Christmas Chimney Sweep

Christmas Chimney Sweep

Isn’t this pretty?

We thought so. So did a small American company, who felt it would make a great Christmas card.

It is our ambition to make fotoLibra the most user friendly, intuitive and simple site from which to buy pictures. But from reading the following correspondence, I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

We received this a couple of weeks ago at 14:28:

HI Gwyn,
We would like to purchase the following image to use on a Christmas card, that we would be printing in United States.
FOT510763      Chimney Sweep
Arnie Varah

Yvonne (not me) replied immediately, writing

Hello Arnie,
Thanks for your message which has been forwarded to me by Gwyn.
I notice that your colleague Jim Schuco has just registered with us, so the easiest way to purchase image FOT 510763 is via our website. You/Jim would need to sign in to www.fotoLibra com and price the image as follows, e.g.:
Merchandise > Greetings cards;  Continue
Print Run: 1000 > Duration: 1 year
As soon as you have gone through the purchasing process, you can download the high res image file immediately.
Kind regards,
Yvonne Seeley

Then at 19:01, this arrived:

HI Yvonne,
We would like to purchase the following image to use on a Christmas card, that we would be printing in United States.
FOT510763      Chimney Sweep
Jim Schuco

Yvonne replied as follows:

Thanks for your message. Here a copy of the email I’ve just sent to your colleague Arnie Varah:

and enclosed her previous email.

Jim replied:

Hi Yvonne,
We are just looking for one picture not 1000.

which prompted Yvonne’s response:

Will you only be printing one Christmas card? Stock agencies sell rights managed images based on the size of the print run and the duration of the license.
Hope this clarifies matters.

Jim came right back. He was baffled. So Yvonne responded:

Hello again Jim,
Here’s the explanation I sent to you earlier yesterday evening:
“Will you only be printing one Christmas card? You’ll find that stock agencies sell rights managed images based on the size of the print run and the duration of the license.
Hope this clarifies matters.”

I’m sorry this didn’t fully explain the situation for you. The image of the chimney sweep is a rights managed image. This means that you need to purchase the specific usage rights you need. So if you want to print a number of Christmas cards from this one image – up to 1000, for example, to send out to your customers – you have to go through the purchasing process I outlined earlier.

Jim and Arnie thought for a while. Then Jim asked

Hi Yvonne,
If we decide to print the Christmas cards with your company, would the
1.       Material used are card stock
2.       The image would be color
3.       Can we add a greeting inside
4.       Would envelope come with the cards
Let me know

Incidentally we’re talking £50 for the cost of buying the picture here. Not a fortune.

Yvonne replied:

Hello Jim,
fotoLibra is a stock picture agency. We license the use of images to picture buyers and researchers for reproduction in their publications – books, calendars, magazines, greetings cards and so on. You would buy the image license from us, download the high resolution picture file, and then get the Christmas card printed to your design using our image, as you advised in your first email.

Jim responded:

Hi Yvonne,
We usually send out about 100 cards, how much would it be for the image.
Jim Schuco

We’re always happy to negotiate. A price for 1,000 has to be different to a price for 100. But we cannot account for every eventuality in the pricing matrix. And we want to make sales for our members. So Yvonne replied:

Hello Jim,
Our base price for usage in a print run of up to 1000 cards is $234.00. On this occasion, sInce you are only planning 100, we can offer you a 66% discount. This would bring the price down to $80.
Please let me know if you want to go ahead at this discounted price and I will apply the percentage to your account.

On 3 Dec 2010, at 20:52, Jim Schuco wrote:

Hi Yvonne,
I am not sure I understand your previous email and this one. Can you print the cards also or you only provide the image for us? Let me know
Jim Schuco

By now Yvonne is getting a little terse:

Hello Jim
We supply the image; you arrange the printing.

Silence for five days. Has she mortally offended Jim?

