Bada Bing!

April 4th, 2014
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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

As an Apple user of 23 years’ standing, I obviously prefer to use the Bing search engine from Microsoft rather than any goggle-eyed alternative. It has a very rigorous porn filter, so when I search for Gwyn Headley (come on! don’t we all?) I get 31,000 results as opposed to 64,000 from a rival search engine.

But the main reason I like to use Bing is that it looks so nice. And one of the reasons it looks so nice it because they buy photographs from fotoLibra to use on their home page. Here are two fotoLibra images they’ve recently chosen:

Three baby scops owls, by Linda Wright

Three baby scops owls, by Linda Wright

 

A herd of Oryx

An oryx herd, by Paul Benson

 

Congratulations to fotoLibra contributors Linda Wright and Paul Benson.

And what’s more, Bing pays decently as well. Full marks.

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The BAPLA Quiz

March 20th, 2014

Life working in a picture library isn’t just wine and roses, you know. There’s only so much disporting ourselves in sylvan glades we can get through in a day, and there can be such a thing as a surfeit of ambrosia and an excess of nectar. From time to time we are forced to descend from our ivory citadels and face the gritty reality of everyday life, away from our cloistered, chauffeured and charmed lives, and deal with Ordinary People, who have to get by on Wine. And Beer. Occasionally we even have to confront what we believe is called Hard Work.

Such a day came yesterday evening, in the guise of the BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries & Agencies) Quiz. Goodness, we had to work! It was so-o-o Hard! A nasty man kept asking us difficult questions — a proper interrogation it was — and he ignored me when I plaintively demanded more nectar and ambrosia, making me drink Beer and Wine instead, and asking me more hard questions. I won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

From a human PoV this event was much like a pub quiz, except the participants were all picture libraries and picture researchers; the nymphs, satyrs, gods and goddesses of the image world. We congregated at the Yorkshire Grey in Theobalds Road, hard by Gray’s Inn in the centre of London, on Earth.

All the teams had exotic names, coincidentally mirroring the names we use back home in Arcadia.

Graham, Llinos and Jacqui couldn’t be coaxed from their dreaming spires, so the fotoLibra team consisted of:

  • Charlotte Lippmann, Picture Researcher
  • Beverley Ballard, Picture Researcher
  • Martyn Goddard, Photographer
  • Damien Gaillard, fL Technical Development Manager
  • Yvonne Seeley, fL Marketing Director, and
  • Gwyn Headley (that’s me), fl MD.

Each team had to have a minimum of two picture researchers, and so we are very grateful to Beverley and Charlotte for putting up with us.

The questions were compiled and enforced by Steve Lake of 4 Corners Images, and he was merciless. No, implacable. No, unrelenting. Yes, all three, and more.

For example, we were shown Photos of Celebs When Young. We got 3 out of 20 right. Who on earth knew that José Mourinho used to have horns?

Then followed questions of every sort, such as “What does the term Lyonnaise mean when applied to French cooking?”

We had a secret weapon here. Damien, our TDM, is from Lyons, and his brother is a top chef in Paris. So “Potatoes,” I said decisively. “Cream,” said Bev. Nothing, said Damien. We left it blank.

The answer was Onions. “Onions? Everything in France has onions!” complained Martyn.

Finally the results came in. There were tears. There was laughter. There was gross injustice. To show how remorseless Question Master Steve was, he slashed 20 points from the British Library for writing ‘Euston Square’ instead of ‘Euston Road’ .

fotoLibra only came fourth, despite our clear superiority. We would have won by a large margin if the other teams hadn’t known more than us. Not fair.

The official results (subject to scrutineering) were

  1. The Bridgman Art Library
  2. Mary Evans
  3. Offside Sports Images
  4. fotoLibra
  5. Camera Press
  6. National Portrait Gallery
  7. British Library
  8. Superstock

So here we are this morning, back in our ivory tower, re-insulated from the οἱ ολλοί, gazing out at the world (ach-y-fi! nasty, dirty place!) and I’m contemplating a quiet bacchanalia or two to restore my flagging spirits.

Ah! Here comes Pan! I’ll have to go — gotta dance, gotta sing. See you later!

This is posted in an effort to placate Owen Elias, who wrote about my last blog “Another moaning tirade. Do you never have anything positive to say?”

25 million images for a dollar each!

