Getty Images Race To The Bottom

Recently Getty Images announced the availability of over 3 Million images for free to anyone who wants them.  I had to stop and pause. Generally speaking I have no issue to voice my opinion, but in this case I had a feeling that there was more to it. Something didn’t add up. I wondered WHY would an image business give away images for free? It just didn’t make sense.

As a blogger I admit that access to what I thought were “free” images is very exciting. The images aren’t really on my website, they are embedded and link right back to Getty. Secondly I must say that even if I upset a content creator now, the images in the free database are not the best of Getty. Take a look for yourself.

No matter how much our industry dislikes Getty Images and can blame them rightfully so for their part in the rapid decline of image valuation – they are anything but stupid. There had to be something about this move. And it wasn’t until I read Rohn Engh’s piece that he sent to me that I had my big AHA moment.

Below is the article that is reprinted with permission from Rohn. After you read his piece I’d like to hear your opinion on it. Obviously Getty would never give away their most valuable images – there had to be an ulterior motive. Do you think this is it? (BC)’s Next Competitor? by Rohn Engh

The Great Getty Give-Away

How GettyImages’ Give-Away Program Will Overtake The Direct Marketing World

Definition: Marketing is the art of supplying products to people when you know their buying preferences. It’s an easy sell. On the other hand, it’s very hard to sell someone (cold call) if you don’t know their buying preferences. has solved the problem. The company has ownership of millions of photos. They have figured out how to turn their massive old-school type of photo agency into a giant internet advertising network.

GettyImages (soon to be called by a different name), has devised a method of learning the preferences of a social site, blog/website or an individual. A lot of revenue can result from their simple formula.

This is how the formula works:

What’s the most popular entity on the social sites? Text. But what’s the next most important? Images. Are there many social sites? Blogs and websites? You bet. Millions, soon to be trillions.


Getty has figured out that if they give away an embedded image for any editorial use, in return for information about your personal preferences, or your website’s preferences, and your visitors’ preferences, they have the makings of the most monumental advertising, public relations, list brokerage, catalog direct marketing Goliath in the world. (Amazon: Watch out!)
When it gets into high gear, the initial rollout plan will be to insert ads in the embedded photo and to collect user information. This is a legitimate scam/phishing idea and you are part of it if you cooperate. And what blogger or minor website owner or social media site wouldn’t want to join in if you wanted to attract visitors with the best professional photos around?

A little history.

In August 2012, The Carlyle Group, the world’s second-largest private-equity firm, bought GettyImages from Hellman & Friedman LLC in a deal valued at $3.3 billion. But things have not been going well. Too many competitors like Fotalia and Shutterstock have been eating away at the potential profits. In September, 2013, Moody’s Investors Service placed GettyImages on review for a possible reduction in their ranking because of weaker-than-expected revenue. Uh-oh.


But the clever out-of-the-box marketers at Carlyle looked beyond the obvious horizon. At least 35 million images were sitting in the vault, going nowhere but out-of-date. The boys and girls at Carlyle knew what they were doing when they saw the internet marketing potential. “If YouTube can do it, so can we.” They figured if they handled this right, these images could become “little vehicles” to capture the preferences of any person or company who would ask to use one of their free images on their social site. Getty would contribute images, free, and in return the recipients would contribute their preferences. And to top off the prize, Getty would partner with third-parties that would eventually embed advertisements in the image frame to become the leading internet direct marketing network in the world. ( No I wasn’t listening in at the local bar in Manhattan after-hours. It all just sounds like someone, sooner or later, was going to come up with this quasi-democratic-free-enterprise idea.)
There’s more. Stock photographers are not generally aware of the Big Dollars that can come in from Big Data on the internet. A tenet of professional internet marketing gurus is that you can gauge your annual gross profit by how many names you have on your ‘hot’ mailing list – it’s generally considered that each name represents from 50 cents to $1 annually, even though you may sell products or services to only 20 to 30% of your list.

The big payoff for Getty: Getty Images will soon enter the Mailing List brokerage business. Millions of dollars are in the mix. No, they don’t exactly sell your name and information. I explain how big business can capitalize on brokering a mailing list in a couple of recent reports I published earlier this month. You’ll find them on my PhotoStockNOTES blog: ( March 7th 2014 issue), and,12851

Well, we must congratulate the Carlyle Group in moving the Getty Images stock agency into the new millennium to a strategy for new profits. Perhaps it’s time to take stock here – literally — with Getty Images, or whatever their new internet marketing service is going to be called. Looks like they’ll be a winner.

While long-time Getty Images photographers may at first rail against their photos being freely distributed (for editorial use), photographers when all is said and done will benefit from increased exposure for their images and credit lines. Their name and images will attract wider attention with the increased opportunities for use, also drawing no doubt on many of their images that may have been sleeping in the Getty Images basement files. Such exposure is priceless.
Let’s all watch as this nascent story unfolds. –RE


What do you think about Rohn’s take. Is Getty finding a new monetization scheme?


  1. Samual says

    “photographers may at first rail against their photos being freely distributed when all is said and done will benefit from increased exposure” – this argument, usually presented by a photographer’s cheap clients, is probably the worst carrot ever presented to creatives. What they get is exposure to more clients who see their time as valueless, and then expect their time, effort & talent for free, again – detrimental, not beneficial in the least.