Then on 7 Dec 2010, at 18:16, Jim wrote:

Hi Yvonne,
We are willing to pay $75 for the image. Let me know.
Jim Schuco

Yvonne’s final email:

Hello Jim,
Thanks for your feedback.
OK – you will need to sign into and type FOT510763 into the quick search box (top right).
Then click the $ Price Image link in the left hand column.
As soon as you have completed the purchasing process you’ll be able to download the high res image file. We will also send you a revised invoice confirming the actual rights bought.

The credit card payment went through and the image was downloaded an hour later. Will we be getting a Christmas card from them?

That was sixteen emails, and a lot of hassle, to make a $75 sale. Our worthy fotoLibra member will get £23.78. So will we, before we pay bank charges and taxes,.

I wonder what Tahiti is like at this time of year?

Guess we’ll never know.


Add your comment


36 Responses to “How hard is it to buy an image?”

  1. sally cole says:

    Ten gold stars for patience,endurance,stamina and ability to see the funny side.

  2. Jo Henry says:

    And why did they want a sweep holding shamrocks as a Christmas image anyway, i ask myself???

  3. Susan Oudot says:

    Hilarious! You guys sure do earn your money. Sxx

  4. Bill Kay says:

    Think of it like waiting for a bus. Would you walk away after half an hour when the bus might turn up at any second? No, if you are going to walk away you have to do so immediately or you get sucked into investing your time. In the end you have to forget how long you waited. The bus arrives and you get on.
    Same with this order. At each stage you and Yvonne (say hi to her from me) thought you had it sorted, only to find that there was another damn stupid question to answer. It is, by the way, tantalisingly difficult to judge whether Jim was being mischievous or merely stupid.
    In the end it was Yvonne’s last email that did the trick – 75 words that earned $75, not bad at $1 a word!
    Persistence rewarded, or would you rather have wasted your time on all the earlier emails, that would probably have earned you nothing?
    There must be an economic theory for this process: marginal cost divided by marginal revenue equals the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or something of the sort. I’m sure Jeremy Bentham would have approved.

  5. Keith Erskine says:

    Hi Gwyn

    My son recently had a similar flow/cross-flow over several weeks when requested for one of his Psychological Research Papers to be used in a major US Publication. Semantics plus, plus and discussions discussions regarding fonts, punctuation etc etc……………………..

    I was really surprised but ultimately pleased that he persevered and ultimately saw more of his research “in print”.

    Keith (zero tolerance) Erskine

  6. Dave Tait. says:

    I presume this is the sweep who cleans chimneys every year prior to Santa’s visit. After all, have you ever seen a soot covered Santa? That said, I hope Yvonne has braced herself for further e-mails as to suggestions for the greetings inside. I say e-mails because I think one greeting will not be enough.

    On a lighter note. I recall seeing something written a year or so ago about the lack of comprehension of Asian’s regarding the Christmas Festival. Spotted in a Tokyo department store. A huge Christmas tree festooned will all kinds of baubles. At the top of the tree a cross, to which Father Christmas had been nailed. Try explaining that to the kids. There should be a prize for the best caption for a shot like that. How about ……. He delivered a Nikon instead of a Canon.

    Dave T.

  7. Martin says:

    I have the same experience over the last 10 years of dealing with them in the course of my business. It seems to be the norm all too often.

    One day they will learn to actually READ the answer being sent to them and think, before they then send a dumb @@@@ reply. To think they put a man on the moon…. wonder if he is still there awaiting a cab to take him home?

  8. Mick says:

    Well, top marks for patience, but, some effort there. I’m not surprised that it will sometimes happen, one of my ds-in-l is from Kansas, I’ve often found that in the US, they use language in a different way, as well as spelling differently.

  9. David Snyder says:

    You did indeed demonstrate admirable patience, but presumably you took deep breathes between emails. You also demonstrated more common sense than I would have. I would not have budged off of the initial discounted offer of $80 and might have lost the sale for the sake of $5. Who knows, maybe these guys will come back for a blockbuster purchase.

    P.S. in response to Mick, I can assure you this was not a language issue – assuming they speak American.

  10. Jayne says:

    Can you ask Yvonne a price for sweeping two chimneys!!!!!!!

  11. Hi Gwyn
    I’d like to purchase the following image FOT510763 Chimney Sweep, but can you arrange him sitting on the roof nxt to chimney pot thanks……err no leave it i’ll pop down the shop !