Yet another ‘stock agency’ has bulk-emailed the world (why should spam trouble them?) to tell us we can buy images from them for a dollar each.

Of course you can’t actually buy a picture from them for a dollar, despite what they promise. You have to start by paying a minimum of ten dollars, at which point they’ll throw in nine extra pictures (which you may or may not want) for free.

The pound, the euro, the yen and the rouble don’t concern them; they only want your dollars.

The business model is to blind buyers with price and quantity, and gloss over content and quality. Pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap. It’s a well-used model.

But talking of content and quality, the balance of image subjects seems wrong for a website which appears to be US-based and aimed primarily at American buyers. Compare these eastern and western cities, all with populations around the million mark. Here are the number of images Pictures For A Dollar (not its real name, natch) has of each location:

odessa

 

As for my headline, I have no idea if this site has anything to do with our Russian friends. But there does seem to be a definite Eastern flavour to the content. As the table above demonstrates, there are ten times as many images of former Soviet bloc cities than of American cities. Which is very useful if you are publishing to the Eastern European market.

Check out these two tourist destinations:

kotor

Where did this Pictures For A Dollar site acquire its images, do you think? From all the figures quoted, it certainly looks more Eastern than Western.

I assume they own all these images, so they don’t have to pay the photographers. Therefore all the business costs are pumped into marketing the static stock. There is no indication that there will be new additions to the 25 million images they hold — the website baldly states “Pictures For A Dollar is not accepting contributors at this time.”

Why does this upset me? Because this has nothing to do with photography. Photographers are not welcome on this site.

This is a commodity sale, which will directly affect the livelihood of yet more photographers. I very much doubt that the photographers who supplied the majority of images which ended up on Pictures For A Dollar are going to see a cent for their work. And I don’t think that’s fair.

What worries me is how can a picture library (British usage) or stock agency (American usage) like fotoLibra compete?

I hope it will be by providing well-keyworded, precise, high-quality, up-to-date AND historical images that people actually want and need, not a dubious flytip of cheaply acquired bulk collections that might pass at a pinch.

Or do you have other ideas?

Quora is an interesting web site. Questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its users. And its users seem more intelligent and less abusive than the average troll one encounters online.

Here’s a good one: What are some of the reasons that stock photos look like stock photos?

This is an excellent question. Alas, so far there are only four answers, none of them particularly illuminating.

Let me have a go. First of all, let’s forget photography and look at economics — the law of supply and demand. The four basic laws of supply and demand are:

  1. Demand increases, supply remains unchanged: a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.
  2. Demand decreases, supply remains unchanged: a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  3. Demand remains unchanged, supply increases: a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  4. Demand remains unchanged, supply decreases: a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

Unfortunately in the picture library / stock agency business we have involuntarily created the fifth law of supply and demand:

  1. Demand decreases, supply increases dramatically: a massive surplus occurs, leading to a far lower equilibrium price.

That’s where we stand at the moment. Twenty years ago if you wanted a sunny photograph of a couple running happily down a beach hand-in-hand, you either commissioned a photographer at considerable expense, or you trawled through transparencies at a picture library (and paid a hefty fee for doing so). Now they’re so common you can scarcely give them away.

I went into the Spar store in Harlech yesterday, hoping to buy a packet of frozen broad beans. What they had in the freezer was:

  • Frozen oven chips
  • Frozen roast potatoes
  • Frozen potato wedges
  • Frozen hash browns
  • Frozen French fries
  • Frozen jacket potatoes
  • Frozen Smiles (??) potatoes
  • Frozen garden peas

That was the extent of their frozen vegetable range. Now I’m as anti-eating green things as any ordinary man can be (although peas and broad beans are sort of OK) but even I felt that this was an overwhelming bias in favour of potato-based products.

Potato-based products are heavily marketed, so people buy them. At first we don’t notice the broad bean chicks have been ousted from the freezer nest by these cuckoo brands.

It’s the same with microstock and rights-managed images. Microstock is heavily marketed, like supermarkets, with a loss leader — $1 for an image! And that’s all that buyers remember, until they’re suckered in to an annual deal where they’ll pay as much for their images as if they’d bought them from us without any trade agreement. They don’t notice they end up paying at least the same, and probably more.

