The value of an image

“Images have no value”

Those are my words that sparked a heated discussion between my colleagues and I in a LA hotel lobby at 11pm a month ago. I said it to provoke the others to prove me wrong. In a world where digital content is sharable and free for the taking, with minor risk of getting caught, you will have a hard time arguing that you can both make money with images and protect them from being misused. Images are quickly becoming a perceived free commodity and a majority of the content being shared online legally and illegally are images. The generation born in the 80’s and after perceive content as being free to use as long as you state the source and it appears that some members of the mainstream media see things what way too.

I’ll give you an example. One of the pictures on our wall at home is a print I created and ordered online based on works of a well known Finnish artist. It wasn’t available as a print so I made it myself. Another example are my Knoll posters that I made a few years back. You wouldn’t believe the number of requests I’ve received about who to contact at Knoll to get the hig-res files to print them. The value that the images have is in marketing and releasing them would benefit everybody.

I’m also true to it myself. All 5000+ images I have on Flickr are free for anyone to use, even for commercial purposes as long as you reveal the original source. This way I at least stand a chance of knowing where they get used and I have seen them on dozens of blogs and high profile publications. The emotional value of the photos I’ve taken at parties, vacations and special occasions is immeasurable but the monetary value is in most cases zero.

I was reminded of out late discussion today by an email from a prospective client. Our customer approach at the company I work for has often been to make demos for clients and then send them off to them to see if we can find mutual ground. This particular demo was made using hig-res images I found online through a search with Google Images. I simply linked to them and added overlay tags, never copying the content. The tags contained content which I figured would add value to the image such as information about the products and commercial links.

One of the images looked something like this:

They did however not see any value in it and asked me to delete the site I set up destroying the content in the process.  This is the first time after more than 100+ demos that this has happened. Usually we’re embraced and greeted as saviors since most people know that the world is quickly crumbling for anyone trying to control the access and sharing of content. The simple truth is that if you can’t add value and preserve the context of your content, there is little money to be made. Whenever the above image is shared, the tags follow and thus the context, the commercial links and the information about what is in the image. It’s about telling a story, adding another dimension and providing additional value.

But then again, some images are obviously worth a lot.

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