by Gwyn Headley
Yesterday was the Annual General Meeting of the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies, our trade body. BAPLA represents the interests of picture libraries large and small, and fotoLibra has been a member since before we started trading. There is a link to the BAPLA web site on every single page of the fotoLibra site.
Nothing prepared us for what we heard at the AGM. Times are tough for everyone, BAPLA as well as fotoLibra. They’ve lost about 50 members over the past year or two, and as the annual fees are substantial, that makes a hefty dent in their finances.
So they have cast around for a way to improve their cash flow. And they’ve come up with the same idea that we came up with seven and a half years ago.
They’ve invented fotoLibra.
More precisely, they have created something called the BAPLA Academy. The idea is that photographers pay an annual fee and get to upload their images to the BAPLA web site where they can be viewed and made available for “non-commercial sales” (a wonderful oxymoron on a par with business ethics, or military intelligence).
I don’t have all the details to hand, because all this came from the BAPLA Director’s presentation and we don’t have a hard copy. But as I stared slack-jawed in amazement at the screen he blithely described the business plan of fotoLibra — except we provide commercial sales; our members make money from their photographs. That’s the whole point of fotoLibra; otherwise they might as well be on Flickr.
The concept of fotoLibra was to provide a platform for any photographer to make money selling his pictures. No tortuous submission procedure, no minimum upload, no “professionals only” barriers, no elitism — just raw market forces. Display and sell. And we provide all the advice and tools the photographer needs to achieve that aim. Jacqui Norman does an astounding job of advising, chivvying, helping, correcting, and pushing fotoLibra member photographers to make their images as saleable as possible. The web site and the Submission Guidelines are packed with information, advice, hints and tips.
Now our own Trade Association — the guys we pay to represent our interests — have announced that they are setting up in direct competition to us. Yvonne and I could not believe what we were hearing. Up went Yvonne’s hand. She was ignored. From personal experience I knew that was a bad move on BAPLA’s part — you ignore Yvonne at your peril. And indeed after the AGM she cornered the BAPLA President, the BAPLA Chairman and the BAPLA Director and subjected them to a withering blast. If they’d forgotten about fotoLibra — as they obviously had — then they were left in no doubt whatsoever that one section of their happy community was disaffected by news of the BAPLA Academy.
They attempted to placate us. The BAPLA Academy was no threat or competition to fotoLibra whatsoever. They’d trialled it with focus groups, and it wasn’t going to be a problem. But looking into their troubled eyes, we could see this was going to be a BIG problem. They simply hadn’t thought of us.
We’ve done this. We’ve sweated blood to set fotoLibra up and it has cost us a fortune. We know how hard it is. It’s a full time job for eight people. And there are only five of us. Without the help of a company like ours, a company that has already ploughed this unique furrow, BAPLA with its 2.5 staff and its capital derived entirely from member subscriptions is going to have a hell of a hard time running this Academy.
The BAPLA Academy will be directly competing for the subscriptions of the same photographers who supply fotoLibra with its top images. The same graduates, keen amateurs, semi-pros, wedding and studio photographers we work hard to attract, encourage and foster.
It’s not about print and mousemat sales versus rights sales, it’s about diverting a body of good, keen and potentially great photographers to ally with BAPLA rather than fotoLibra. That’s not BAPLA’s remit.
But if they’re determined to do it, then they should talk to us — once we’ve overcome our horror and dismay. We are better placed than any other organisation to help them.