  2. says

    I agree with Samuel. Can anyone explain why someone who uses free photography should suddenly or ultimately see any point in paying for photography. It shouldn’t be forgotten that users of free stuff represent the bottom of the value chain for photographers. The effect will be opposite to Rohn’s take. It will further devalue photography.

  3. says

    Any photographer out there that think’s this might be good for them, think again.
    Wall Street has created a way to make the almighty dollar “hum.”
    This isn’t about images as much as it is about money. Who gets hurt in the process, Wall Street could care less.
    Photographers, if you want to protect your self and the industry, I might suggest putting the pressure to your representatives and senators.

  4. Darren says

    The only party that benefits out of this is getty – they may well become the go to source for free stock images, they will make money from the marketing data analytics they will gather. Will they share some of that new revenue stream with the photographers work who enable that. I would guess not.

  5. says

    I am new to the world of photography, so my opinion here is of limited value. But I am a successful business man, and being a service provider (i.e. dog trainer) I understand (at least in my primary industry) the pitfall to giving stuff away for free.

    Here’s what I’m thinking:

    1. There probably should be some humongous class-action lawsuit against Getty to get them to stop destroying the profitability of the industry in general. And maybe a boycott against them too.

    2. What they are doing will at least temporarily derail the stock photography niche, and any other niche in which the images are non-personal to the buyer. I do think there will always be some demand for fresh images, as Getty’s images will be spread all over cyberworld. I know some top-end graphic designers / website designers / branding experts who insist on hiring photographers to create images for them rather than buying everything from stock sites.

    3. The most open-to-newcomers niches for photographers probably will be those that are inherently personal to the buyer: weddings, family portraits, pet photography.

    I personally think is a crying shame if this is really what Getty is going to do. It *must* run afoul of some law — monopolies? I don’t know.

  6. says

    The notion that this is going to be beneficial to the photographer, is utter nonsense!

    This is just another example how Getty always seem to find new ways of abusing their content contributors.

    It is sad to see how every segment of stock photography been systematically destroyed over the past decade.

  7. says

    Interesting, but… the sell to photographers, and this is no exception, is that in the long run they will benefit from the “Trickle Down” effect.

    This is always the line used by those who think they’re smarter than the rest of us. It’s the sales pitch by the high end auto manufacturers, the boutique fashion shops and the over-priced cafe shop.

    The truth is that it doesn’t trickle down in any meaningful way and the wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top, while those doing the actual valuable work are taken advantage of. Like most Professional Photographers, if I got a dollar for everytime I’m told that a client is doing me a favour by providing me with long term exposure…

    How much IS a photograph worth if it’s given away for free?

  8. says

    When there is a race to the bottom: don’t compete. Withhold your images. Don’t sell.
    Boycot. There is always an alternative. I’ve often wondered about an established cooperative
    for photographers run by photographers. OMG with todays technology I’m absolutely certain
    something can be established. A few full time employees will need to be hired for logistics and management etc. Take back the power. Getty cannot sell images if the stream of images gets cut off. Think Unions between 1890 and 1920’s. This is exactly why they were formed.

  9. says

    Whoa! Consider this. Public relations is big business in the USA. “Exposure” is valuable to businesses, and especially to artists and photographers. For those photographers who have been accepted in the Getty fold, it’s a professional measure of their talent. Art directors know this. Congratulations.
    FACEBOOK, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn et al – offer free exposure to photographers and I assume that’s why those photographers who use these social sites know how valuable this exposure is to them. GettyImages is now a social site. I would think the Getty photographers (and those who are not on the Getty agency) who are grumbling about this new phase of Getty would welcome this new (free) exposure for their talent. I have published a new piece on Getty’s new data mining service which I called “AJAX”. I hope you’ll look it up.

  10. says

    Getty has become the MacDonalds of Image Sales in terms of what they pay the creators.
    Photographers may work for 10-20 years to develop their craft. They must invest all the time and energy to create these images on speculation. They don’t even get to keep their copyright. Finally they have no retirement program or benefits. I don’t see this as any kind of win. Yes we should boycott but even more we must join hands and educate the newbies about the consequences of supporting this kind of greed. I am personally very tired of companies like Getty who look to create these huge monopolies at the expense of the middle class jobs and income. We are becoming a third world country with a two class system. The haves and have nots.

  11. Lee Salem says

    If I wasn’t otherwise convinced that Rohn’s writing was on the side of the “good guys,” that last paragraph seems to be right out of Getty’s press release. Photographers will benefit from exposure??? Good pun, but lousy concept. As noted by the respondents above, experience tells us it rarely works that way. The images Getty chooses are those that aren’t moving-making sales worth keeping them on their servers. So, they “monetize” them through the data they can collect.The photographers will not receive anything for their efforts in creating the images. If Getty wanted to mollify the victims of this scam on their contributors, they would offer up a fraction of their income from this project and send some money every quarter. But they may have figured the reminder that their contributors are getting ripped off may continue to keep the issue in the news rather than the one-time storm of bad PR they are getting in the photographers’ world now. Would that quarterly check for $3.00 make you happy or just pour salt in the wound? I was told in the past that the remunerative life of a photo is less than 6 months before something newer/hipper/more relevant replaces it. While this may have been in the context of celebrity photos, is it that far off from all “sellable” photos? There was a time when great photos could sell for decades but today’s media frenzy and massive number of outlets as well as contributors devours the newest images and makes it all “been there, done that.” Those 35 million photos are taking up too much space for not returning anything. Getty wins again while contributors lose again.