Archive for March, 2009

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

This year’s Canadian Book Summit takes place on June 19 and the theme is “Giving It Away: Books, Business, and the Culture of Free.”

It costs $145 to attend.

That’s the answer!

Instead of trying to sell images to publishers, we should charge for telling them how to get free images.

SPQR

March 18th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Roman legions conquered the known world carrying banners emblazoned with the letters ‘SPQR’ — Senatus Populusque Romanus, or The Senate and the People of Rome. It is the motto of the Eternal City to this day; it still comes as quite a surprise to see manhole covers emblazoned with SPQR.

I’ll come back to SPQR later.

Up till Version 4, fotoLibra offered a print service. You saw a picture you liked, clicked on the frame icon and had the choice of various sizes of print or other merchandise based on that image.

Unfortunately the company providing the service for us, PrintButton, couldn’t make it sufficiently profitable, so they stopped doing it just after fotoLibra Version 4 was announced. They gave us advance warning, so we didn’t build their API (Application Programming Interface) into our new system.

Since then we haven’t been able to offer the service because we haven’t found a supplier who can deliver what we need. We’ve had plenty of offers, but reviewing the latest one, from Peter Wright, it occurred to me that the ability to run off prints is perhaps the least vital part of the entire process.

Firstly, you need a huge selection of images. OK, fotoLibra has that. Then you need to get the following in place:
1. Someone (not us) needs to write an API to enable site visitors to order the goods with one click
2. A trusted and reliable ecommerce system has to be in place to collect payments
3. Fulfilment needs to be white labelled (as if “From fotoLibra”)
4. Packing and despatch must be sound and reasonably weatherproof
4. Delivery needs to be within 24 hours in the UK
5. A variety of products (mugs, T shirts, caps, mouse mats, plates etc.) need to be available as well as straightforward prints
6. A framing service must be offered
7. US delivery really needs a US-based plant to create the product
8. Deliveries need to be 100% reliable to at least 158 countries across the globe

In our experience, reliability and speed of delivery count for more than the quality of the finished product, assuming it’s reasonably good and fit for purpose. If there is a problem with the client’s perception of the quality, the printer must reprint and redeliver at his expense, and without argument.

All this need to be in place before the image is chosen and the print button is pressed. It’s a big hill to climb, and even thought they apparently had 400 customers like fotoLibra, PrintButton couldn’t make it work.

So who can?

Getting back to the Romans, fotoLibra adopted the SPQR motto when we started up. But for us, it stands for SPEED, PRICE, QUALITY, RELIABILITY (and now RANGE, as well). Concentrate on those aspects, then think about getting a product to sell.

Whatever it is, it will be secondary to the service you provide.

SPQR applies to everything you make or do.

Proto-foto-Libra

March 13th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

I recently found this remarkable web site called Web Archive: http://web.archive.org/web/20030407123333/http://www.fotolibra.com/ which records snapshots of websites in history.

Intrigued, I searched for fotoLibra (as one does) and came across this:

fotoLibras first Home Page

It forms several parts of our original home page, designed and coded by me (rather poorly, I am now prepared to confess). The 976 appalling images we proudly offered were taken by me. And I’m not a photographer.

It’s dated six years ago tomorrow, when the idea of fotoLibra was just over a year old and we were still over a year away from getting a workable site. God, the frustrations! The expense!

And just when we think we can discern a carrot at the end of the tunnel (thanks, Dede) we get whacked by the global credit crunch. So six years on it’s still God, the frustrations! The expense!

But because we run such a tight ship and provide a unique service, I think we’ll pull through.

We just have to let people know we exist. I never realised how hard that bit would be.

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

300 ppi. That’s the resolution we demand for images uploaded to fotoLibra.

Lots of people say 300 dpi instead of 300 ppi. That’s dots per inch, which is what printers use, but digital images appear on digital screens, which use pixels. So we say 300 ppi.

As soon as you know a little bit about digital photograpy, you will learn that the resolution of an image makes not a blind bit of difference to the quality or size of the image. The majority of cameras deliver their digital images at 72 ppi, whether you choose the RAW or the Basic mode.

Why then is fotoLibra so cussed as to insist members go through the palaver of converting their images from the perfectly adequate 72 ppi to 300 ppi?

We do so for two perfectly valid reasons. And one utterly compelling one.

Firstly, I’ll answer the question our poor Support team has to fend off more than any other — How do I convert my images to 300 ppi?

It’s a doddle. You can probably do it with the software that comes with your camera, but as they all differ I’ll describe the process in Adobe Photoshop. Don’t have Photoshop? Try Adobe Elements. Don’t have Elements? Irfanview is free and does the same thing, and much more besides. If you have a digital camera and you intend to sell photographs through fotoLibra, then you must have image processing software. It’s your darkroom.

