How Much Is an Image Worth? Airbnb Property Demand Estimation Leveraging Large Scale Image Extraction
This study answers the question of “How much do property images taken by professionals impact the demand of an Airbnb property?”. We build on photography literature that discuss key photographic elements (e.g., composition, color, and figure-ground relationships) where professional images most differ from amateur images. These image features may elicit different emotion from consumers and also affect the informativeness of an image, leading to a differential impact on property demand. We identify professional versus amateur images through a “verified photo” indication (image was taken by an Airbnb affiliated professional photographer), and through automatically classifying images based on the image aesthetic quality using a SVM classifier. With a unique longitudinal dataset of approximately 8200 Airbnb properties and 380,000 property images over 9 months, we find that properties with professional images are approximately 7% more frequently booked. These results remain even when we control for alternate sources that can alleviate quality uncertainty- customer reviews. We find that the marginal impact of professional images is higher for low end properties and the ones with fewer customer reviews. To further explore the factors that drive the differential impact among amateur images, Airbnb professional images, and external professional images, we compare the three groups of images on a set of image features. We identify how the groups of images differ along these image features. A factor analysis suggests that the image features can be mapped onto two dimensions, which can be interpreted as capturing informativeness and persuasiveness of an image. Results suggest that amateur images, compared to professional images, are less informative and persuasive. More interestingly, we find that even professional images differ on some of the features. While both provide highly informative images, the images by Airbnb affiliated professionals tend to be better at also eliciting favorable emotion from viewers, leading to a higher persuasiveness level.