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Cashing In On Flickr

At last week’s VII European seminar photographer and agency founder Gary Knight commented in an aside that he was scared of Flickr although not quite sure why; sharp eyed audience members will have noticed Getty’s Aidan Sullivan nodding in agreement. But now, right on cue, up pops one Dr Augustine Fou to provide the why.

At last week’s VII European seminar photographer and agency founder Gary Knight commented in an aside that he was scared of Flickr although not quite sure why; sharp eyed audience members will have noticed Getty’s Aidan Sullivan nodding in agreement. But now, right on cue, up pops one Dr Augustine Fou to provide the why.

Fou is the founder of FlickrCash, a programme based on the API [Application Programming Interface] of the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. In Fou’s own words: ‘using Flickr’s API FlickrCash turns Flickr into the world’s largest stock image marketplace by helping image buyers more efficiently find images and image owners to sell them, by accepting payments for them and archiving licenses for public inspection’.

Now, it’s practically a hobby for professional photographers to make fun of all things Flickr, and it’s trivially easy to do. But before you start pointing and laughing it’s worth considering a few figures.

In any average minute well over 1,000 pictures are uploaded to Flickr: the kind of upload rate that makes Alamy look positively laggard.

True, most of those uploads aren’t very good; in fact from a professional perspective the vast majority are complete crap. After all, Flickr contributors can most kindly be described as mixed ability photographers, on the face of it hardly the type to provide much of a challenge to the likes of VII, or even Getty on a bad day. But that’s missing the point.

Let’s suppose a tiny minority of those uploads, even an unreasonably small 1%, constitute commercially marketable images of suitable technical quality. At the current rate of submission – which will only rise – that produces a figure of around 1,500 images per day, or somewhere north of half a million per year. That’s far in excess of what any conventional stock agency can manage.

Now combine that rate of upload with the kind of pricing that the average Flickr contributor would find acceptable. It’s pretty clear that FlickrCash could cut a considerable swathe through a large section of the stock photography market: after all, take a look of the success of some of the microsites.

In itself FlickrCash needn’t necessarily be a bad thing. After all there’s nothing to stop professionals from signing up and using it as part of a broader distribution strategy. The system even allows contributors to set their own prices, which is more than most agents will do. And a hefty percentage of professional members charging professional prices would encourage at least some others to do likewise [we’ll leave aside the fact that all the images we found were being offered for free, which makes the name FlickrCash something of a misnomer].

However there are two rather large problems.

Firstly, despite its name, FlickrCash has no legal or official connection with Flickr. Fou and his developer Jesse Skinner have simply produced a programme which piggybacks on Flickr’s API, as programmers are encouraged to do by Flickr, and many have already done. The difference is that FlickrCash has a clear commercial purpose. Those who have attempted similar unofficial affiliations elsewhere, notably at MySpace, have awoken to find highly paid lawyers on their doorsteps.

But Fou is apparently pretty relaxed about this potential threat, as indeed he might be. For if Yahoo, Flickr’s owners, decide that FlickrCash has commercial potential there is an easy solution to any conflict: Yahoo could simply buy Fou out, making him an overnight YouTube-style kazillionaire. Perhaps that’s where the cash in FlickrCash comes in: contributors might make pennies, but Fou would do very nicely thank you.

Secondly, although the system is specifically designed to enable Flickr contributors to license stock images, it’s obvious that Fou and Co haven’t the faintest idea what that entails in a professional sense. Which is why although FlickrCash offers six licensing templates, they are all Creative Commons licenses, a format that is very poorly suited to licensing images. Not only poorly suited, but so widely misunderstood that recently Thomas Hawke, CEO of Zooomr and one of the prime proponents of Creative Commons licensing for photography, made a public fool of himself when Forbes.com misused one of his images and it transpired that Hawke himself did not understand the parameters of Creative Commons licensing in an editorial context.

Ironically, Zooomr is also experimenting with automated image sales, making it a potential rival to FlickrCash. One would think that Fou would learn from his rival’s mistakes, but in this case one would be wrong. That’s because Fou is coming from a geek rather than photographic background. If he understood photographic licensing he’d realise that the smart thing to do would be to incorporate PLUS licensing templates into FlickrCash, either as an alternative or replacement to the flawed Creative Commons licences.

PLUS license packs are specifically designed to enable automated image licensing, making them attractive to both professional photographers and image buyers. And with backing from major industry players and clear, precise and understandable terms to the licenses they contain far less potential for a repeat of the Forbes-Hawke fiasco. Incorporating them could have made FlickrCash attractive to both professional photographers and buyers, which would in turn make FlickrCash a far more viable concept. As it stands FlickrCash is mainly of interest to amateurs and corporate liability lawyers, who could have a field day once misunderstandings over a license emerge.

So no matter how clever FlickrCash is in the ‘Hey Dude, check out my coding’ sense, Fou’s a pretty lazy thinker when it comes to optimising his product for maximum practical use.

Meanwhile, the other issue with FlickrCash is that it doesn’t actually work as advertised. During extensive tests by our crack team at EPUK Towers it displayed a habit of mislaying logins and passwords, and generally being bad tempered. Eventually after a few successful searches it got bored with us altogether and wouldn’t play any more: all attempts to search were rewarded with the enlightening message ‘Invalid API Key (Key has expired)’.

As the propeller heads would say: how cool is that?

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