DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN11 - Sheryl Sandberg, ...

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook Author of ‘Lean In’ – Photo by Jolanda Flubacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stock images are just that, images that are easy to source and readily available when you need to slide a standard visual into an article or web page.

But look a little closer and they may be supporting some outdated stereotypes.

That’s the assertion of LeanIn.org, the foundation of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, as it seeks to change the portrayal of women in stock image libraries. The organization is partnering with the well-known picture provider Getty Images to offer the ‘Lean In Collection’ to¬†subscribers.

This set of images updates the lack of variation in standard stock collections, which some accuse of too often showing younger, power-dressed women in cliched business scenes. Lean In offers more variety in terms of both age, style, and professional setting.

Even if you don’t buy the idea that there’s an inherent sexism to stock images, ¬†the initiative is undoubtedly a good move for improving creative use of artwork and photography online. Stock photos have a reputation for being stale and repetitive, leading to a spate of similar-looking websites and overlooked talent unable to showcase and sell their work.

Content is now big business and marketing budgets are beginning to extend to commissioning branded articles, which can include photos, cartoons, videos and music. The whole reason to do this is to stand out from competitors and traditional stock images tend to accomplish the opposite, opening a window for deeper, diverse collections like the one unveiled by Sandberg’s organization.

Hopefully this opens up the wider issue of correctly licensing images that are used online. The potential is there to improve publisher understanding, curb copyright infringement, and develop lucrative new digital revenue streams for creators. The amount of content being published daily across the web requires a depth and diversity to its visuals that simply hasn’t been there in the past, or at least not easily accessible.

A system that delivers exactly the right type of image required, along with its licensing terms and a payment option, would be a mouth-watering proposition for photographers and artists frustrated at the current state of affairs.

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