The boon and the benefit of Microstock is that everything has been ironed down to the lowest possible common denominator. Welcome to a perfect world, where everyone lives exclusively on potato-based products and sugary drinks, yet keeps a trim figure and teeth like the grille on a Cadillac. Nothing has ever gone wrong in these people’s lives, and that’s what the client wants. So endless numbers of photographers endlessly reproduce the same image with infinitesmal variations, like this:

Happy couples running hand-in-hand down the beach

Happy couples running hand-in-hand down the beach

Oops — the last one is embarrassingly much better then the rest. Oh, it’s not a microstock image at all, it’s a fotoLibra Rights Managed image (thank you, Peter Phipp!).

When I was a kid we rebelled against conformity by growing long hair and wearing blue jeans. We all wanted long hair and blue jeans. We all looked the same. We conformed.

The point is that stock photos look like stock photos because that’s what the market wants. Conformity. And potato-based products.

You get what you pay for.

Wedding Cake Blues

February 10th, 2014
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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Until fotoLibra Version 6.0 was launched in December our site didn’t actually say that we sold images — we just assumed that people would know.

It seems not everyone understands. In November we sold usage rights in a photograph of a wedding cake decorative topper  — Personal Use (One-Off) — to a lady in the mid-Western United States.

Here is a photograph of a wedding cake topper. The image rights are avaibale on fotoLibra.

A photograph of a Wedding Cake Topper, ©David Knowles / fotoLibra

Last week we had a querulous email from her. “I ordered and paid for a wedding cake decorative topper last November, and I still haven’t received it.”

We looked at each other in horror (although I could barely suppress a grin). She had bought image usage rights when she thought she was buying an actual item. I was flooded with pity, because I could put myself right in her place. I knew just how she was feeling.

But we’d already paid the photographer for the sale. We could hardly ask him to give the money back. So we tactfully explained the situation to her, that we were a picture library (US = Stock Agency) and not a fancy goods retailer, that it was clearly pointed out on the website, and that she now had the right to get this picture printed out as a huge poster and stuck on her wall. She accepted the situation.

We get regular calls from gentlemen with thick, impenetrable accents who are interested in the derelict petrol stations you can see on fotoLibra. They’re not interested in images of them — they want the actual sites, and they rumble threateningly when we try to explain we only sell pictures of the sites.

The nadir was reached when one man rang up to order some bollards. Once again we patiently tried to explain we sold images of bollards, not actual bollards. The enquirer was an Englishman, with a fluent and rapid command of the language, albeit with an extremely limited vocabulary. He informed us at length (in Neville Shute’s terminology) that we were Fugging Muggers and also, weirdly, Bunts. The invective was foul, sustained, vicious and a total waste of time. God knows what he was planning to do with the bollards once he got hold of them. We had a satisfying, if impractical, suggestion for him.

I’m really very sorry for the Mid-Western US lady and her wedding cake decorative topper. But we shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s mistakes, even a small amount. And after Chris Holifield of the Writer’s Services website pointed out that we didn’t say what we did, we rectified it. Now fotoLibra.com introduces itself with HOW TO BUY IMAGES | HOW TO SELL IMAGES.

No more confusion then. Thank you, Chris!

We received a cheery sales enquiry this morning:

Good morning,

I work for the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the Dallas Region. The Dallas Region is comprised of Social Security offices in 5 states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas). The Dallas Region is separated into 6 parts called Area’s [I think he means Areas]. One such Area has Social Security Offices in two states (Oklahoma and Arkansas).

We are creating a banner for the Area front page that would represent 2 states (Oklahoma and Arkansas) and we would like to use one of your pictures as part of the banner to represent the State of Arkansas. This front page would exist on a Secure intranet and would only be visible to Social Security employees. This Intranet is not accessible to the general public or anyone outside of the Social Security Administration and serves as an information portal for SSA employees.

Please consider allowing us to use your image shown.  As a government entity we cannot pay for rights.

Yvonne was on it in a flash:

Hello Tony

Many thanks for your message and for your interest in one of our images. I’m sorry to read that as a government entity you can’t pay for rights because, as a stock agency, our business is selling usage rights for our many contributors.

I regret that I can see no reason why we should give you free rights to use one of our images and wish you luck in persuading someone else to give away their work for no reward.

Regards,

Yvonne Seeley

What a model of restraint. It’s fortunate she responded before I had a chance to vent my spleen, otherwise Anglo-American relationships could have been irreparably damaged.