This is what you do in Photoshop: go to Image> Image Size> UNCHECK the Resample Image button, and change the Resolution to 300 pixels / inch. Save the image. If you go to File> Automate> Batch… you can easily apply this to all your images.

That’s it.

If you see 118.1 instead of 300, you’ve chosen pixels per centimetre instead of pixels per inch. It’s exactly the same.

We don’t often reveal the first two reasons why we impose a resolution of 300 ppi (no more, no less), because when we do we usually manage to upset both buyers and sellers. This doesn’t apply to YOU, of course. So apologies in advance.

  1. Our buyers, who in the vast majority of cases will be printing the images they buy at 300 dots per inch, do not care for the extra work involved in carrying out this operation, and they complain when they get an old 72 ppi image which they have to convert. So we like to supply them with the resolution they prefer.
  2. It makes members think before uploading the moment they snap an image, and to look carefully at their photographs to see how they can be improved, and if they are uploading truly saleable pictures.

I know you know all this, and I know your images are always 300 ppi and you’ve never had any problems uploading, but spare a thought for a few of your fellow members in difficulty. I hope this helps to explain things.

In the background I can still hear whispers. “It’s really not relevant. Why make such a song and dance about it?”

OK, here’s the cruncher.

Have you ever discovered porn on fotoLibra?

No?

Yet it’s the world’s first Open Access image library. Anyone can upload anything.

Why is there no porn? Because 99.9% of it falls at the first barrier. What self-respecting porn merchant is going to go through the admittedly very minor hassle of converting his 72 ppi images (which are only ever viewed on a screen) into 300 ppi so he can upload them to fotoLibra? He’s going to go somewhere less stringent, less careful. Somewhere he can harvest mugs. He won’t find them on fotoLibra.

We also check every image uploaded. One or two may get past the 300 ppi barrier; they won’t get past our picture vetters.

Since the first upload to fotoLibra in March 2004, we have only had to reject four images.

We must be doing something right.

And that’s why we ask for this tiny imposition on your time.

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

It’s not on the market yet, but we can do it now. All we need is the content.

As ebooks stand at the moment, they offer less than conventional books do. You can’t get anything from an ebook you can’t get from a paperback at a fiftieth of the price (once you include the hardware). The big advantage is search/indexing, not particularly relevant to fiction, the major ebook market. As yet, there is no killer app.

But when ebooks get color, there’s no reason why the images that now grace illustrated books shouldn’t just be still pictures. There will be mini-movie and sound clips embedded in the text.

Imagine a travel book with the sounds and bustle of a Hong Kong market; a bird book which shows the distinctive jizz (behaviour pattern) of each bird as well as letting you hear its song; a D-I-Y book where you could actually see how to apply putty; a cookery book with techniques clearly demonstrated — the method of carving a shoulder of lamb, for example — or a history book with a WWI tank lumbering over the trenches.

That would make the purchase of the ebook as reading tool worthwhile.

fotoLibra’s holding company is called VisConPro Ltd. It stands for VISual CONtent PROvision. At the moment ebooks are almost solely sourced from unillustrated texts, because today’s ebooks can only handle 16 shades of grey. I had a computer like that in 1983. So the publishers are currently providing content simply as text — TEXtual CONtent PROvision.

We have the images. We can shortly have the movie clips, on the same basis that grew fotoLibra from a dream to 300,000 images online. We can collaborate with a publisher to produce a few sample titles and a snappy generic name. Alas, Prentice Hall already has Active Book.

It’s perfectly possible to create any of this content right now. All we need is for Kindle to add colour and Quick Time compatibility.

THEN as a consumer I will be thrusting my dollars into Mr. Bezos’s ever-open palm.

And as a Visual Content Provider I expect Amazon will be doing the same to me in return.

More Kindling

March 6th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

I’ve been accused of doing a Mary Whitehouse, condemning something without even seeing it.

But I don’t have to see Kindle 2 to know the most important thing about it from fotoLibra’s point of view.

It. Doesn’t. Do. Colour.

And I’m not condemning it. Far from it. I’d love to have one, and I will — once it has millions of colours and works in Wales. But it won’t be replacing my library and it won’t be my primary reading tool. Travel and holidays, great. Sitting at home, uh uh.

Passing into the realms of speculation here, I think Apple and the Chinese, and Japanese, and the Koreans will be watching Kindle sales very closely. At $359 I don’t expect Amazon is making big profits out of the hardware — it’s the ‘get a free car if you only buy our gas’ strategy.

Amazon are attempting to cementing their dominating position, controlling the means of delivery; just where Microsoft were 15 years ago. But it won’t last. It never does.

