friday mash up

29 06 2007

It has been very hot here, in New York city, these last few days. It is not just the heat that is unbearable, but mostly the vapor humidity that turns you into a wet sponge the minute you step outside. Fortunately, a line of angry powerful thunderstorms broke the hellish spell, lifting the heavy lid of miserable days. Guess the heatwave did not just hit New York.

Time for a NO Sense posting:

I have seen it all category :

Sports photography with a lensbabies !!!! aargh. What next ? photography without a lens? Shoot with your toe ? They should have a show on TV called “photographers gone wild”

The no news day will be personal news:

Usually very professional blog Stockphototalk goes nasty and very personal today ( link withheld on purpose. I do not want to advertise this story). What next, publish images of Darryl Lang in embarrassing situation ? Publish tax returns from Jim Pickerell ? How is this related to photography ? Why so much hate ?

Corbis decide to help Bill Gates, financially:

From Gary Shenk’s memo, CEO of Corbis :”As I indicated earlier this year, we will intensify our focus on profitability and shareholder value.” Since Corbis has only one shareholder, I am sure he is jumping up and down in anticipation of the extra income he will be soon be making. In the mean time 160 more people are paying the price from the ongoing mismanagement of the company.

Agent Mulder anyone ?:

Thomas Hawk, fame blogger and CEO of “Flickr killer” site Zoomr gets it all wrong when he abruptly attacks Corbis latest creation SnapVillage. He places the RF market at $2.5 billion ( that would be nice), complains about the royalty percentage, and believes putting a cap on image pricing is part of the master plan from the big three (Corbis, Getty, Jupiter) to control the world.

Finally, the English have it the Voltaire way:

According to the most vocal of the UK based photographer group, it is time to take care of your garden. I guess if you can’t make it in the editorial world, you might as well get a quick buck with no traveling expenses.

New google news

27 06 2007

While most of the photo community seems to have been trapped in the launch of Corbis ‘ microstock extension like a deer into headlights ( did anyone asked them how much it cost to launch? another $500 million ?), while others find it funny and amusing when people explicitly steal images for monetary gain ( freedom of speech should NEVER be confused with freedom to steal images), Google unveiled yet another product with a soft launch.

It is a sort of news photo portal, where images take a large part (half) of the page. You can now read headlines by selecting an image you like. It is a very interesting approach, as it clearly puts photography at the same level as text. The very first impression one gets is that of the poor quality of images used to illustrate stories.

What would be captivating, however, would be to see the percentage of stories that are read because of the images rather than the headlines. If it is a majority then maybe news outlets will finally put some more effort in selecting compelling images.

see it for yourself here

Google News

Frankenstein needs new limbs

26 06 2007

florida.jpg One would think that after so many years, as big and talented as a company like Getty has become, they could out pace, outsmart and out perform anyone on the market today. But not quite so. look at the celebrity space, for example. First they bought Online USA, than ImageDirect, then Wireimage. Why is that ? what is it that these companies were able to do that Getty cannot do?

In Royalty Free: Photodisc then Digital Vision and Stockbyte. This buying pattern made sense when Getty was growing and still trying to consolidate the market. But most of the agencies that Getty is acquiring these days were created after Getty was created. They were much younger than Getty.

There is one obvious reason for this: Getty does not innovate. They react to an ever changing market by acquiring those that succeed in innovation. And there is a simple explanation for that. It is the nature of the corporate beast not to be able to innovate. Since everything is decided in meetings, every decision becomes the decision of many that agree, and in order to have a group to agree on something, you need to have a consensus. A consensus is merely a middle of the line decision for which everyone can agree with, not a bold, innovative move.

There is no management creativity in a corporation, just a slow paced bargaining process within which one makes sacrifices in order to get an idea accepted. The more more the compromise one makes, the more the idea dies. or at least its competitive edge. Thus Getty is condemned at buying innovation. The question becomes, when will it end or is Getty doomed at purchasing other successful companies until the end of times ?

The second part of this destiny, is the failure to integrate. Once Getty has absorbed one of these innovative companies, they do not seem to be able to keep their competitive edge. Otherwise, why would they need to continue purchasing new competitors ? The mistake is quite simple. Once they have acquired a company and integrated its staff, they put it under the management of one or multiple existing Getty managers. The same ones that initially failed to innovate. So, you have a highly creative team suddenly being managed by cubicle-bred managers highly skilled in office politics but totally ignorant in what makes an image sell. After a while, all will for innovation is killed. The limb rots. Time to buy a new one !!

Last, but certainly not least, I find it quite fascinating that no one linked the recent acquisition by Getty of the music company Pump Audio to the fact that they had spent most of the last quarter of 2006 examining JupiterImages books. It is clear that they had the confirmation from JupiterImages that this was a path to follow.

