There’s nothing new in business rivals exploiting their competitors’ misfortunes to promote their own companies. So when the Great Rebekka Rip-off scandal erupted last week it was no surprise that the ‘Flickr=Censorship’ campaign was led by one Thomas Hawk.
Hawk, you’ll recall, is the investment adviser and wannabe photographer who can’t tell his commercial from his editorial. But he’s also the pseudonymous CEO of Zooomr, a photo-sharing site that likes to promote itself as a Flickr-killer, although not in the sense that some might like.
At this point it may help to get a sense of perspective. Flickr is a bigass company that is in turn owned by an even biggerass company, Yahoo. And Flickr/Yahoo have their sights set on bigger asses yet. Zooomr on the other hand consists of Thomas Hawk and company founder and Chief Programmer, 19-year-old Kristopher Tate.
That’s right, Zooomr is a company with a total staff of two, including the CEO: and he’s got a day job. You’ve got to admire the ambition that drives that kind of corporate mentality, but it does make us wonder how some American families introduce themselves to Earthlings. ‘Hi there, I’m Sqweegee Fudpucker Junior III, CEO of the family, and this here cute little bitch is Wilma, Chairman of the Board. That’s Brad in front of the TV with the pizza – he’s our Chief Programmer – and twins Cindy and Mindy, who take care of public relations and entertainment. Oh and that little rascal in the Kevlar jacket toting the twelve gauge and the Magnum 45 is Sqweegee Junior IV, our Chief of Security, and just puking on the rug over there is Fido, his deputy.’
So this week it was Flickr’s turn to snigger, when Zooomr made their second attempt to launch the long-awaited Zooomr3, only to fall flat on their faces. For when Zooomr3 turned out to be broken the company were reduced to running a web cam of the Chief Programmer amusing himself in his room.
If there’s one thing last week’s Flickr fiasco proves, it’s that there are more stupid people on the internet than there are on Earth: in that sense the Zooomr non-launch did not disappoint. In the real world product launches are announced when the product actually launches. On the web, apparently, product launches are announced when somebody in California blows up a spliff and has a Really Big Idea.
And once the punters realised the launch was a fizzle, they set to doing what the web does best: brawling.
‘Wow, can Zooomr be any more of a piece of shit? Seriously. We have a big ugly kid who is ego obsessed. We’re not interested in seeing your ugly mug, why the hell is there a live web cam stream on the landing page?’
‘Your claims of an ego-obsessed founder, even if true, aren’t as ridiculous as your post… which is obviously an expression of your own personality (or lack of).’
‘You need to grow some hair on those big balls of yours!’
‘I’m mature enough not need to show my balls on my web cam, unlike Kris. Or have my balls plastered to every screenshot and landing page.’
None of this would matter outside the photo-sharing playground, but for one thing. As well as being a few vowels short of an alphabet the rivals share one other feature: they both harbour ambitions to take a large bite of the stock photography pie, currently dominated by Getty Images. In fact Zooomr have stolen a theoretical march on Flickr by announcing their stock photography plans, under the strangely familiar title of Marketplace.
These are big ambitions to have. Coincidentally Getty have been re-launching their own site recently, and it’s been a largely seamless experience for visitors. And even if a Getty re-launch did run into difficulties it’s hard to see them falling back on the Zooomr strategy. ‘Hi, I’m Mark and we’re having an upgrade, so no pictures for a week or so; but Jonathan’s driving over to plug in the other hard drive right now. Meantime here’s a home movie of the two of us counting the cash and receiving our monthly blow jobs from the SAA board.’
Even if Flickr, Zooomr, and their soon to launch rivals Stealr, Crookd and Thievn overcome their current problems, what others might they face in building a viable stock business? The answer is: lots.
The most fundamental is that a successful photo-sharing site does not necessarily equate to a successful photo-selling site.
It’s true that from a buyer’s perspective the advantage of a Flickr/Zooomr library is that it would make the likes of Getty look small: if you’re going to shop at a supermarket you may as well shop at the biggest. But the disadvantage is that a Flickr/Zooomr library would make something like Alamy look like a small, well-edited collection.
The theory behind the photo-sharing/stock collection is that the contributors/sharers do the editing themselves, in the form of tagging, comments and favourites. Therefore the most popular material becomes easily apparent to buyers. But what image buyers are looking for is not necessarily the same as what image sharers tag. And even if somebody is popular on Flickr it doesn’t necessarily follow that their work is any good; or that they are even interested in selling stock.
Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir, centre of last week’s storm, is a case in point. It wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to suggest that at least some of Rebekka’s popularity is down to the fact that she’s a rather attractive looking female of childbearing age. She’s said as much herself, although not in those words, and a glance at her most popular pictures and the associated comments does show that it’s not just her photographic skill that so entrances her fans.
If that seems unfair then take a look at the EPUK editor and try to imagine some of the comments addressed to Rebekka being directed at him.
And anyway, Rebekka has publicly stated that she’s not interested in being a stock photographer.
So in the case of Flickr’s star performer, the photo-sharing/stock collection theory falls down on at least two points. Firstly, her fans point buyers to her lesser work: although it’s her more revealing shots that are the most popular at Flickr, it was her landscapes that Only Dreemin decided had the better resale potential and were therefore worth stealing. And secondly, Rebekka isn’t interested in stock sales anyway.
Crowd sourcing may be very hip, kewl and awesome, but it’s of little practical commercial use if all the krowd can produce is krap, or if they’re not interested in selling their work. If any if the photo-sharing sites are serious about making inroads into the stock industry they need to attract a substantial number of professional photographers who can supply the market.
To do that they need in turn to provide a service that has industrial grade facilities built in. The list of requirements is almost too long to mention here, but they could start with image security and tracking, legal support in case of infringements, and a mentality that instinctively supports their contributors rather than the interests of infringers. Oh, and in Zooomr’s case, a functioning web site would help.
On the evidence of the last two weeks Flickr, Zooomr et al have a long way to go before their ambitions can be taken seriously.