  12. Joe Cashin says:

    I have seen some pictures like this, it looks like a copy of an old Irish Greeting card.
    I wonder is the copyright still on this image?
    Joe Cashin

  13. Gwyn Headley says:

    Joe, it is possible that the (anonymous) artist lived until 1940, but given the style of the illustration and typography it’s unlikely. In the UK copyright in its longest and strictest sense lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator, hence photographers, artists and writers who died before 1940 are now out of copyright — unless someone has taken steps to assert further rights or to prolong copyright, an expensive and time-consuming business.
    We don’t believe this image is still in copyright. The member who uploaded it has an immense and wonderful collection of out-of-copyright Victorian ephemera; have a look at this:

  14. Laura C says:

    On behalf of a possibly endangered species—i.e., intelligent Americans with brains intact, which would exclude Jim and Arnie—they sound like they went to the George W. Bush school of comprehension! Too often here (visiting the UK) on tele I hear “all Americans do xxx” sort of comments. Please don’t presume that we are all this thick, or that Americans are one big cohesive, indistinguishable lot. Was it Kierkegaard, Dick Van Patten, or Mike Myers who said, When you label me, you negate me!

    Well done though on sticking it out for the sale. Sounds like a couple who were buying for their own homespun cards.

  15. Jim says:

    So, did you send the envelopes?

  16. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Else Kramer and stewart smith, Nobby. Nobby said: Priceless! (sorry about the pun) – RT @stewyphoto: Don't know if non fotolibra members can see this or not.. […]

  17. Rob Weaver says:


    Have you got any more chimney sweep shots I need them for a Christmas Card, but not prepared to pay such a large amount as mentioned .. preferably for free.. after all you photographers are not really interested in sales .. they do it for FUN! .. SO MAYBE THEY SHOULD PAY US FOR PUBLISHING THEIR PHOTO`S and for their time and travel costs.. It was save on taxes and particularly VAT.. and they should meet our requirements to the ex cat specs.. so that we will not have to use professional photographers.. we could follow Dover Town Council example.. Merry Christmas !

  18. LOL, Yvonne!

    Further to your request to buy London Bridge, we regret to inform you that, unfortunately this has now been sold. However, as a substitute we can offer you some photos of said Bridge instead – what’s more they don’t take up as much room. We can do a discount for bulk, if you wish. Please advise.

    Some exciting breaking news….We are awaiting a consignment of Green, which was recently transmuted from Gold by our Senior Alchemist Edmund Blackadder. We are able to sell some together with a photograph of the secret process.

  19. Toni says:

    Well done for being so patient, and securing another sale.

    I have sussed the problem. The sweep has shamrocks. The sweep is Irish. This was not a real sale after all, but another Irish joke!

  20. Martin says:

    Here is an example of a conversation between someone who quite clearly did not understand how things work:

    ADVERTISER: “Hello. You printed our advert in your magazine. Well, I just noticed that we made a mistake in it. Can you change the advert, please?”
    ME: “We can change it for the next issue, but the current issue has gone to print.”
    ADVERTISER: “Yes! But I want you to change the advert we have in the current issue!”
    ME: (as gently and as kindly as I could) “How would you propose we change an advert in a magazine that has already gone to print?”
    ADVERTISER: “Well, you could… but… I… Oh. Goodbye.”

  21. David Carton says:


    Nothing says Christmas like some child slave labour!


  22. melony says:

    Congrats for the patience you practiced. What is the old saying. The customer is always right?

  23. Lorenzo says:

    At the time,few people buy many images,I think they have no money…

  24. Mike Reed says:

    I had a “funny” experience some years ago with an English Picture Editor, who rang up to request a Rugby photograph, simple enough, then he wanted the Rugby posts in the picture, OK, next they wanted the ball in flight, possible?? then the ball was to be between the posts. This was way before Photoshop was available. It is strange how an apparently simple request can turn into an impossible mission. Mike Reed

  25. John Wearing says:

    I love the bit about Yvonne getting a little terse, I wonder what level of terse she got to by the end of the transaction

  26. Well after all of that, I think at the very least you deserve a card. At least you got back to your customer.

    I have been dealing with a company who dont answer the phone, dont return messages, or emails, and leave you waiting over a week now after telling me my canvas for a customer would be there the next day!!!! Great customer service or what.