How long can Getty continue this business model ? is there growth in acquisition ? The past, and present, has shown us the answer and there is no stopping Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein to continue. However, in the long term, is relying on others the right path? Well, Microsoft certainly thinks so.

Stormy weather

23 06 2007

Photo editors are angry. They are angry and frustrated. I have seen and talked to a lot of photo editors these past weeks and I hear the same thing over and over again.

The digital evolution has not made their lives easier. They are tired of these little shop websites that are quirky and impossible to navigate. They are frustrated of not being able to find the images they need because they encounter resistant technology created by amateurs. They are upset by the level of incompetent platforms they encounter.

Everyone is a web expert these days and everyone has a take on what a website should do. There are more search experts out there than there are results for “photo” in Google. The promise of an easy, simple and user friendly experience has turned into a nightmarish crash and freeze experience. At best, the results of a search returns very poor images. If it is not the wrong images that pop up, it is of a poor quality photograph, at best extremely well key worded. And they do not want to see that. Neither do they want to spend hours trying to figure out how to download the image they need.

Promises. Promises of a fast search, of a breezy summer day in digital heaven, of such a convenient way to reach photo editing nirvana, all have been broken. Broken by photo agencies managers that, in a sure way to save money, have given the most important task of their company to a college kid, or their nephew. Or some French/Russian/Asian/British guy that speaks very quickly and sounds very intelligent because you cannot understand his accent. Worse even, some, mostly photographers themselves, have taken up the challenge and said, “I can do that !!”. And they proceed in creating some of the worst looking, less effective tools the industry has ever seen.

This is the same industry that screams when amateur photographers dare to walk on their turf, yet they have no problem, themselves, as amateur programmers, to design their own websites. And it makes image buyers extremely angry and frustrated.

No photographers believes they can fly a jet plane after a few lessons yet they have no problem convincing themselves that they can build a state of the art digital licensing platform. No photo agency manager believes week end photographers should be allowed to license their images yet they have no issue competing with professional web designer and software engineers. There is a far cry between knowing how to license images and how to build a website. And that cry, I hear it everyday, comes from the users : the photo editors.

Drop the code, drop that book on HTML and advanced search. Drop even the idea that your website will be better than your neighbors. Because, even in the remote case you will succeed, you will still need the appropriate content to make it interesting. Isn’t that why you are in this business to start with ? Licensing compelling content ? Hire professionals, real professionals and gracefully admit you cannot do or control everything. It is not because you figured out how to make your brand new Canon Mark III to work that you know anything about digital technology. Spoiler alert: Canon made it easy for you to understand how to make their camera work.
Go back to what your really know: creating and licensing the best images that the world has ever seen. Before your clients loose faith in you.

NO SENSE: I have read a lot about some new web 2.0 visual search aggregating website called xcavator. If so called journalists had done a little research, they would have discovered 2 things: it is nothing more than an open source application called Imgseek available for free here that anyone can install on their database wrapped into a web2.0 candy bar wrapping. Furthermore, if you play around with it, you can see that it only barely does a thumbnail search and sends you back to the original website should you need to download a hi res. And in some case, not even to the image itself but to the search page where you are forced to redo your initial search. Not quite sure how this is useful for anyone.

You can’t buy love

21 06 2007

Selling images was all about negotiating. And it is still very much so in the editorial world. Being at the right place, at the right time beats all other aspects, be it composition, lighting, framing and talent. In the celebrity space, for example, those images of celebrities in the street that you see everywhere and that most discard as lousy photography usually go for ten of thousands of dollars. Numerous times. for one image.
It is not so hard to figure out which image is going to sell well. You have about 10 to 15 celebrities, at any given time, that all the magazines in the world are looking for. They vary over time, but the pool always remain at the same number. All you need to do, and that is the hard part, is just get pictures of them, anywhere, doing anything.

Those paparazzi agencies that most in this industry try to dismiss with a shrug easily generate more income than most stock photography agencies, combined. And its not a science, but an art, based purely on instinct. Not only what image to get but how to price it. And 6 figures sells are really not uncommon.

There is no pricing book in celebrity photography, no price per image, no attempt to have automated pricing and download. There is even no real need for sophisticated search engine as most searches are by celebrity name and nothing else. No concept words, no visual search, and no model release.
News photography, although sometimes more dangerous, used to be the same. Magazines used to pay huge amounts of money for stunning exclusive . While this is an exercise still being practice in Europe, the news magazine in the United States have successfully convinced photographers that their images are not worth much. And its working well. For the same image, you will get 10% or less than what the same image has been bought for in one magazine in Europe.

