How To: License photos for your gossip blog

Many of my clients are celebrity gossip and entertainment bloggers.  The gossip niche has been our bread and butter for many years now.  We stumbled across the category by accident really.  It turns out that in 2006, there were a lot of high traffic gossip sites that needed real technical management in order to keep growing.  Now, the category is huge. The biggest traffic drivers  for gossip and entertainment sites are photos.  People love to click through photos of celebrities doing everything from walking the red carpet to getting their morning Starbucks.

For your average work at home gossip blogger, getting licensed images legally was always a challenge. Photo agencies like x17Online, Bauer Griffin, Getty Images, etc. can charge thousands of dollars a month for a subscription.  Exclusive photos can cost 10 times that.  For years, that made the entire concept very cost prohibitive.

Sites that were able to generate enough advertising revenue were the only sites able to afford these fees (other than major media sites).

However, in the last year, the game has changed.  There are some affordable options out there.

The Game Has Changed

Photo agencies used to have a monopoly on the paparazzi style photo market.  That's not the case anymore.  Virtually everyone in LA and New York has a camera with them 24/7.  It's called a cellphone.

Cellphone cameras are getting pretty amazing these days.  Add that to the growing popularity of pocket sized video and still cameras, and you've got yourself a game changer.

Many of these same photo agencies now solicit the general public to submit photos of celebrity sightings.  The agencies will pay top dollar for these images because they are often one-of-a-kind images.  Typically, someone just whips out their cellphone and snaps a shot of that new starlet bumping a line of blow in the ladies room.

Because of the now much broader source pool, the game has changed.

Tip 1: Troll the social web

Where's the first place these glorious cellphone images end up?  Social media websites.

If you're looking for a unique image to go with you post about the latest celebrity dirt, start by poking around on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc.  It can take a moderate amount of digging, but what you'll find can be awesome.

Most of the time, all you have to do is sent the person a quick direct message asking if you can use their photo on your site.  The person usually is totally pumped that their picture is going to be on a "real website."  Just give them a little link love back.

Caution.  Make sure that the photo was actually taken by them.  Sometimes people will just take a photo from another website and upload it to their profile.  Bad news bears for you.

One of the best places to look are the photo sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa.

Flickr actually lets you do more advanced searches too.  You can do a filter to only show you Creative Commons images.  Images under CC are usually free from licensing restrictions.  Each one will have its own usage guidelines, but you can almost always use them.

Tip 2:  Try GumGum

Who?  GumGum?

Yeah.  GumGum is a service that allows publishers of almost any size access to professional grade image libraries.  You've probably seen their service in action and don't even know it.


You've probably seen sites that have these little, floating text box ads over their images.  Those are GumGum ads.  Actually, those are GumGum photos too.

If your site has enough traffic, GumGum will broker a deal with agencies like Bauer Griffin or Fame on your behalf.  You'll then have unlimited access to those image libraries for publishing on your site.  GumGum has you place a small script on your site that then overlays a small ad on all of the images you use from those libraries.

How much does it cost?  Nothing.  It is free as long as your site meets certain traffic criteria. GumGum keeps the ad revenue, and you get to use the images.

If your site is on the smaller side, they offer a different plan where you only pay based on how often the photo is viewed.

Collective Bargaining

This is a rarely used tactic, but I have seen it used.

It can be expensive for a single site to purchase an image license on its own from a photo agency.  However, the per site rate gets drastically lower when more sites are included in the agreement.

I have seen examples where individual bloggers got together to negotiate a group contract.  They essentially formed a blog network covered under a blanket agreement.  This brought the monthly fee from around $1,200 per site down to about $800.

Obviously, this method is best suited for more established sites, but it is certainly worth looking into.