It took me a couple of days of reading about Getty Images announcement that they will make 35 million images available for free. Yes, free. As in “you want it, you can have it.” A few of the stories, like these from the Niemanlab site and Photoshelter focus more on the reality of Getty’s bombshell move, while other sites more or less drank the company Kool Aid and focused on Getty’s stance that they are doing this to combat out-of-control infringement. Maybe all those newsroom cutbacks really have made a difference, because if you can’t see the truth behind this move, then you’re simply not looking hard enough.

Many of my colleagues and I have referred to Getty Images over the years as the Walmart of photography, but I prefer to just call them GettyMart. See, GettyMart is simply the digital version of Walmart, the giant box store that slashes prices to the point of taking a loss to gain market share, pays its’ contributors poverty-inducing wages and, ultimately, reshapes the industry in a race to the bottom. All while reaping huge corporate profits. Most small businesses, of course, can’t compete with the GettyMarts of the world, so they succumb to the predatory business model and go out of business.

Fishing in Sierras

This is NOT a free image by Getty Images. It’s an image of my son heading to his fishing spot that has been licensed many times, actually providing money for my business! © Todd Bigelow/2009

GettyMart was founded in 1995, so they’ve been around long enough to know they have obliterated the competition with their low price, high volume business model. And they also know that copyright infringement plagues our profession in the digital age. No doubt about that. But there is also no arguing that shoplifting from Walmart also results in millions in losses (if not more) each year. I’m sure Walmart has plenty of surveillance footage showing their loyal customers stuffing Spam into their pockets and walking out without paying, and GettyMart likely has plenty of footage showing people using their photos without paying for them. It’s an unfortunate but well known, Business 101-type-of-fact: Shoplifting is going to happen. The bigger the store, the more the shoplifting.

So why doesn’t Walmart just follow GettyMart’s example? Why not make 35 million products available for free like GettyMart has? Won’t that solve their shoplifting problem? After all, if you listen to the official word out of GettyMart, they see no other way to combat their electronic shoplifting except to open the doors and say “Hey! Don’t Steal, We’re Giving It To You For Free!” Well, isn’t that nice?

Of course, the likelihood of Walmart following GettyMart’s lead is as likely as finding a happy, motivated Walmart employee. Why?

Because GettyMart doesn’t really give a Spams-Ass about their images being used on blogs without pay. They care about BIG DATA. They care about the ability to mine the information from the embedded images. They care about revenue. They care about obliterating competition.

When you get a “free” image from GettyMart, you are embedding it like a YouTube video, thus allowing GettyMart to play big brother and gather all sorts of information about the use of the photo. But that’s not all GettyMart can do by giving away images. It can then take the information from the millions of embedded images filling blogs worldwide and present the data to advertisers. Voila, targeted advertising and the blogs can do absolutely nothing about it.

What does the photographer, whose image was provide for free in exchange for the valuable data, get out of the deal with GettyMart? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Not even a can of Spam.

So, let’s quit pretending that GettyMart offered 35 million images for free to fight infringement and see the move for what it really is. A BIG DATA grab that will result in GettyMart monetizing the data for revenue. And, despite the small fact that the embedded images belong to the photographer, GettyMart doesn’t have to share a penny with anyone. Brilliant business move from the corporate perspective.

GettyMart did what no one has done to date……….make Walmart look like a fine, upstanding corporate citizen.

I think the race to the bottom just ended.


 As this post has gained attention, I’ve seen on Reddit and other sites some pretty nasty comments directed at me. I’m fine with that, as the world is full of all sorts of people. But, here’s a few facts…

  • Calling me egotistical because I prefer to license my work instead of giving my work away to a corporate giant like GettyMart is laughable.
  • I do license my own work on a very regular basis and for standard industry rates ranging from several hundred to several thousand per image, depending completely on use. In fact I just did so three days ago. Take a look at the French magazine “Regards” in April. They licensed seven photos for an 8 page portfolio spread on my Immigration work at standard, industry rates for full and half page use. Didn’t even have to negotiate as their offer was completely fair. If you don’t know how much that equates to, and you question the value of standard licensing terms (as opposed to GettyMart’s freebies) then download FotoQuote, the industry software, punch in the numbers and see what it comes to. (6 half pages and one double truck). 🙂
  • You can attack the messenger, that’s fine. This was my perspective based on over two decades of creating work on assignment for national & international magazines, foundations and corporations. Images reside in the California Museum of Photography and Oakland Museum of California. I teach about licensing and business practices at various colleges. I think I’ve earned my stripes. If you don’t care to agree, no worries, go work as a banker and justify your failure to earn a living as a photographer because you want to pursue photography on your “own terms,” as one commenter stated. Funny, all my professional friends and I pursue the photography we enjoy and make a living at it. If you’re good enough to do it, you will. If not, you’ll find excuses.
  • I retain my copyright so I can license for revenue that offsets expenses such as gear, software, insurance etc. Just like the vast majority of my colleagues…..if you want GettyMart to have your images for free, good luck making a living as a photographer. Just let me know when you turn your Instagram and Facebook Likes into the new Bitcoin, okay? Then I’m onboard.
  • The “free market’ has not “priced me out” as one Reddit commenter stated. I make pretty decent money, thanks! And have a ton of fun shooting, teaching and licensing! It’s not hard to do, as long as you don’t give your images away for free to GettyMart who is intent on mining the embedded data for their own profit. 🙂
  • If you all wish to believe GettyMart is doing this to combat infringement, feel free. Give them your images! Get some “exposure!” Take that exposure and run with it. We’ll see how far you get. I have several students who were offered free “exposure” work and turned it down. They value themselves, which is great. You may think that’s an “antiquated” way of thinking, but they’re getting paid gigs and already striking licensing deals.
  • I have never contributed to GettyMart, nor will I. Nor do I shop at Walmart. I don’t believe in supporting companies that exploit others for corporate profit.
  • I read that I need to “adapt to the free market.” Man, what a bunch of sheep out there following the corporate wolf. I’ve adapted and love the fact that I still make a middle class living doing what I love with great clients. I’ve traveled, photographed some great people and made some excellent memories. Sure, it’s hard work and takes a lot of hours, but what job doesn’t? But I’m being paid a fair rate, not working or giving away images for free. “Adapt to a free market?” Please…….
  • If you STILL don’t believe GettyMart is giving away your image for free to get very valuable data, or that I have a crazy take on GettyMart’s move, then read the following pieces. Then put down your glass of corporate Kool Aid and wake up:
  1. CBS Report on The Data Brokers:
  2. Photo Business Forum Breakdown of GettyMart Deal:
  3. Photoshelter’s Guide to Pricing Your Work (Just Released):


