Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

One member was so incensed by my last posting — about a potentially dangerous scam which could ensnare any of us — that he quit fotoLibra. “Your blog post wasn’t about photography!” he thundered. He was right, and I promised him that the next posting would be about photography.

I’m sorry to disappoint, because this still isn’t about photography — it’s about commerce, and ownership, and copyright, and images, and sales, and royalty free. I really shouldn’t write prescriptive pieces about photography because I am possibly the least skilled photographer who will read these words (though I will confess I’m a dab hand at Photoshop) but I do know what the picture market wants, needs and expects.

It’s hard enough selling images at the best of times, so my heart sank a little further in this worst of times when I saw an announcement from a microstock agency that they had nearly a million images to give away for free. We haven’t got a million images yet, and we don’t want to give them away. We’re asking money for ours.

For a large sector of the market, Price is the only consideration. I met an illustrated book publisher a few years ago who’d been to China and had picked up a set of DVDs of hundreds of thousands of free-to-use hi-res photographs. “We don’t need you any more,” he said crushingly. “We’se making books from dese images what we got.” (There’s a lot of class in publishing). Sadly, he isn’t in business any more, because the public stopped buying his repetitive titles.

All the same, a million free images? That’s absurd. So I signed up to the site to have a nosey around. To sign in, you create a username, supply an email address and a password, and click on the verification email. Then you choose your picture. Then the interrogation starts. Full name? Full address? City? Zip? Phone? Grandmother’s eyes? I dutifully complied — it’s rather more strenuous than registering on fotoLibra as a buyer — and selected an image to download.

Those of you with long memories may recall a little run-in fotoLibra had with English Heritage a couple of years ago when they told us to take down images of Stonehenge we were selling. You can read about it here and here. So I looked on Stock Free Images for photographs of Stonehenge. I got 34 results, not all of Stonehenge, of course.

© Galleria | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Here’s one I downloaded for free. It’s not bad. It’s not great, either, with visible signs of compression at full size, but it’s good enough for perhaps 70% of usages. Of course when the search results come up, the first images you see are the pictures that Dreamstime wants to sell you. Dreamstime is a microstock agency which owns Stock Free Images. So Free Pictures! is the bait to attract buyers to Dreamstime. Underneath their premium images you see the lesser ones which SFI are offering for free. I wonder if English Heritage will be chasing them?

I’d also like to know why the photographer J. Wallace (for much of the metadata remains with the image) allowed his or her photograph, taken on June 28th 2008 with a Canon EOS 400D, to be given away for free. We have three photographers named J. Wallace. I hope it’s not one of them.

Harking back to my illustrated book publisher friend, there’s enough content here to satisfy the least demanding critic. There are 645 free photographs of Golden Retrievers, for example. If I was in the business of publishing doggy calendars, why not start here? I only need 12 adequate images, after all.

Is it any wonder that buyers on a budget will look at sites like these first? This is a world where Adequate is good enough. On the other hand, to be tempted to sites like fotoLibra, buyers have to be able to
a) find images they can’t find elsewhere
b) be assured that the image quality is absolutely top of the range
c) ask our photographers for pictures they can’t find

We can’t compete on price. We haven’t got a million murky pictures to give away. So we have to offer a service which corporations like Dreamstime can’t dream of.

And we do. We’ll bend over backwards to accommodate our clients’ wishes, which is why fotoLibra sends out regular little notes from Jacqui with her impossible demands for our photographers.

But when the actual content is deemed so trivial and unimportant by companies like Dreamstime that they can simply give it away, I just think it’s a sad world for photographers and the picture business.

Don’t you? And what can / should we do about it?


Add your comment


30 Responses to “A Million Free Images”

  1. This is a very interesting subject, I was once about to photograph Scripps garage in Goathland ( Scripps garage in tvs Heartbeat ) when the owner came across to tell me that in no uncertain terms that if a took a photo he would smash my equipment up on the spot, when i asked him his reason for this he replied i had a professional camera ( Pentax 6 by 7 ) and that he did not want anyone making money from him, this comment was directed to me in front of my young son, I was actually standing on the spot of the Goathland pub ( the Aidensfied arms in tvs Heartbeat ), I find this a bit of a joke as it is a tourist magnet. needless to say i did report him to North Yorkshire police for threatening behaviour.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Sounds like anger management issues. Maybe he didn’t get a backhander from the TV company and took it out on everyone he saw. Inexcusable behaviour in any case.

  2. Brian Murray says:

    It puzzles me why these photographers allow their images to be given away, presumably with something in it for the likes of Dreamstime. But hey, we live in an age of Twitter and Facebook, where any publicity is better than none.

    However, these are just “adequate” pictures. Nothing striking. Nothing that can’t be pulled from Bing or Google Images. Some publishers want striking, surely? Or am I being naive?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Here’s a comment about a warning I placed on a Facebook page. First the warning:
      “Be careful uploading mages to Facebook because they strip the metadata and your images could end up as orphan works, freely usable by anyone.”
      Then the comment:
      “I don’t care. I’d rather my pictures were seen by loads of people than receive some pittance for them to be seen by a few.”
      An open-hearted sentiment perhaps, but my mother used to say “If you undervalue yourself, everyone else will too.”

  3. PAul says:

    When cost is the customer’s only criteria for choice, they don’t realise they could be driving their supplier out of business.
    Quality and Service are intangible, and can’t be put on the balance sheet.

  4. Charles Henderson says:

    You get what you pay for in this world! pay peanuts you get monkeys!

  5. David Williams says:

    Interesting. I ran a small business for 20 years. Very successful largely because of service above and beyond – which often meant 16 hour+ days. Fotolibra offers a very personal service – don’t ever change on that point.

