Archive for April, 2009

Search Engines and fotoLibra

April 30th, 2009

We had an email from fotoLibra member Jon Lees this morning. He wrote

I uploaded a image (Belfast Duck Tours) on Tuesday, supplied several keywords and a title.  I ran a Google search on the subject matter this afternoon and did not get one fotoLibra hit. In fact there are not many hits on this subject matter, the business website and old newspaper article from an earlier press release, so in theory finding my picture should be very easy? Similarly searching for my photo of the Marine Current Turbine fails to generate any hits without mentioning fotoLibra in the search. Is this then a failing of the website, or are sales not generated this way?  I must admit I know little about how search engines generate their information, but surely there must be a way of raising the site profile?

Given that the Google search robot alone uses up 4 gigabytes of our bandwidth every month trawling the fotoLibra site, we asked our Technical Development Manager Damien to respond. This is what he wrote:

What we aim to do is to improve the fotoLibra user experience for both buyers and sellers.

Search engines have hundreds of thousands sites to crawl every day, and many of them have thousands of pages. Though we give them instructions to help them find pages or combinations they would not necessarily guess, and try to add and present as much as possible relevant and descriptive data — we recently added metadata, categories, and collection names, which they would not have guessed — we can’t force, or even suggest to them, what they should do.

So they sometimes crawl aimlessly. They simply visit, so to speak.

But they usually have something precise in mind, and will query terms they know they don’t have enough relevant data about. And they do the same on other websites. Once they’ve gathered data, they are the ones who finally “decide” what and who is to rank higher, using complex algorithms.

This process can take weeks.

We can’t force them. They might feel we’re trying to fool them.

So what is important is: relevant and correctly spelled keywords. Informative, concise captions AND descriptions, in good English. Search engines just can’t analyse what’s in a picture, yet. They rely on the surrounding text which is expected to be descriptive. And search engines “prefer” good English, and tend to ban what they call “keyword stuffing”.

Another crucial point: other sites have to link to fotoLibra. We have to be the site people talk about.

Photographers’ sites have to link to us. fotoLibra has a wide range of very professional and specific pictures: specialised sites have to link to pictures on this particular domain too.

And so should forums, blogs, articles or anything that deals with picture researchers.

Because people interested in the subject read them, and they’re crawled by the search bots as well.

So, if anyone wants his pictures to be more likely to rank higher, he also has to post on forums or blogs or whatever he likes and uses to share his passion, and to tell people that he’s got amazing, rare, high quality pictures on that given subject, and that they are available at this place which has got hundreds of great pictures of his: fotoLibra.

There is no magical receipe. We’re trying to present and emphasize what’s good in it. If it helps the user finding images he’s looking for, the search engine will feel it does too. We’re targeting the improvement of user experience rather than being rigidly search engine compliant, like a porn site. The pictures are getting increasingly accurately described. The Pro Search tool is always improving. Then it gets better for everyone. That’s part of our job.

We have great quality images that people won’t find because they’re poorly captioned or keyworded. That’s the responsibility of fotoLibra’s members.

Good images must be advertised and talked about. People have to spread the world around the web, and elsewhere.

And that’s a part of all our jobs.

Great Expectations

April 29th, 2009

On Monday we received a cancellation notice from a member. He had joined fotoLibra in February, uploaded five images of sunsets, and quit because he hadn’t sold any in nearly three months. It didn’t cost him anything, but he quit all the same.

Do we raise people’s expectations too high? We don’t promise the earth. fotoLibra was never a Get Rich Quick scheme. It was always a Get Slightly Better Off Over A Long Period Of Time operation, although Von wouldn’t let me use that as a slogan for the company. Nor would she … oh, I’ll leave that till later.

What’s a reasonable expectation? The most famous example is a guy who heard about fotoLibra on a Wednesday, uploaded a single picture on Thursday, we sold it to an ad agency the following Tuesday and 30 days later he received a cheque for £1,100 / €1,228 / $1,619. OK, that’s happened once. But it can happen. On the other hand it is possible to be a fotoLibra member for years and never sell an image. But for the great majority of members, once the upload number passes 250, fotoLibra provides a small but steady income.

The big bugbear, which we have yet to figure out a way around, is the etiolated delay between uploading a picture to a Picture Call and getting paid. Here’s the process, and if anyone has ideas on how the workflow can be improved, we’d like to hear them.

1. Picture researchers send us a list of images they want and when they want them.

2. Jacqui Norman sends out a Picture Call to our members, along with a deadline on the same day the researcher wants to see lightboxes.

