Review of Image Space Media (ISM)

Updated 2/6/2012 after ISM’s merger, which seems to have dramatically changed their pay structure.

Updated 7/1/2011 with information about ISM’s “Photostitial Units”, ads that appear automatically and hide the first image a user sees.

Image Space Media has an interesting idea: overlay images with advertisements that appear only when users hover their cursor over the image. Try it out by hovering your cursor over the larger images on this site. They’re currently calling it beta, so there’s every opportunity they’ll improve over time.

It already seems to work well, though. Hover your cursor over an image (such as my picture of the New York City Skyline at night), and an advertisement rises up from the bottom, covering about one-quarter of the image, as shown here (scaled down to fit this page).

There’s also a sharing icon in the upper-left corner that you can turn off. If the user clicks it, a full-page overlay appears that provides links to sharing on Facebook , Twitter, and e-mail. Several ads appear on the page, too, and it shows you popular and recent images. This picture shows a scaled-down version of the sharing page, however, since I’m currently using ISM on this site, you can experience it for yourself by hovering your cursor over it.

Once you’re hovering, you can click the advertisement or just move your mouse away. Once you move your mouse, the advertisement shrinks back down to one line. You have to reload the page if you want the ad to completely disappear.

Image Space Media ad

It’s smart enough to ignore small images, such as those you might use in menus. Occasionally, the advertisement wasn’t flush with the bottom of the image, but I’m sure they’ll work that problem at.

I run one of the Web’s largest photo albums and use Google AdSense to make a few bucks on it. I’d be thrilled if I could make a few more, and these ads are actually less intrusive than Google AdSense because they don’t take up any screen space and don’t even appear by default. It took about 12 hours for me to be approved, and only about 10 minutes to add the necessary JavaScript to my sites.

Two weeks later, my experience with ISM has been mixed. They start slow–very slow. In fact, due to what I imagine is a bug in the reporting, they show you as not making any money in your current day–I’m betting they only calculate earnings after midnight.

Here’s the last couple of weeks of earnings. You can ignore that dip on 3/22, as I removed the ads to determine whether they had an impact on site performance and page views per visitor:

Image Space Media Earnings

The most important thing to notice is the gradual increase in earnings. Actual page views stayed relatively constant throughout this time period, but the earnings per ad (eCPM) gradually increased from $0.05 to $0.45. Their site warns you that it takes a while to get to know what works on your site, and that does seem to be the case. I’m now averaging $0.44 eCPM for my indie stock photo site and $0.39 for my technology blog. That’s nowhere in the ballpark of Google AdSense, but it’s a nice bonus on top of AdSense.

Update 2/6/2012: eCPM dropped dramatically in September to about $0.02. I’ve removed them from the site.

Back to ISM‘s impact on page views per visitor. For this blog, it was negligible. For full-page pictures on my photo album (such as this photo of the New York City Skyline), it was also negligible. However, for pictures that act as links, such as these Toucan Pictures, adding ISM to the thumbnails reduced the pages views per visitor by about 25%. Basically, some people who would browse my site by clicking the thumbnails of pictures gave up sooner because the ISM ads floated over the thumbnails–either because it confused them, annoyed them, or they clicked the ad (intentionally or not). By reducing the number of pages people viewed, ISM also decreased my AdSense earnings. AdSense or not, I’d like people to enjoy my photo album as long as possible, so I chose to remove the ISM ads from the thumbnail pictures. Unfortunately, this reduced by ISM earnings by 85%.

In that chart, notice how today, 3/30/2011, shows no earnings. That’s the bug I was referencing earlier. Their reporting system always shows that you have made no money in the current day. This is a serious bug because it caused me to remove the ads from my site the first day when they seemed to be making zero money–patience paid off for me, though.

ISM is still young, but there are many important improvements they need to make:

  • Ability to turn off ads for individual pictures. Right now, it’s all-or-nothing–you turn ISM ads on for the entire page, or not at all. If you mix thumbnails and large images on the same page, you won’t have the option of just turning the ads on for the large images. You also get ads in your header image (if it’s not a background image in HTML), which looks very weird. They should allow you to add a class or some other metadata to the <img> tags to prevent the ads from appearing. Updated 7/1/2011: ISM now allows you to use their website to turn off ads for specific images, but you have to browse through your entire photo catalog and select which ones to enable. That’s not practical for me; it needs to be something I can configure in my Web server code.
  • Single ad format. You can’t control the size of the ads on pictures; you leave it entirely up to their algorithm. I might be able to leave small ads on my thumbnails, but the ads they use for the smaller images is just too intrusive. I’d also like to be able to configure a delay, so that the ad only came up if the user hovered over the image for a specific amount of time. Right now, ISM provides zero configurability.
  • Bugs. Ads don’t appear in the right place for some images, and reporting always shows $0 earnings for the current day. Frustrating.

In summary, try out ISM on your blog or image site, but monitor it closely to verify that it doesn’t negatively impact your site. In my experience, it can make a few bucks without significantly impacting the user experience.

Update 7/1/2011:

ISM is beginning to roll-out more intrusive ads that appear automatically over an image the first time a user views your page. You know, it’s one of those animated ads that runs for 30 seconds or so, like you often see when trying to watch a YouTube video. Users can choose to close an ad to view the picture immediately.

Publishers can choose to enable or disable it. I enabled it, to see how it would do. Publishers can also choose to show the ad only the first time a user visits a site every hour or day, so regular users see them less frequently.

So far, it’s increased my eCPM by about 50%, and hasn’t had a noticeable impact on my pageviews per visit or my bounce rate. So, thumbs up from me.

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