    Giving away images won’t come to much – its just a bit of “bling” – and I hope doesn’t attract any serious picture editors.

    Someone once advised me ” forget about what others are doing and concentrate on what your doing” – excellent advice that has served me well and brought considerable success when allied to huge amounts of hard work.

    Of course just what they want is to be mentioned and promoted – free publicity for the free photos!

  6. David Chapman says:

    Well done Gwyn,as for the scam topic I don’t care what site it is on ,we all need to be aware what is going on,no matter what the source, so pat on the back mate,Regards David

  7. Ian Hooker says:

    What should we do?

    Do what you suggest.

    Forget Dreamstime. Their financial paradigm will eventually fail.

    We should just take excellent quality, original images – especially when Jacqui demands the impossible.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      OK, as long as I can survive while I’m waiting for it to happen. But they’ll be gobbled up for a billion dollars because they’ll have the inventory and the users.

  8. Any serious photographer would never give away their images for free. There are it seems millions of dubious quality images for sale online taken by joe bloggs who is happy to get a byline and a small pittance. This does threaten the viability of professional photographers who cannot compete on price alone and who must diversify to survive in an increasingly saturated market.

    Fotolibra should always offer quality images together with excellent customer focus. Is it time perhaps to consider some
    form of quality control to weed out technically poor

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      We have built in technical quality control imposed during the upload process, and you probably didn’t know, that we vet every image uploaded. What we don’t do is prescribe what will or what won’t sell, because that’s not our decision. That’s why we’re proud to be the only open access picture library.

  9. Lois Bryan says:

    In the case you describe above, it looks like a bait and switch deal, to lure clients in with the promise of free images, but hoping they’ll ultimately buy. Without going into too much detail, I have been made aware of many “scraping” sites … where images are swiped from all over the internet (China is notorious!!!) … then put up for sale. This is done for various reasons … to get advertising dollars … or to get the gullible to send them their credit card info … to install creepy trojan or other spyware into your computer … or other nefarious purposes. Point being, the photographers whose work you’ve described probably have no idea their images are there. I’ve gotten to where, in addition to metadata, every image has a © and my signature on all my pod sites … and anywhere else (Facebook, etc) there is a huge watermark all over it with my main website address. That way, if someone does swipe it, at least I’ll get free advertising. ~ sigh ~

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Bait & Switch! — great, a technical term for a marketing ploy that I hadn’t come across before. Thank you Lois!
      Remember that images uploaded to fotoLibra are watermarked by us and all your metadata is preserved. No orphan images with us!

  10. Vic Kirk says:

    Scams are attempted theft usually – notification in any forum is welcome by me.
    As mentioned by Lois Bryan SFI appear to be “scraping” and building a data base of image users.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I now think it’s what Lois described as ‘bait & switch’ — attracting viewers to a sales site by dangling a free offer in front of them. Not illegal, but not gentlemanly either.

  11. Dennis says:

    What can we do?

    Image exclusivity, no sub-distribution and RAISE prices.

  12. Erik Strodl says:

    It’s the same old story,in these days of austerity measures….”somethin’ for nowt”
    People will invariably choose price over quality…. it doesn’t matter whether its double glazing or garage servicing.
    I truly believe if you promote those three categories in a, b, c of the blog, it may help. As Paul says if you offer a second to none service you should and will beat the competition.

  13. Totally agree
    It puzzles me why these photographers allow their images to be given away, presumably with something in it for the likes of Dreamstime. But hey, we live in an age of Twitter and Facebook, where any publicity is better than none.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      That’s the insoluble, intractable problem, and it’s why people are all so different from each other. I suppose we ought to celebrate such diversity. As long as it doesn’t impinge on our bank balances.

  14. Michelle Ashley says:

    I sell plumeria and by far, the most pressing problem is the ability to obtain bloom photos for potential customers/current customers of plumeria that I have purchased for re-sale, or photos of plumeria that I have grown to sale size but have not yet bloomed. As some plumeria may bloom the first year of rooting and others taking as long as five years or more,it is imperative that I, as the seller, have a decent shot or two of a particular bloom. Plumeria are desired, as are orchids, for the bloom shape and color(s). My personal opinion is that if a person makes it clear from the outset that they will be re-selling then they should be able to obtain a photo. After all, this grower/seller purchased said plumeria due to the photograph used by the original vendor. I feel that in the plumeria business, withholding photos of blooms, or even water marking, is just a way of keeping out potential competition. If it is just a matter of withholding bloom photos to a customer, that is foolish. Product photos alone do not make a successful business be it large or small. Hard work, a good product, customer service, dedication and response are the tools that can make or break an endeavor.

  15. Gwyn, I couldn’t agree with you more! When I was looking around for somewhere to start placing some of my photographs to attempt to attract publishers/buyers, I found the most ABSURD entry requirements for photographers to well-known photo libraries such as Alamy, Getty, Shutterstock, etc. It seems they accept anyone with a camera from their ‘acceptable’ list and deny anyone with equipment from their ‘not acceptable’ list without even looking at any of their photographs in most cases. One look at the assortment of stock photography on offer from the first of these in particular (page after page of badly chosen uninteresting subjects, poorly framed and almost all out of focus – no doubt all ‘modern art’) lessened my frustration at their entry requirements as I wouldn’t want to be associated with such shallow people with no interest whatsoever in photographic content, skill or artistry. Hence I chose FotoLibra!
    Not sure what we can do about the shortcomings of these people other than to continue to offer greater quality and choice to publishers and hope they come to realize that they can do better than these free sites.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      What a pleasant thing to say — how kind of you! You are clearly someone of great taste and discrimination, and almost certainly very nice too.
      We’re working hard to sell your images — along with everyone else’s.
      Thank you Ruth; much appreciated.