If you’re a retail brand or online retailer, the popularity of services like Pinterest is a reminder of the prominence of images online. Each day, countless photos are uploaded and shared on the web, and many of them relate to products brands and retailers hope to sell.

Which raises an important question: how can they capitalize on this?

It’s a question many are trying to answer. Pinterest, for instance, has become a big focus for many retailers, many of which are attempting to turn pins into rewards.

For one startup, Stipple, capitalizing on the popularity of images requires controlling those images. According to Stipple co-founder Rey Flemings, “more people see your images than visit your website, view your videos and click your ads — combined. Your images are viewed by more people on sites you don’t control, than on your own site. Whether you know it or not, images are your largest channel for communicating your content, but the problem is that we lack the tools to stay connected to our images and manage them.”

His company is trying to change that. As detailed by AdAge, Stipple allows publishers of images, which could include brands and retailers, to associate certain data, such as product name and pricing, with images. On the more than 400 sites that Stipple has partnered with, that data is displayed alongside the image. For sites that don’t use Stipple, the company offers consumers a browser plugin that they can use to view the product information.

Can brands really control distribution of their images?

While it remains to be seen whether Stipple can get enough traction to become a meaningful marketing tool for brands and retailers — the browser plugin approach in particular leaves much to be desired — the proposition of services like Stipple raise an interesting question: can companies really take more control over how their images are distributed online and if so, should they?

It’s a difficult question to answer. On one hand, there is reason to believe that brands and online retailers do miss opportunities because of the nature of images and how they’re frequently shared online. But does it make sense for retailers to invest time and money in trying to develop these opportunities?

Certainly, there’s a strong argument that certain brands and retailers would be wise to pay attention to Pinterest, which may be a more fruitful social network than Facebook or Twitter. But on the level of individual images, there’s a lot that companies simply can’t expect to control. If you’re a brand, there’s a good chance retailers are selling your products online. If you’re a retailer, you’re typically competing with other retailers which sell the same products. Can anyone really ‘own’ a particular image wherever it travels?

Perhaps not. And if that’s the case, it would seem that the best opportunity to take advantage of images is to look at building a strong presence on services like Pinterest and to apply SEO-focused image optimizations on-site.