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.

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