  27. Erik Strodl says:

    I wonder how many e-mails it will take to get the card printed!!

  28. Nicolas says:

    I wish that the USA Federal Government worked this efficiently!

    Please email this to President Obama!

    Merry Christmas! to all…………….. and to all a good night!

    from ,

    Saint Nicolas

  29. Re the image. Sweeps are a subject I have often seen on Hungarian New Year cards, and I suspect it is an image more widely known in Europe than UK. Maybe there are European family outlets in the States.

  30. Dean says:

    Clever Jim and Arnie, they succeeded in exactly what they set out to achieve. Well done you for being easily beaten down with mildly stealthy intentions. The world works in funny ways! Merry Christmas all

  31. John Jackson says:

    While you have been patient and made a sale I doubt if that customer will ever come backagain. You have made the cardinal sin of ridiculing a customer. About three years ago I was involved in a similar transaction. I made the sale to an American company after a lot of trouble. However because I took the trouble to give a first class service, always required dealing with USA, I have since had many orders and good follow up business from this Company and others that they have recommended. I doubt whether you will enjoy the same. Lesson. Keep your thoughts within house. John Jackson

  32. Kim says:

    Just goes to prove, as MIT and other venerable instutions have found after lengthy investigation:
    e-mail is the most inefficient form of communication.

  33. Gwyn Headley says:

    Yes Dean, they wanted to do a deal, and we did it rather than risk losing the sale. We’re comfortable with that. They were not familiar with the way picture libraries work, and we helped them as well as we could.
    And, John Jackson, I agree — I doubt they’ll come back again.
    We did NOT ridicule a customer; we wouldn’t dream of doing that. For a start Jim & Arnie are not their real names (surprise surprise) and secondly we simply reported the exchange and left the reader to draw his own conclusions.
    We give a first class service, and I think publishing this correspondence illustrates that well. However we make lots of credit card sales to individual buyers who need one image for one purpose, who are not regular users of picture libraries and from whom we are unlikely to hear again.
    Jim and Arnie are in that category.
    How do I know?
    Because their business is as chimney sweeps.

  34. Bob Crook says:

    Calm down Gwyn, it was only a Christmas advert. Well done!

  35. Marianne says:

    The American-bashing doesn’t sit well with your American photographers either. (Neither does the Asian-bashing).
    I’ve had similar exchanges with English-speaking clients outside the US, and clients within as well. I wouldn’t assume all people from that country are idiots because they didn’t understand how something worked. Reducing all those who reside in a country to a stereotype and making your customers look bad negates the kudos I’d send along for your patience and persistence. And as far as your comment that you didn’t make fun of your customers, well if that wasn’t your intention, what was?
    I’ve had nothing but polite exchanges with all of you at Fotolibra – it’s a shame that you’ve now made me question your professionalism with this blog. Makes me think twice about sending along an email if I have a question.
    I agree with John. Next time, keep your thoughts in house.

  36. Gwyn Headley says:

    What American bashing? What Asian bashing? Have I missed something? This one-off customer could have been from any country. Obviously we changed the names of the buyers; we could just as easily have placed them in Australia, Scotland or Canada.

    I simply reported the lengthy exchange we went through in order to close a $75 sale on behalf of a fotoLibra member.

    It was a protracted and time-consuming sale, but we thought it had an amusing aspect which members would enjoy reading. I never dreamed it could offend members’ sensibilities — that was not the intention.

    Why do I think it’s a one-off customer? Because “Jim” and “Arnie” run a chimney sweeping service in “Traverse City, Michigan” — again, not their actual location but a city of similar population. They are not likely to be regular purchasers of rights managed images. But if they come back to us for next year’s Christmas card, we’ll welcome them with open arms.

    And they’ll know how the system works.