Todd Bigelow Photography
13 comments on “GettyMart and Their 35 Million Free Images
  1. alain says:

    I dont know where you are taking this, but when you put an image in a video, the meta data and everything is gone. There is no way to track back the image unless you do a frame by frame search.

    • Todd says:

      The data that is valuable is derived by Getty from the embedding tool. By embedding, Getty will host the image on their server and grab all sorts of valuable info about site users and clicks etc. Getty can, and almost certainly will, then allow ads (basic rollovers or whatever) to be sold that will drop in. They will also be able to direct their efforts toward targeted audience for particular images. Where I’m going is this: The photographer receives nothing when Getty allows the photographer’s image to be embedded as opposed to licensed. Getty receives data they will monetize through ad and/or targeted sales.

    • Chris says:

      I was also confused for a second on the sentence to which you are tacitly referring; however, a quick re-read revealed that sentence contains a simile, which both you and I missed on the first pass. The phrase in question is “embedding LIKE a youtube video” not “embedding IN a youtube video.” I am not sure if the italicization of ’embedding’ is causing the confusion, the sentence is of poor construction or if, perhaps, reading comprehension is the issue.

  2. John says:

    ” they have obliterated the competition with their low price”

    Ummm… low price? They don’t have low prices.

    • Todd says:

      Your point is well taken, John. Their prices are literally at zero now, but they have long licensed for ridiculously low prices. My images are not with them (some are maintained in the Sports Illustrated archive, a special collection hosted by Getty but not subject to their typical pricing or licensing standards.)

  3. I respect your point of view on the need to pay for quality, and to earn a living your work. However, I’m puzzled by the Walmart comparison — the marginal cost of goods sold on Getty is close to zero, while if you give away physical goods sold at Walmart, you lose money on every copy given away. There’s a large difference between not making money due to a free embed (or making very little money due to the ads the embed comes with), and losing the entire cost of goods sold giving away something at Walmart.

    Or am I missing something?

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      First, you assume GettyMart will make “very little money due to the ads the embed comes with.” That assumption is wholly inaccurate and proven by various reports which highlight the value of data over the value of the actual product (did you watch the CBS News link below?). The embed provides a treasure trove of information for GettyMart to profit from, all derived from an image that they give away.

      Second, there is certainly a cost that GettyMart incurs and it is not “marginal” as you state. At a minimum, costs include hosting, site support, licensing software, servers in temperature controlled climates, marketing etc. In fact, I would argue the cost is easily as high as many of the cheap goods Walmart pays for at wholesale cost from its’ buyers. But the real point you are missing is both GettyMart and Walmart abide by the same business principle: Mass volume and heavy discounts done in part to eliminate competition and own the market for low cost goods. Both are well known for paying a pittance to their contributors. GettyMart claims to have embarked on this free image campaign to combat out of control infringement (theft), and I say that is completely corporate spin. They are after site users valuable data (again, read their embedding TOS). To drive my point home, I say that despite the similarities between Walmart and GettyMart, not even Walmart would throw their doors open and take a loss on 35 million goods to combat shoplifting, which shows how GettyMart can even make Walmart look good. The principle of fighting theft by giving away the product is so flawed that it reveals (by means of GettyMart’s TOS) the true reason behind this data grabbing move.

  4. Thanks for unveiling the ‘man behind the curtain’ at Gettymart and explaining their motivation and methods. I have not as yet licensed my work but have been thinking I should learn about the entire process now. Your article was very timely for me personally …can you suggest a good user friendly book or other source for me to learn about the whole system. The work I have been doing has been essentially private portraiture and fine art. I’m ready to expand so I need to have a clear understanding of this aspect.

    Thanks again for a great article!

    • Todd says:

      One excellent source for information about the business end of being a freelancer is John Harrington’s Blog.

      You can also find excellent sources, including a recently released guide to pricing your work, at Photoshelter. A link to that guide is provided at the end of the post.

      There are a number of professional organizations ranging from ASMP to NPPA and APA that work to empower photographers so they can earn a living from their work.

      I also founded and teach The Business of Photography workshop, recently named by Photoshelter as one of the 50 Awesome Photo Workshops worldwide. It moves around to various colleges, universities and professional gatherings including UCLA Extension and Otis College of Art & Design among others.

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