Ebooks now are at the same stage of customer acceptance as mobile phones were a decade ago. The difference is that ten years ago Europe was way ahead in mobile phone acceptance, with the US lagging far behind, while today America leads the world in ebook usage, with barely a ripple shaking the Euro market. Will a Euro-Kindle change that? Maybe. But the US will stay far ahead for the foreseeable future. One thing’s for sure — nobody in benighted Britain is going to be manufacturing ebooks any time soon.

Meanwhile fotoLibra has to figure out image licensing costs for the time when ebooks acquire colour and do become significant items in publishers’ balance sheets.

Compression

March 5th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

On January 21st we started (gradually) to convert all the TIFFs on fotoLibra to top quality (Photoshop Level 12) JPEGs.

This will save about a terabyte of space with our current number of images, and provide far more room for members to upload photographs. All buyers seem to prefer JPEGs nowadays. Long gone are the days when the 24 MB TIFF was the only path to salvation.

The big debate we had in-house was how much compression should we apply? We want to preserve of much of the original image as commercially possible. Rumour has it that one very major picture library saves its JPEGs at Level 8, which is 60%.

We are more perfectionist. I was against anything less than Level 12, which holds between 90% and 96% of the original data. This will reduce a 24 MB TIFF to an 8 MB JPEG, a substantial saving. It is impossible to detect a visual difference on a computer screen. We settled on 94%.

JPEGs work well where there are large areas of the same colour, such as the sky. To put it as simply as possible, a TIFF file of a photograph of blue sky would read as follows:

  • blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel,

whereas the JPEG file of the same image would read

  • blue pixel x 24

Which as you can see is much more concise. Hence it’s smaller.

Here’s an image shown as a TIFF, then at Level 12, Level 11 and Level 10 JPEG compression:

Compression

Frankly, I can’t really tell the difference. Only when compression gets down to Level 7 can a difference be detected.

Worries about the degradation of the JPEG image through repeated copying are unfounded because the original upload is always used as the source asset for image sales. The purchaser will always be getting a Level 12 JPEG.

Why camera makers never adopted the much more sophisticated JPEG2000 standard I’ll never know.

Of course, any Pro or Platinum members who have uploaded TIFFs to fotoLibra and who do not want them converted to JPEGs only have to tell us and their uploads will remain untouched. Only one so far.

Kindle 2

March 4th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Kindle is Amazon’s ebook reader, and they’ve just launched a new version.

I’d love to be given one as a toy, but I’m going to be a late adopter on this one — I like to hug trees after they’ve been converted into books.

And as I’ve already got over 4,500 books, and I’m not a big novel reader, and I don’t do a huge amount of travelling, and $359 would buy me an awful lot of reading matter which would still be extant when the Kindle is forgotten landfill, and it only works in one country in the world (admittedly the third largest), and it’s only available in black and white, and every book would feel the same and smell the same and look the same and weigh the same and you could lose your entire library on the tube, if it’s all the same to you I’ll pass for the moment.

The ads say “Shop the Kindle store wirelessly, anytime, anywhere!” Not true. Like Kindle 1, Kindle 2 doesn’t work in Europe or in the rest of the world outside North America.

“Images are sharper than ever, in 16 shades of gray!”

Perhaps. Most books are printed in colour, and fotoLibra sells 98% colour to 2% grayscale imagery. It’s not vitally important for a novel, but in every other branch of publishing, colour is imperative.

At the moment there’s a careful stand off between publishers and picture libraries over the issue of digital rights. Prices for images (which are tumbling) are based on page sizes, print runs and territorial rights. Ebook readers don’t yet impinge on our consciousness, because nobody buys an ebook to look at the pictures.

But colour will eventually arrive. Who knows, Kindle 4 may run to 256 colours. T&H, Phaidon & Abrams won’t be holding their breath.

And we will start addressing the situation when publishers start making money from illustrated ebook sales.

Meanwhile we’re keeping an eye on it.

Kindle doesn’t yet light my fire.

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

In early December last year we had a frantic request from a new buyer (who worked for a long standing client of ours) who wanted a detailed list of images of India. She had to have them within 24 hours, absolute latest.

We worked overnight. The following afternoon we sent her a lightbox with 90% of the images she asked for — nearly 900 of them. She was effusive in her thanks.

Then silence. A month later she emailed to say she’d just created new lightboxes from the material we’d sent, but they were empty. She hadn’t signed in; she’d simply clicked on the thumbnails she liked and assumed that would create a new lightbox. (We must look in to that). So we created the lightboxes for her and transferred the images. Once again, many thanks were received.

Then silence. It’s now March, and it’s time to send her a little reminder. Just before I did so this morning, she sent in a password reset request. So she’s just about to start over. Three months have passed since that frantic, urgent, desperate overnight deadline. Not one image has yet been purchased.

Members rightly ask why they submit images to Picture Calls then don’t hear anything. There’s the answer.

Clients. We love ’em.