Thursday, May 24, 2012

Should You Allow Your Images To Be Pinned?

Many artists and webmasters have to decide whether to allow their pictorial work to be broadcast by Pinterest with incomplete information.

Do you have a recipe blog or website where large-scale off-site display of your image may result in increasing the number of visitors following the link to fetch your recipe? Your case may be one of the rare instances where Pinterest traffic may represent a valuable boost. Indeed, Google Trends show that the most oft-visited websites by pinners are recipe-related. Such traffic boost may make it worth your while to ignore possible erosion of your search engine rankings from duplicate content penalties and the damages from fourth-party webmasters exploiting your images through the EMBED button.

If your website sells products, and the images are little more than visual aids to promote sales, devoid of artistic embellishments, you may need to monitor visitor activity closely to make a decision. At this time, there are vastly conflicting results as to the worth of Pinterest traffic as a sales driver, ranging from "god-awful" to "amazing," so it's safe to assume that it depends on the products you are peddling.

In the event that you are selling crafts or objects that while pretty, may have very little practical value to the owner, pinners may feel satisfied from viewing the image, aka being inspired, translating into very few sales. To be fair, this may be true whether the visitor browses Etsy directly, or comes to a specific page from a Pinterest link. The real danger here is a mass exodus of people browsing Etsy for "inspiration" and perhaps a purchase, to Pinterest for "strictly viewing." Instead of buying that special item they will "acquire" it by adding it to their pin/repin collection, changing how a craft is consumed as an object, to being consumed more as its image.

Over time, the proportion of images displayed that have been already SOLD will increase, and people may become leery of following links to Etsy expecting to reach a SOLD page. In many instances, normal consumer behavior would cause one to expect that a much-repinned craft image will lose its appeal as something representing one's unique eclectic tastes.

It should be noted that Etsy is NOT among the top 10 sites visited by pinners.

The high quality of photographs on Etsy and the artistic nature of what they depict make them prime targets for EMBED button exploitation, and the images will end up on the websites of lazy webmasters trying to cobble together micromoney-making websites on subjects they often know nothing about, using other people's content. These embedded images may frequently supplant the creator's own images in image searches.

Over time, one might predict that overall, the existence of Pinterest will be a lose-lose proposition for Etsy, as a direct competitor and sales black hole.

Photographers depending on licensing their images are very divided on the issue - as divided as there are ways to exploit licensing. While some worry about the popularity of some of their images on Pinterest making it near impossible to license, because no sucker wants to pay to display an image that is displayed for free everywhere, even at a higher definition or in another medium (like print), others seem to feel that the very display of their watermark may bring them more business.

It's unlikely that the kind of activity on Pinterest will result in someone paying to buy your image printed on a T-shirt or a mug. Pinners are on Pinterest to look and share pictures for free, and have their egos stroked for their great imaginary style, not to buy merchandise - except for a few lucky impulse purchases, it's not clear whether it's worth having your images re-broadcast by way of embeding in fourth-party websites.

For most other websites with have a traffic-based monetizing strategy, having their images reproduced on Pinterest is quite likely to be a traffic sink that is bound to hurt more and more as Pinterest grows.

General information websites range from mostly textual, with images as decoration, to completely pictorial. At one end of the spectrum, a site with much text, and few images, pinning these images may bring a trickle of traffic that may not otherwise discover the site, and be actually interested in the written details. Further, even if all the images of a website whose images represent 5% of the content, Pinterest will still only exploit 5% of that content, and any damage to image search engine rankings may be of little consequence.

At the other extreme of this same spectrum, a site with largely pictorial content could literally have its entire content copied over and over on Pinterest, meaning that Pinterest exploits 100% of that website's content, and erosion of the original content's search engine rankings for images for duplicate penalties favoring Pinterest-hosted images may have dire consequences. Pinterest's EMBED function simply add further injury after a fatal wound. Any traffic from Pinterest is likely to be unproductive, since an image-based website offers little more than what the visitor has already seen on Pinterest.