3. We prepare anything up to 10 lightboxes per Picture Call, working at high speed to get the images on to the researcher’s desktop the day she wants to see them.

4. She makes a selection and shows them to her client (an editor, an advertiser, whoever). This could take anything up to 3 months, and it’s out of our hands.

5. The client makes a decision. This may take another three months. It is not final, but the researcher comes back to fotoLibra and downloads the hi-res images. We still do not know if the images are going to be used.

6. The book — let’s say it’s a book — is written, edited, designed, made ready for the printers. This takes at least 6 months.

7. The book goes to press, and we are sent a list of the photographs used and which we can invoice for.

8. 10 minutes later the invoice is sent out from our offices.

9. With a few very honorable exceptions (step forward, John Wiley & Sons, and receive the fotoLibra Plaudit) we get payment between 90 and 120 days after our invoice.

10. Once the money has been received, only THEN can we assure our members that a sale has been made. We pay everyone within 30 days of net sales receipts.

A simple addition will show that this process can take anything up to 18 months, with our member not knowing a thing about failing or being successful until 30 days before he receives his money.

It’s not good. But we can’t see a way round it. We can’t say a picture has been sold before we receive the money, because it hasn’t. We can and sometimes do say it’s been optioned, if it’s to a rock solid client like John Wiley & Sons.

Customers who buy off the site with a credit card are a different matter. That’s always a nice surprise to the member, when a cheque arrives with no warning. That can be 30 days after the picture’s uploaded.

All this is simply to warn new members that this is a long, drawn-out journey. So don’t join and take your images down a few weeks later. Let them mature. After all, we are a picture library, and items shouldn’t disappear from a library.

Cheap Photographs

April 24th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Anyone who’s read more than two or three of my posts will know what I think of the microstock system. There always has to be a loser, and in the case of microstock the loser is the creator, the artist — that is to say, the photographer. But as a responsible company we have to evaluate the business model and see if it could work for us. It could only work if the photographers knew EXACTLY what they were letting themselves in for. fotoLibra would have been a lot richer a lot quicker if we’d promised untold riches to our members from day one. And who knows, maybe that’s the right way to untold riches, riches beyond the dreams of aviaries, as Jimmy Edwards memorably said.

At the London Book Fair I stopped by a stand where they were displaying lots of illustrated books. The conversation went something like this:

“Hello, I’m from fotoLibra, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of just the images you need for your books.”
“What price?”
“Well, it rather depends on the usage. You see …”
“What cheapest price?”
“Ah, if you buy lots of images I’m sure we can offer a most attractive deal …”
“You tell cheapest price!”
A figure was mentioned. A laugh was heard.
“You see dat book?” An encyclopaedia was indicated. “Dat book, I buy all picture in dat book ten pound. Not one, all picture in book.”

WHAT I SAID
“Oh, well done you. Jolly good show! Very clever.”

WHAT I SHOULD HAVE SAID
“Well, you certainly get what you pay for, don’t you? I’ve never seen such unadulterated, badly printed crap. You should be prosecuted for first degree murder to trees. And if that’s the care and attention you devote to your images, I hate to think where the text originated, or what awful, erroneous message it’s getting across.”

But I’m British.

So I didn’t.

300,000 up!

April 17th, 2009

It IS today!

Today fotoLibra passed the landmark of 300,000 high quality, hi-res images on line. While we’re not yet quite up there with the Gettys and Corbises of this world, it’s still a goodly number and enough to give picture buyers a very wide and eclectic selection indeed.

And all our images have come from our 17,000+ wonderful members, photographers, collectors and artists. But mainly photographers. A lot of the monster stock agencies merely represent other collections, so their picture count jumps by 50,000 each time they sign up a new agency. Our images are uploaded individually, directly to our servers. They’re each selected with care and pride.

I snapped the home page when I spotted the counter had rolled over the magic mark:

300,000+ images online

300,000+ images online!

So we’re all pleased, except the office has been laid low by a lurgy and I’m the only man standing. So I get the magnum of Krug. Shame.

I remember when the idea of fotoLibra was just a gleam in my rheumy eye, I sought advice from the wonderful Anne-Marie Ehrlich, doyenne of picture researchers and the heart of The Picture Desk. While not exactly dismissive of my beautiful new baby, she said it was hard for a picture library to be taken seriously until it had accumulated about 25,000 images.

Done that. Been there. Beaten it by 275,000.

Now to be taken seriously!