The value of an image resides in how much it is needed. It would be very interesting to see wire services drop their subscription model, which is an accountant heaven and a photographers nightmare, and return to a price per image negotiation pricing. I am absolutely convinced that prices would immediately go up, especially knowing that some of the images could be licensed exclusively. Sure, it would take more time to license an image, but it would be worth it.
Photo agencies pour a lot of money into the marketplace in order to have their images bought instead of their competition’s. These marketing initiatives we see around us, brochure, cd’s, free Ipods, lunches, parties and traveling salespeople are a very expensive proposition. As Corbis knows too well, you cannot buy your way into this market. I once saw hundreds of brand new Corbis branded calculator being sold at my local flee market, still wrapped in their original boxes. Giving out free T shirts is just not going to make photo editors buy your images. It doesn’t matter how much money you have borrowed from greedy VC’s, you cannot bully yourself into being loved. This industry just doesn’t work like that.

Why have salespeople if all they do is quote a price book ? Most people know how to use a vending machine, don’t they ? The real talent of a photo agency lies not only in providing the right content, like the celebrity photo agencies, but pricing it accordingly. Corporations invented the price book because they couldn’t get their hands around price negotiation. You cannot do projections with negotiated prices, it is much too vague and unpredictable. Sadly, everyone has blindly followed, thinking that this was the right way to go.

It would be nice to see price negotiations make a come back and images sell for what they are worth. A great image needs no price book. And this industry could do with less free pens and more great images.

Is that you ?

19 06 2007

A fascinating blog entry about face recognition and face detection by Sebastian Marcel on Google Blogoscoped.

For those, obsessed like me by the future of image classification, key wording, intelligent search and automated work flow, this is a must read. You can even try out the algorithm and result on a free, yet very beta, site called Google Portrait.

The implications of such applied technology are huge as it would allow for an extremely simple process for retrieving images of people from databases with no or little text key wording. This image recognition abilities will be extend to other objects, like “tree” for example, ultimately eliminating the need for keywords and translations.

We are, of course , years away from this being an everyday scenario but you must agree, the future of photography looks very promising.

To cast a wider net

17 06 2007

Stock photography is like fishing. No, not like fly fishing or any other individual recreation, more like un-romantic industrial fishing.

Since this industry puts the offer before the demand, it somewhat uses the  same strategy as fishermen. You throw your bait in a region where you think a lot of fish will be attracted to it. Sometimes it works, like microstock, sometimes it doesn’t, like Corbis.

The idea that lies within is that clients do not know what they want before they see it, therefore, supply creates demand. For example, there was no demand for the Ipod before it was created.

In the editorial world, you have strong currents to help you : The news dictates where those clients are going to be. Albeit, since there is a lot of bait floating out there, it still doesn’t guarantee a successful catch.

In the commercial world, it is not so easy. You can somewhat predict which color will be in fashion when and follow the softer currents of trends but those fish do not seem to want to swim together. So you go for the generic brand which might taste disgusting in an wasted effort to please everyone, or you enter the highly specialized high end, fine cuisine bait to catch those extremely rare and exquisite species.

One thing is for sure, one type of bait, one type of fish. Same goes with photography. So if you are going to “niche” yourself in order to protect from the big bad industrial fishermen with a supra fleet of competition destroying boats, than do not expect to get anything better than a “niche” revenue.

However, for those throwing any kind of bait all over the place in the hopes that the fish you catch will cover for the cost of the bait, there is a huge risk. For one thing, it pollutes. Visual pollution is becoming a threat as serious as global warming for some photo agencies, as they threaten to asphyxiate the same waters as they fish in. Some say an image has no value if it can’t be seen, wrongly believing that the value of an image lies in its availability. They, therefore, throw everything out there. Huge mistake. A lot of images can be seen these days, and quite frankly, still have no value.

This industry, with its archaic marketing methods which rely more on luck and gut than research, is in desperate need of worthy captains, the ones that always know where and when the catch is going to be rewarding.

Merchants in the temple

14 06 2007

The Cepic congress is a fascinating experience. Attended by hundreds of photo agencies who came from almost all over the world, it is certainly the best place to evaluate the size, and the health of the market. Bluntly contradicting the nay sayers who continue to claim that stock photography, be it RM or RF, is dying of a slow death, it is a clear sign of an incredible health.

On three floors, hundreds upon hundreds of small, mid size and new agencies are bargaining their images to each other,  not unlike kids trading baseball cards.  And while this goes on over the course of three hectic days, there is absolutly no signs of the predominance of the big giants, Getty and Corbis. Retreating to a secondary building, dealing in the secrecy of closed rooms, they seemed completely absent from the gambling arena. Those who say that they are the only players in town clearly have never gone to a Cepic congress.

This market is still very much owned and control by a multitude of small to medium photo agencies either thriving in a niche market, or playing across the whole spectrum with the content of many other same sized company.