This scenario is becoming increasingly common. I wrote about it in a blog last November, Give Us Your Work For Free. Yvonne was more concise and to the point than Whitey. Why should anybody, in any organisation, in any country, anywhere in the world, expect to be paid for what they do and yet expect you and me to hand over the fruits of our investment, creativity and labour for nothing? It’s contemptuous, patronising and demeaning.

Mind you, Yvonne has form where this sort of behaviour is concerned. Some years ago when she was working for BASF and Sir Peter Hall was Director of the National Theatre, Hall’s secretary rang up to order 10 reels of recording tape. Yvonne’s question was to be expected: “To whom shall I send the invoice?” In a flash Hall (as he was then) was on the phone, fulminating “Don’t you know who I am? I’ll have your job for this!” Yvonne answered evenly, “I don’t think so. Now do you want to buy these tapes or not?”

Collapse of stout party, as they say.

Only one good comes of this. It shows that a picture library set up in a remote corner of North-West Wales can be seen and used by a US government department.

The next step is to get them to pay $600 for our lavatory seat. Older readers will recall the reference.

Our Secret Lives

January 6th, 2014

Happy New Year to all fotoLibra friends, fans, followers and freaks!

2014 may not offer the sunniest outlook the world of photography has ever seen, but we’re still going, we’re still optimistic, we’re still hopeful and we’re still excited by the great photographs our contributors are offering for sale. We’ve just had over 600 photographs of Uzbekistan uploaded. That’s 600 more than we had before.

If there’s a shadow on the horizon, it’s our supportive media. Not content with driving image prices down to little more than zero — that’s why you don’t see your photographs in the national press — they have taken to publishing articles not just predicting the death of photography, but also the death of the camera itself.

Yet one prediction I read (unencumbered by any trace of fact, footnote or reference) estimated that one trillion photographs would be taken in 2014. Clearly it’s a dying business.

To pile insult on injury, one of the big Christmas films is ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, a Ben Stiller vehicle based on the famous James Thurber short story. The original story is less than four pages long. While Walter Mitty is on a shopping trip with his wife he daydreams in turn of being a naval commander, a top surgeon, a crack shot, an ace bomber pilot … and we never learn what he actually is, apart from a hen-pecked husband.

But Ben Stiller, faced with spinning a little over three pages of text into 114 minutes of Hollywood magic, had to find him a job.

What job did he choose for the world’s most hopeless fantasist?

A fotoLibrarian, that’s what. How do you think we feel?

We feel very strongly that this is an unfair — oh, hang on … gotta go, there’s the Nobel Prize committee on the phone again.

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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

I’ve been on both sides of the desk at publicity meetings when the response to the question “What’s new?” is “We’ve got a new website!”

Hearts sink all round. The PR company’s, because no journalist has bought a New Website story since 1993, and also the client’s, because he can see this magnificent, radical, earth-shatteringly great new website isn’t cutting the mustard with the very people he’s paying to tell the world how wonderful he is.

Well — fotoLibra has a new website! This is Version 6.0, launched at noon today. It’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary, so old fotoLibra hands won’t be fazed by unfamiliar procedures — but explore a little further and you’ll find a wealth of new and useful features for both buyers and sellers.

For instance, you no longer have to sign in to check the price of an image.

It’s a ‘responsive’ site, which means it works equally well on smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

It’s bigger, brighter and faster, using the latest HTML5 features, which means you’ll need to upgrade your browser to appreciate them fully. You can navigate through the site using left and right arrow keys. There’s a new drag and drop image uploader with thumbnail generation. Search results default to larger thumbnails. There’s a lot more.

Please take it for a test drive:

http://www.fotoLibra.com.
And we would love to hear what you think about it, whether it’s bad or good.

Being a small company, fotoLibra actually listens and responds to all its contributors, unlike some others we could think of. We’ll respond to your comments and queries, and if you have ideas for further features we could offer in the future, let us know. If we like them and can do them, we’ll incorporate them.

A note to our dinosaur friends — fotoLibra 6.0 won’t work on the no longer supported web browser Internet Explorer 7, and works (but looks slightly odd) on IE8. Please upgrade to IE11, or try using Safari, Firefox, Chrome or Opera.

We hope you enjoy using the new fotoLibra Version 6.0. We’ve put a lot of hard work and love into making it as intuitive and user-friendly as we can. Please comment!

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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The famous war photographer Don McCullin was interviewed in today’s Independent to promote a national amateur photography competition, Faith Through A Lens.

