Why Instagram Selling Your Photos is a Lot Worse Than You Think


Let’s be fair: it’s not clear if Instagram is actually going to sell user photos anymore.

And if you’re not on the Instagram train, let’s be clearer: Instagram is a mobile-based, photo-sharing service that’s popular because… well… it makes your photos look like they were taken in about 1975.

Recently, the terms of service for Instagram changed to include this hefty line, among others: “…a business or other entity may pay us to display your… photos… in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

Instagram has since decided that so blatantly selling user photos may not be a good idea, but it’s obvious in what direction the social network (now owned by Facebook) is moving:

Crowd-sourced creativity

There’s no question that Instagram users have been using the app to make some beautiful photos. You just set a filter, snap the picture, and you suddenly have art.

Instagram’s earthquaking policy shift, however, indicates that these artsy photos of food, landscapes, and your pets are going to get commercial really fast.

Even if Instagram does decide to compensate people in some way for the photos, this is a phenomenon that reminds of an article I read.

The article asked a simple question: Are millennials crowd-sourcing themselves out of jobs?

Social media = social creativity 

This goes back to the fears that all artists have about the de-monetization of content.

As in: people want stuff for free.

A lot of stuff, all of the time. In fact, we see no reason to pay for anything on the internet unless we really, truly, actually are passionate, intrigued, and inspired by it.

A talented Instagram photographer may be thrilled that they can sell their photo of a resort to that resort for a dollar (better than selling it for free, as previously proposed).

But what if that dollar could have been a thousand dollars? What if that thousand dollars could have been a marketing job?

One person’s moment, another’s stock photography 

Here’s the thing: Instagram has 40 million users.

There’s no doubt that, if it becomes a customizable, commercial stock photo database, Instagram will be a big, beautiful revenue machine for Facebook.

If photographers do get compensated, then Instagram photos will be nothing new. In fact, it could be very helpful in promoting photographers themselves, because Instagram will probably create an algorithm for the highest-rated, best kind of stock photography.

If you’re comfortable with your special moments becoming stock photography.

Because of Instagram’s furious back-pedaling, I’m not sure where this particular brand of crowd-sourced content now stands.

All I know is that:

  • Facebook owns Instagram, so Facebook is involved
  • Facebook has a very poor track record about listening to users over the demands of shareholders
  • Facebook is really trying hard to monetize every possible splotch of data available

What this means for creative people everywhere

One start-up recently secured $12.5 million in venture capital funding. The company, Crowdsource, is said to have the very unique specialty of  “content creation and data-crunching.”

Since June 2011, the company has hired 500,000 workers.

No, that’s not a typo.

This virtual country of freelancers is paid hourly wages of $15 to $30 to do the copywriting, technical writing, and other content creation that used to be the domain of full-time employees. Thus, the consequence of a market that is over-saturated with degree-holding people educated in precisely the wrong field.

What does this tell us?


The market for creativity, thanks to the internet, crowd-sourcing, and a highly educated user base, has become packed with creative stuff and talented people.

Instagram attempting to sell photos for free is just the latest in this rapidly building trend of “crowd-sourced” content. So, worse than you think?

Try not to worry too much. No matter what you’re making, there’s going to be a market for it. A bigger market than ever before.

But the competition is fierce. So let’s get down to business.

The breakdown

1. Creativity is in demand, for free, from commercial and consumer interests, whether you’re writing, photographing, drawing, or otherwise Creating. Free content can help you establish yourself.

2. Crowd-sourcing is the natural culmination of an educated population that wants money and status, and has revolutionary tools to Create.

3. Anyone can create a piece that’s halfway decent, but the truly great pieces are still going to stand out. It’s just up to the creative people behind the work to make them stand out.

4. Create stuff and keep creating. We’re entering a Golden Age of Creativity, because creative people everywhere have to become unbelievably talented to stand out.

5. The joy of the work is the reason you create. Once you have something you really love, find out a way you can promote that you also really love to do.

6. Passionate, creative self-promotion is going to be the way that creative people make money in the future. Don’t bemoan the Before Times. Research, work, and keep working.

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First Photo Credit: Helga Weber

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