Instagram misses the big picture

Tuesday 18 December 2012 15.19
Instagram's monetisation strategy has blindsided users
Instagram's monetisation strategy has blindsided users

The photosharing website's monetisation strategy has blindsided users, writes Niall Kitson

So another social media free lunch comes to an end, not with a whimper but with a bang. Reports of photosharing service Instagram changing its terms of service in an attempt to monetise its content have enraged users, and rightly so. According to new Terms of Service (TOS) - due to come into effect on 16 January - users will be handing over "non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content" - effectively turning the service into a stock image store with a catalogue of amateur material.

As monetisation strategies go, this is antagonistic and foolhardy. Where else but the Internet would a company effectively tell users their material has no value yet tell customers it does. As the saying goes: if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product. Instagram clearly thinks it has passed a threshold where it has enough commercially viable material to sell.

That Instagram would want to make money from its extensive resource was inevitable; its new parent company Facebook constantly mines its base for advertiser-friendly data with varying degrees of success. Most users would happily accept the need to carry advertising or develop an affiliate programme where they could opt to make their work commercially available in exchange for a revenue split - a common arrangement on video sites like YouTube and Muzu. Even blogs have a chance to turn a profit with Google AdWords. If you rely on user-generated content to turn a profit then surely incentivising better content is the best way to make more money. I suppose it depends on how much material you're getting in the first place. Instagram must feel it’s getting a lot of marketable content to adopt this kind of strategy and absorb the attrition.

I've never bought into the Instagram hype. I prefer to pay up front for software with a less pronounced 'social' element and better functionality, as such I have a couple of camera apps that are much more capable than Instagram (Camera+ and Camera Bag to start). As with most apps, two elements made Instagram so popular: convenience and novelty. Thanks to the new TOS and pulling of Twitter sharing it is less convenient and a lot less fun to use.

Should the average user be concerned that their poorly framed, heavily filtered landscapes and self-portraits will become a hot commodity, exploited for thousands of dollars a pop? Be realistic, most people are just not that talented and those that are already charge a premium for their services. Even then individual stock images do not sell for more than a few euro each. That’s before we get into the area of quality control. Just as 99.99% of what's posted on YouTube is bilge, you can be assured the hive mind of Instagram isn't any different.

As a practical solution to getting off Instagram pi.pe is one way to transfer your images to Flickr, paving the way for safe account deletion. Anyone fond of those intrusive filters could always go back to the now genuinely retro Hipstamatic. Better still, invest in a decent camera and learn how to take pictures, learn about lenses, framing, ISO and aperture without automatic correction. Investing a little more time in your compositions will lead to genuinely better results - maybe even the kind of thing you might be able to make a few euro from by submitting to a commercial stock image website.

Instagram is dead, long live photography.

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie