Part of the business model of Google Earth has always been that free access to seeing all of the imagery helped raise the visibility of the satellite and aerial photography businesses. But, if a business wants to use this imagery, they are supposed to purchase the imagery from the provider mentioned at the bottom of the Google Earth screen (see Google’s geo-permissions guide).
During the past 10 years of Google Earth and Maps development, Google has increasingly developed sources of their own imagery. Everyone is familiar with their Street View imagery. Google’s 3D cities (introduced in 2012) are developed using aerial imagery which they also make available in their maps. And, with the purchase of Skybox, Google will soon have their own satellite imagery.
Now Google is taking the next step. Google has announced their imagery will be available for sale, initially to businesses in the US through their Google Maps for Business imagery program. The imagery can be used in a variety of ways explained in the program materials, including Google Earth. Interestingly, in what was perhaps a mistake that fortells the near future, they state they are selling “high-quality satellite photography” in the announcement – although I think they meant to say aerial photography.
It should be noted that using Google Earth historical imagery feature (introduced in 2009), businesses can also view alternative imagery available from other imagery businesses if they are available for their location. So, although Google is now competing with these businesses, their competitors have equal visibility.