Archive for July, 2009


July 24th, 2009

I recommend anyone joining fotoLibra to read the Great Expectations blog posting to find out more about the exciting community they are joining.

Ben Shipley posted a comment which I said I’d answer in a new posting. Now David Carton has reminded me that I haven’t answered it, so here goes. First, Ben’s original comment:

It would be nice if the list view showed lightbox adds as well as views (at present the only way to get this info is to try to delete the photo).

Also, after working with other libraries, I am not sure what “views” means – did the photo show up among 1,000 others, or did someone actually bring up the full-size preview? And is that “someone” a valid customer or does it also include fellow members?

The best thing about fotolibra for my money is the way you all try to keep members informed – you seem like a very cool bunch of souls in general – but one can never get too much clarity, especially when it comes to what is selling out there.

Along same lines, I am curious where you see yourselves in the photo universe – what niches you aim for, where you saw this going when you started, where you see it headed today, where you fit into the whole amateur/professional photography experience, not just commercial stock. We get hints from Jacqui, but clarity definitely breeds patience.

Right. The first request is a simple feature enhancement. We already gather this information; the problem is figuring out to feed it to you in a neat, uncluttered, intelligible way. The data feed you currently get has nine columns; adding a tenth is going to make it uglier. We will work this out. It may involve having to drop down through layers of data.

‘Views’ (I answered this) means Thumbnails that have been clicked on to create Previews. The people who click could be either buyers or sellers; if they’re not logged in we don’t know who they are.

We always enjoy compliments. Thank you for that one.

OK, here’s the big one. In our photo universe, we’re not Getty Images, Corbis or Alamy. We’re much smaller, much more flexible, faster and much more personal. Buyers deal directly with the owners of the company, not a nominated ‘account handler’. Some people love this, others actually prefer anonymity and disengagement. When did you last speak to someone from Amazon, Adobe, Google, Microsoft or Apple? But you probably give them your money.

In Britain there are over 600 picture libraries. 440 of us are serious enough about the business to pay an annual subscription of about £500 to BAPLA. In terms of visitors to our web site, we come eighth. So we’re in the top 2%, and we only started 5 years ago. But we still need to do better.

Our major market is book publishing. It’s a market we know and feel comfortable with. We don’t reach ad agencies and design groups as we should. We sell to calendar and greetings card publishers. We don’t do much in the way of celebrities, news or sport.

We started with the intention of providing access to family albums, shoe boxes, the fading photographs in Granny’s attic. But we were swamped by the digital revolution.

HERE’S THE BOMBSHELL. We still want those pictures, so now we’ve decided to do something about it.

Alongside the existing Member, Pro Member and Platinum Member accounts, we are creating a completely new membership category.

It’s going to be called HERITAGE MEMBER. It is completely FREE, and it gives you UNLIMITED storage.

WOW!! I hear you shout. What’s the catch?

The photographs must have been taken before January 1st 1980. They must adhere to our Submission Guidelines.

And that’s it.

Membership will run in tandem with your existing fotoLibra membership. Full details will come with the formal announcement. We hope to have this in place by the beginning of September.


It’s rare for a picture library to make the national news, but that’s what the National Portrait Gallery managed today.

In March this year a Wikipedia administrator appropriated three thousand high-resolution images from the NPG website and published them to Wikipedia.

The NPG contacted Wikipedia and asked for the removal of the images. Wikipedia ignored the request. So the NPG issued a lawyer’s letter.

A spokesman for Wikipedia, an amazing and wonderful resource which I use daily, eventually deigned to respond — in one of the most arrogant, high-handed, dismissive, patronising, offensive, overweening blogs I have ever had the pleasure to read.

The National Portrait Gallery, the repository of Britain’s heritage of people paintings, is derided as an antiquated, fusty old dinosaur of an organisation, hopelessly out of touch with spiffy new C21 ways. It wants to CHARGE for images, ferkrissake!

Well, you can read it for yourself here.

The comments are a joy, by turns placatory and inflammatory.

And what it all boils down to is this: should everything be free, or should we pay for people’s work?

To which, I guess, everyone at heart would share the same response: everything should be free for me, but I want to be paid for my work.

The Wikipedia / NPG confrontation is a no-brainer; it’s straightforward theft, it’s illegal, and Wikipedia should cease and desist instantly. No argument. Being British, the NPG is unlikely to pursue for damages.

But what I cannot understand is how Wikipedia got its hands on 3,000 hi-res images from the NPG (which, frankly, charges an awful lot of money for the use of its images, so it is no saint either) in the first place? Nor can I understand why it needs them — the NPG has indicated that it is happy to allow Wikipedia to display small lo-res copies of the images, which is all you need on a web site. Why on earth would Wikipedia want to hold on to this stolen property?

And does the NPG have no security? If anyone downloads a hi-res image from fotoLibra, they pay for it. We know all about it. How could the NPG have let three THOUSAND expensive hi-res images slip through their fingers? Or were they hacked?

I think we should be told.


Primary School Books

July 10th, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

I visited a primary school today to look through their text books to see which publishers needed to use fotoLibra.

They showed me fourteen text books published by Heinemann, Ginn, Longman, Oliver & Boyd, BBC Active, Pearson and Marshall Cavendish.

The books were largely published between 1991 and 1996, long before any of the children at the school were born. Only one of the books was published this century, in 2001.

With the exception of Marshall Cavendish, all the imprints I saw are now part of one company.

Luckily, we supply images to them.

I noticed two of the books mentioned Tenochtitlan in Mexico City. We recently sent out a picture call for images of Tenochtitlan, without any luck. We still want them!


White Labelling

July 9th, 2009

One of the smartest guys I know asked me what ‘white labelling’ was yesterday.

It’s a salutary lesson; remember how easy and how dangerous it is to slip into jargon, and how stock phrases (blue sky thinking, ongoing situation, granularity, reading from the same hymn sheet) can be used to talk glibly yet avoid thinking too deeply about any problem we face.

But ‘white label’ is not so much jargon as a straightforward description. I haven’t consulted Wikipedia, but I’ll attempt my own definition here.

If you go to buy a refrigerator, it may or may not have a brand name stuck on the door: Frigidaire, Zanussi, Smeg, Hotpoint, AEG, Indesit, Bosch, Lec, whatever. But if you compare a couple of models you might be struck by the fact that apart from the name on the door, inside they are identical machines.

That’s because they are. They’re probably built in the same factory, on the same production line, probably in China or somewhere, and then sold to the brand owners who stick their names on the doors, add a chrome strip and flog them as theirs.

As a boy I used to be fascinated by American cars of the 1950s (still am) and it didn’t take me too long to realise that the 1956 Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac were all essentially the same car, and only differed in trim and engine options. They were all General Motors products, in the days when what was good for GM was good for America. Effectively they were white labelled — same thing, different name.

If you build your own fridge or car or photo library there’s no reason why you can’t let other people use it and give it their own name. This thought has occurred to me several times while we were constructing (at vast expense) fotoLibra’s digital asset management engine. At the moment it’s only used by fotoLibra.

It’s rock solid, reliable, fast, and robust. It’s infinitely expandable, comes with a full set of tools and virtually all the problems our Support team ever have to answer turn out to be at the user’s end rather than at ours.

Why keep it to ourselves? Why not let others store their film in it or drive it and call it their own, to labour on with my fridge / car analogy? The great majority of fotoLibra users will get all they need from the fotoLibra service, but there will be a few professional photographers who will need a more personalised, individualised bespoke product.

Maybe we should think about providing it.