they are utilising it to generate revenue. This revenue should be spent, at least in part, rewarding those who have contributed to it.
Over recent years, websites that encourage photographers to upload hundreds of thousands of images in return for “exposure” have grown rapidly. These images are then given away for nothing, with infinitely-scoped licenses, to anyone who wants them. In the process, valuable customer leads and/or advertising clicks are being harvested by the middlemen. The photographer sees none of this.
And, as documented by dozens of photographers over the last few months, the “exposure” they’re promised simply doesn’t materialise - Ryan Winterbotham, Lydia Harper, Allen Murabayshi, and Ruth Vitale have all written extensively on their experiences.
In 4 months, Ryan Winterbotham accumulated over 8 million views and 56,000 downloads of his images. This yielded zero work opportunities for Ryan, and zero money. Sadly, many of these images are now being piped into applications across the web (including Facebook, Apple, Trello, and other huge businesses) through open-access APIs. If Ryan hadn’t pulled his images from the site in question, he could expect that download count to be approaching its first million.
We’ve read gymnastic defences of these websites’ practices, but, just like their users, we don’t buy it. They are exploiting photographers. While we wish that this deterred people seeking images from their business from using it, it’s hard to expect people to refuse freebies purely on principle.
So today we want to add our voice to Ryan’s, Lydia’s, Allen’s and Ruth’s ... by talking directly to the photographic community. Your images are yours to do with what you want, but please, please think very carefully about giving your images away for free in return for the magic beans of “exposure”.
It isn’t worth it. Your images are valuable.
- Benji Lanyado, Picfair Founder & CEO