Can automated image recognition software help photo buyers connect more easily with stock photo agencies and individual photographers and quickly identify and license images they find on the Web?
Picscout, the 8-year-old Silicon Valley and Israel-based startup is betting yes. With a newly updated release of their ImageExchange Firefox plugin, Picscout has significantly streamlined their user interface and simplified the image discovery process. Based on detailed feedback from users, the new plugin features a live sidebar which automatically displays thumbnails of every image on the user’s web page which has a match in Picscout’s database of fingerprinted images. Clicking on the thumbnail displays a popover window with direct links to the websites of the participating agency or photographer.
When the PicScout Image IRC™ was first introduced last year many aspects of their business and pricing model were not clear, as I discussed in an October blog post . Now the product has been refined and plans are to leave their beta stage at the end of this year.
Ease of Use
The new sidebar is a significant improvement over the small “I” icons the previous version superimposed on the user’s web page. Now you can quickly see at a glance all images found on a page.
Below is a sample display page from my own website with the sidebar showing an image used in an advertisement. Note that in this case the publisher had cropped and flopped the image.This is the popover window with a link to the image on Photoshelter:
As I mentioned in October the long-term success of IRC depends on buy-in from stock distributors, photographers and photo buyers. With over 50 million images now committed to their system, Picscout has significantly grown their index since last year. Signed agencies include Alaska Stock, the LIFE collection, Masterfile, Science Faction, Photoshelter, Image Source, and micro site Dreamstime. Even so, this represents only a small percent of images available online as stock photography. A Google Images search for “stock photography” displays about 1000 images (from 2 million plus total), but only 71 of the 1000 are in the Picscout index . This may well favor those agencies which use the platform. Significantly missing however are the largest players, Getty Images (with iStockphoto) and Corbis Images.
Looking through the search shows some odd anomalies. In some cases a iStockphoto image will show with a Dreamstime link, or a Magnum image with a Photoshelter (or even Flickr Creative Commons) link. Sometimes the same image is available as RF and RM. With multiple sources and uses of images, both legitimate and illicit, this is not surprising.
Last year it seemed that Picscout planned to take a percent of sales, thus reducing ultimate revenue to providers. The new model, announced earlier this year, takes a marketing-oriented pay-per-view approach. Contributing agencies and photographers pay every time a popover window is displayed for a match to one of their images. Like Google Adwords they can set a maximum budget per month. After the budget is exhausted, the popover window will still show their name and photo credit but the link to the provider’s image detail page for licensing will be hidden. Detailed reports will show page views and click through rates for each image.
So far the announced prices seem very high. In a tiered structure based on licensing model. A provider pays $1 for each display for Rights Managed (RM) images, $0.50 for RF images and $.05 for microstock images. [UPDATE: The system is free for providers through Dec 31, after which you get a monthly free allowance of 20 views before the pay-per-view kicks in]
In a prerelease interview Offir Gutelzon, CEO, said they will gather data on how the platform works through the active participation of image buyers and content owners and that will drive any improvements and pricing adjustments. My guess is that very few individual photographers will be able to generate enough sales at this price level, though perhaps agencies with an established marketing budget will.
In addition to the direct benefit of revenue from sales and licensing, Picscout emphasizes the value of IRC for providing attribution for online image uses. Even if a photographer chooses not to pay for direct links to an image detail page, the uploading and fingerprinting services are still free. This means that wherever one of their images is found on the web, the Picscout sidebar will display their name alongside the image in the display window. Standard search should then allow the provider to be found. This benefit alone is likely to induce many photographers to at least try the service.
An additional benefit could come if the system reported where each image is found on the web, thus identifying possibly unknown publications, both legitimate via agency sales, and infringing.
In summary, Picscout has continued to roll out an elegant product which shows significant promise for photo buyers and image providers. If enough players participate and pricing can settle at a reasonable level, the index could change the way images are found and licensed online.