Sure, a Getty and a Corbis can snatch up one or two of them a year, but it is quite like stealing an ant or two from an ant farm. The colony survives very well. Furthermore, those who were acquired never seem to leave the business and return the next year with new content, relaunching yet another photo agency.

The only sadness of this congress lies in the lack of photography. Many, many catalogs litter the desks, in between screens that display bored slideshows and from one desk to another, it seems that the same photographs are being peddled as tissue would be showed to a  import export company.

There are no images on the wall, no exhibits, no projections. Although the business of photography is buzzing all about, the images themselves are completely absent. As well as photographers. No one seems to say : “look, we just signed up this great photographer !!!”.  No one seems to be proud of their images, as much as they are proud of their new website design or latest catalog. “My search is the best”, or “I have 5 gazillion images in my database” are the phrases most heard. There is not much love of photography at a Cepic congress. The temple of photography has been taken over by the merchants.

One versus Millions

12 06 2007

Cultural differences between countries are not just limited to the content of the image. Sure, in commercial stock, an image buyer from a certain country will look for people of the same race/origin as the country the image will be published in. We just do not look like each other and our looks do not export very well.

In the editorial world, the parameters are quite different. It is not so much the content that matters, it is how it is presented. Photography, in the mighty US of A, has always been used as an illustration of a text. First, an article is written and then an image or two are published to illustrate it. This has led US editorial photo agencies to offer as much choice as possible as to hopefully match the needs of all publications. The art director has more power in a magazine than a photo editor who is more a bona fide photo researcher than anything else.
In Europe, it has traditionally been the opposite . Photo stories, or otherwise called magazine stories, have and always are prevalent. Magazines publish a series of image and then add some text to accompany them. Photo editor have a status of editor in chief and are extremely influential in the decision process. This has led to European photo agencies to only supply very tightly edited stories.

The US agencies have brought their “size matters” model to Europe with little success while European agencies have tried to enter the US market with their “quality matters” with as much hardship. What becomes interesting, is that instead of trying to adapt to local mentalities, they both have spend a lot of time and energy to change the market instead of their content presentation.
Right now, Getty still doesn’t understand or has a clear vision of what a magazine story is. Selling text along with photographs is just not understandable, for them, right now. On the other hand, no European editorial photo agency has been successful in the US since the dawn of the digital age.

What is quite frightening is that this trend does not seem to change. More and more images are being offered on European markets thanks to a very lax editing, ( The “let our search engine do the editing” mentality ). Worst yet, photographers rejected by photo agencies for obvious reasons can now add their visual voice thanks to photo sharing sites and other unregulated and unedited marketplaces. Are we going to come to a point where a $2billion market has 4 billion images to offer ?

On the European side, thanks to long standing tradition of legendary heroic cultural stubbornness, things are not looking quite as green either. 6 to 10 images along with a text creates a lot of friction with art directors and editor in chief who see this as a direct attack of their journalistic capabilities.

Will the photo agencies find a middle point or will local mentalities adapt ? Are we heading for an average point with average images or moving towards extreme opposite ? I believe the photo universe is expending and that the poles are going further apart from each other forcing agencies to offer both in order to stay competitive. Some will stretch so far, however, they might break.

5 06 2007

According to aboutheimage, Shutterstock is flying, eyes closed, into the editorial space. Sometimes, these microstock seem so eager to innovate that they will throw themselves into anything the competition has not done yet. Except that all new idea is  not always a good idea.

A few simple lessons in editorial photography :

– It is very hard to get a credential to cover an event, especially red carpet event . Furthermore, the space is limited by professional photographers who only cover those for a living. I know them well, and I can tell you, either in LA or New York, let along in other cities of the world, I doubt that they will happily greet an amateur within there rank. Did I mention London? I can just imagine someone in a line with those brit photogs saying, “hi, I work for a microstock agency”.

– Forget the model release. Celebs do not sign model releases. They make more money in product endorsement than making movies, so why would they sign a blanket release ? Furthermore, a red carpet is really not the appropriate place for rushing a celeb and ask them to sign a release. oops .

– Magazines are not looking for any images at any price. For a magazine to pay a subscription fee you have to have a similar offer than AP,Reuters, Getty or EPA.

However, I did write an entry a while back about editorial royalty free, a pay once, use multiple time licensing option. At the time, I thought a traditional celeb/editorial photo agency would be the first to play around with this model. I guess I was wrong. It happens.

Shutterstock might feel the pain, as the cost(excluding the cost of human lives on the carpets turning red for other reasons) of creating those editorial images might exceed the price they are being licensed for. They are obviously going after the Fans site / Myspace market, which is, in itself, not a bad idea.

But since they have no way of monitoring the usage, whose to say that someone will not use a photo of Julia Roberts for a brochure for womens shoes ?