And what he has to say is exactly what we’ve been saying since we started fotoLibra 10 years ago.

“I love photographing beautiful things. I don’t want just a reputation for always being in among the blood and the gore. I have an amazing repertoire of landscapes in my collection.”

But he suggests that up and coming photographers cover the poorest communities in Britain, in an effort to stop them becoming further marginalised.

He said: “I don’t see enough people chronicling Britain. You don’t have to get on a plane; there are lots of social wars in our cities. There’s poverty and loneliness. You don’t have to go to the Middle East to find unhappiness and sorrow.”

McCullin is happy to judge shots taken by cameraphones. “There’s a lot of snobbery about pictures taken on phones but a vision is a vision, I don’t care how you acquire it. An artist will find any means to create a work of art.”

When contributors ask fotoLibra what they should photograph, the answer is always the same. And it’s the hardest answer.

People. Not picturesque, colourful ethnic dancers, but people going about their everyday lives. Your neighbours. Your colleagues. Your friends. Your family. The travellers who are camping at the end of the road.

People.

Every week fotoLibra gets requests from companies, charities, bloggers and individuals who want to use photographs — your photographs.

This of course is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately for you and me they have one thing in common. They all want them for free.

Oh, the reasons they give are wondrous and manifold; way above ‘the dog ate my homework’ level. They plead to our better nature, they claim poverty, they cite numerous examples of unparalleled generosity from picture libraries who modestly (and surprisingly) request anonymity, and, most common of all, “we’re a charity so we shouldn’t have to pay anything”.

I’ve just seen a correspondence between a Large Wealthy Production Company and a struggling musician. It makes fascinating reading.

I have redacted the copy to remove any direct references to the LWPC because their lawyers are undoubtedly larger and wealthier than ours, and anyway they don’t need the free publicity. ‘Xena’ is a made-up name. The only indicator I haven’t changed in the name of the musician, ‘Whitey’ N J White. I can’t find his blog at the moment, but I’m sure he would appreciate any messages of support you may care to offer. This material came from the excellent PetaPixel newsletter.

All I want you to do when reading the following correspondence is substitute the word ‘photography’ for ‘music’. Then see how you feel.

Hello,

Thanks for emailing me, I have emailed your label but not heard back yet so thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately we don’t have any budget for music but would be great if we could use the track but it is up to you, but would appreciate anything you could do?

Many thanks,

Xena

and now Whitey’s reply:

Hello Xena

Firstly, there is no label — I outright own my material, so I’m not sure who you’ve been emailing.

Secondly, I am sick to death of your hollow schtick, of the inevitable line “unfortunately there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law Of The Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget.

So you have chosen to allocate no money for music. I get begging letters like this every week — from a booming, affluent global media industry.

Why is this? Let’s look at who we both are.

I am a professional musician, who lives from his music. It took me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard-earned property. I’ve licensed music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on earth; from Breaking Bad to the Sopranos, from Coca Cola to Visa, HBO to Rockstar Games.

Ask yourself: would you approach a Creative or a Director with a resumé like that, and in one flippant sentence ask them to work for nothing?

Of course not. Because your industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work.

Or would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying “So sorry, I’ve no budget for food”? Of course you would not.

Because culturally, we classify that as theft.

Yet the culturally ingrained disdain for the musician that riddles your profession leads you to fleece the music angle whenever possible. You will without question pay everyone connected to a shoot — from the caterer to the grip to the extra — even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing.

Now let’s look at you. A quick glance at your web site reveals a variety of well known, internationally syndicated reality programmes. You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognised company with a string of hit shows.

Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a West London office, with a string of awards under your belt, you have real money. To pretend otherwise is an insult.

Yet you send me this shabby request — give me your property, for free. Just give us what you own, we want it.

The answer is a resounding and permanent NO.

I will now post this on my sites, forward this to several key online music sources and blogs, encourage people to re-blog this. I want to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians [and Photographers — Ed.]

This was one email too far for me. Enough. I’m sick of you.

N J White

And the one thing Xena from LWPC Inc left out was “Of course, we’ll give you a credit. It’ll be great publicity for you, because we’ve sold this project to 597 planets across the universe. You should be SO grateful to us!”

What can we say? Thanks A Lot.

And well said, Whitey! N J White is hereby awarded the 2013 fotoLibra Award For Speaking Out.