“There’s currently three trillion images on the Internet. We want to turn every one into an interactive experience,” says James Everingham in a recent TechCrunch article. Everingham is the co-founder and CTO of Pixazza, one of the companies leading the growing online wave of in-image advertising, and with $20 million in funding—including $6 million from Google Ventures—it appears that investors are heeding his call.
Described as “AdSense for images,” in-image advertising enables online consumers to click on a photo of Lindsay Lohan, for instance, and buy the striped sweater she’s wearing (or at least something like it). Publishers, who get a piece of the advertising revenues, simply match the products in their images to corresponding items in Pixazza’s massive database of advertiser inventory, encompassing entertainment, fashion, travel, home and sports merchandise. With a current network of more than seventy-five publishers, including US Weekly and Access Hollywood, Pixazza is reaching in excess of 25 million unique visitors a month.[more]
It’s an enticing new frontier, like every potential gold rush before it. But what happens when in-image ads start creeping into more serious news? As a case in point, a recent NPR.org article ponders a National Enquirer story featuring Elizabeth Edwards discussing her losing battle with breast cancer, complete with in-image ad urging you to “Get the Look!” when you scroll over her jacket – available for only $36.50 at Charlotte Russe.
Media ethicist Kelly McBride at the Poynter Institute tells NPR, “There’s always been a relationship between editorial content and advertising, but technology and desperation are erasing the boundary between the two.”
She adds, “The rush to turn everything into advertising could backfire. Although we cling to consumerism as the economic underpinning of much of the media world, all the indicators are that people are consuming less and our values as a society are changing.”
But can values withstand the enormous revenue potential as more and more Internet images are interactively monetized?
According to Jody Kramer of Pixazza, “It’s not just about monetization of images. It’s about consumer service. Consumers want to find out more information about photos they see. Where they can get a similar look. How they can get to a particular place. Buy certain clothing.”
Still, the question remains: Could the already tenuous divide between hard news and entertainment withstand a flood of in-image advertising revenue? This feels like a frontier story, and we know how most of those panned out.