Unless search engines process Pinterest differently from other websites, having one's images pinned and repinned on Pinterest is quite likely to hurt one's organic rankings.
  • Images are subject to duplicate content penalties.
  • EMBED button leads back to pin page, not original source.
  • Overall, Pinterest creates many more links towards itself than to the original source.
  • Pinterest recreates each pin in 4 different size formats.
  • The multiplicity of some images on Pinterest, and all their repins, increases the likelihood that image searches will weigh in Pinterest's favor rather than the original source.

    An artist may want to share art and believe that no one should profit from the display and distribution of creative work on the internet and that making a living from art soils it, even if this means that in the long run, the quality and quantity of this collective body work is bound to decrease. Another artist may not have figured out how to monetize their work and be willing to give it away for others to distribute, and may appreciate the attention.

    Some artists may not want their work on Pinterest simply on principle - even if they believe that upon the whole, they are neither winning or losing. They may feel that Ben Silbermann has no business becoming a millionaire off their work, combined with the work of their peers, taken without permission, and against copyright laws. They may not want their work posted on websites they do not approve of through the abomination that is the EMBED code. They may understand the importance, for the long-term survival of digital display of art on the internet, that copyrights be respected.


    ohnostudio said...

    Yes bet there seem to be more Pinwhores out there that artists that have principles.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm banking on the idea that with or without Pinterest, some sleazy opportunists will likely use copyrighted photos for their own self-interest which is making money out of your idea or creation. I don't mind if someone will get inspired with an image I created and post it on Pinterest, as long as that person states that I am the owner of the photo and a link goes back to my blog.

    In the past we have a traditional copyright license. Now we have options. I'm referring to Creative Commons. There are many copyright options you can and appropriate in today's way of communication. The traditional copyright is strict not allowing even personal use of a copyrighted material (without permission from creators).

    You can't stop people from sharing your ideas or product or work or photo. Unless we all become blind and deaf; which isn't likely to happen. Or we completely shut off the internet; which isn't likely to happen in this democratic world in my opinion. What you can do as a creator is to make sure that your work is protected while allowing others to get "inspired" with your work; for example, pinning a photo in Pinterest. Being "inspired" to pin a photo with a link back to the original source is different from blatantly grubbing a photo without acknowledgment of the original creators. As far as I know, pinners share photos (and by default, there is a link back to the source of the photo) and don't own them.

    If you are an artist or photographer, here is what you can do:
    1. use a Creative Common license for copyright
    2. use watermark on your work
    3. post a low definition or small-size of the photo. Put a short notice on how an interested buyer can get a high def and un-watermarked version.
    4. on your blog, tell us that you don't want your photos to be pinned

    Those are practical tips. As for now, creators can take precautionary measures.

    If anyone thinks that being online can hurt his or her business/career/creation/works, then better do everything offline.

    A Glass Artist said...

    Thank you for your comment, myredpen. I'm always happy when the public and the creators become more aware of the wonderful options that Creative Commons offer.

    "Sleazy opportunists" have been around for a long time, but were always easy to detect, and easy to eradicate. This took very little time out of any successful webmaster's schedule. However, Pinterest is enabling this to happen on an unprecedented scale and breadth.

    I reckon, as always, that a Pinterest presence may be advantageous, or neutral, to a number of artist business models.

    The argument that you are making about "You can't stop people from sharing your ideas" sounds like "technology allows people to loot other people's creative content, they need to suck it up" - you need to read this page:

    As for your tips, they don't work for everybody.

    1. Creative Commons doesn't work if you want to retain the rights to distribute your own work exclusively.

    2. An image-heavy website covered in watermarks is an eyesore.

    2. Many webmaster images are low-definitions and merely screen resolution, for instance in recipes or instructions. Resolution only matters if your business model involves transition from the screen to another media requiring high-resolution. If your business model stops at the screen display, then this tip is not useful. Further, why aren't people demanding that Pinterest show only thumbnails? Why is it OK to demand that every creator out there reduce their content to thumbnails and cover them in watermarks? Thumbnails should be Pinterest's priority, not ours. Justice.

    4. Pinterest now blocks my websites FROM THEIR END. Sweet? People are still successful at pinning my images. I have an additional protection where a pinner unwittingly pins a copyright warning instead of the intended image - as described in this post about Educating Pinneers With .htaccess. It works, but I'm saddened that this sours my relationship with my audience.

    You certainly are right that creators need to take measures.