In the wake of a hue and cry over Instagram‘s proposed changes to its terms of service, the company has announced it will remove language that would have given Instagram rights to use photos in advertisements. Yet the protests continue, with some high profile users suspending their use of the service or shutting down their accounts altogether.

It’s worth asking what, if anything, individual photographers (and big publishers such as Time, National Geographic, and others) are willing to pay to use Instagram. $10 per year? $25? $100? Even more? And what would photo editors, curators, art directors and others pay for their use of the service to scout talent and review work?

Instagram announced changes to its terms of service on Friday so it can monetize the service by using the pictures and personal data of users to generate advertising dollars. Presumably Instagram would use the content and data to deliver audience and eyeballs to advertisers.

The details of how that would work are opaque, but their push to monetize the service isn’t irrational: they’re looking for a return on their investment, and for compensation for their creativity, risk, and operating costs, just like any other business.

It is hard to argue that they would be exploiting Instagram users by doing away with free service. After all, Instagram provides users with undeniable benefits: a compelling service, with innovative features, the opportunity for a creative outlet, the benefits of community, and bandwidth–all free of charge.

Rather than charge usage fees, though, Instagram is effectively trying to barter its services for its users’ data and intellectual property. It obviously made the mistake of pressing for too much.

But there’s almost certainly a level of exchange that most Instagram users would be comfortable with. Facebook’s popularity suggests that users–including many photographers–are willing to barter personal data and intellectual property for a
desirable service. And flickr, a service that some Instagram defectors are considering, charges $25 per year for pro accounts (regular accounts are free, but bandwidth is restricted).

Ultimately, the brouhaha over Instagram’s proposed terms of service boils down to a marketplace negotiation over a fair price for a service, with both sides testing their bargaining strength to start. In the end, photographers (and other Instagram users) will have to pay something.

We’d like to hear from our readers who have used Instagram: How much would you be willing to pay per month or per year or per upload to use Instagram? Or, if you prefer that the service remains free, what new service terms would be acceptable? Would you stay with Instagram if they sold just your user data to advertisers? Would you stay if they licensed or otherwise used your photos to help their advertisers? What’s your deal breaker with Instagram?

Related story: Photographers Balk at Instagram’s New Terms of Use


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