The customer doesn’t want a quarter-inch drill. He wants a quarter-inch hole.

The drill itself is merely his instrument of delivery, just as the cameras of fotoLibra photographers are theirs.

That’s the sort of insight that delights management consultants, and it does have a certain seductive logic. If you concentrate on what the customer actually wants, instead of dressing up your product to fulfill your own desires and aspirations, then the road to fortune and fame will be open to you.

That was the disruptive thinking that lay behind the concept of fotoLibra. We are neither photographers nor critics. Who were we to judge one photograph over another? It would be purely our personal taste. It would have no reference to what the market wanted.

Our solution? Let the market itself decide. In fact, we would go a step further — the market would detail what it wanted to buy, and we would tell our photographers through regular Picture Calls. How simple is that?

Then fotoLibra found itself in that awkward position between overbearing boss and nagging wife. All our photographers wanted to do was buy spiffy new lenses, and there we were hectoring them about the photographs they should be taking, not the ones they wanted to take.

Happily I hope we’ve matured a bit. We’re more relaxed about the choices our photographers make. And going back to our drill imagery, our picture buyers don’t care if the photograph has been taken with a Coastal Optics 60 mm f/4 UV-Vis-IR APO Macro or a pinhole camera, as long as it matches their imagination.

So in our regular Picture Calls we describe the “quarter-inch and other-sized cavities” our customers are looking for to our army of photographers, and with the tools at their disposal they go out and Drill Dem Holes.

And it works very well.

And because the burden of fortune and fame is not yet an intolerable weight on the shoulders of fotoLibra, we’d welcome a little more of both.


Add your comment


49 Responses to “Giving The Customer What He Wants”

  1. Natalia Mazo says:

    Sorry. I tried for some time to like what fotoLibra tries to seduce me with, but I failed…

  2. Ian Kydd'Miller says:

    Have no problem with providing image that the market requires via image calls but I see very few image calls for pictures of South East Asia.
    Maybe a broadening of the market base is something that is required.

    Totally agree that the equipment is of little importance if the pictures the photographer takes are not marketable. JMO

    I have not sold one image through fotoLibra as it does not seem to have a market for my images, images which sell well elsewhere.

  3. Andy Jay says:

    Very good points you make there are does no harm reminding the providers( us the photographers )!
    Just a small point, as a Englishman living in the ROI, do you have many requests for material based on an Irish theme nowadays…If you do I’m your man.. !! -:)
    Andy , Cashel, Co Tipperary , Ireland .. Ex Londoner……

  4. Ian Hooker says:

    I’ve not yet sold any, but have come close – so I’ll keep trying.
    My biggest problem is resisting the temptation to travel 200 miles to Staithes, stay overnight and then travel 200 miles back when there’s a photo call for Staithes!!!

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Don’t do it, Ian! You will seldom cover your costs on such a trip. But there are many other opportunities. A week or so ago we asked for a photograph of a man running to catch a bus. We KNEW we could provide it — but we didn’t; no one uploaded such an easy shot. And it would have paid very well indeed, alas, but we were not allowed by the client to mention the fee.

      • Cass says:

        Would have been well worth the trip to Staithes, it’s a great little seaside town, doesn’t matter about the Photo Call ! … Mind you I would have beaten you to the images as it is only down the coast from me !!!

  5. Brian Murray says:

    One can only hope that in this field, the customer actually (a) really knows what he wants and (b) has realistic expectations of what is possible.

    If so, this would be the first and only field where this applies.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Brian, I’d reckon that 95% of our buyers — certainly 100% of the instigators of Jacqui’s Picture Calls — are full time professional picture researchers and editors. They know exactly what they want and they specify it precisely. The only unrealistic part of their expectations (though I wouldn’t dreaming of breathing a word) is the strange and near universal desire to see the images last week or preferably last month. They don’t give us enough time!

  6. Derek Metson says:

    When I started freelancing over 50 years ago, it was said (but not true) that any in focus and properly exposed shot would sell eventually. That did mean reasonable equipment and some understanding of how to use it. Working for local press at weekends meant people in the pic and plenty of names.

    When we had a portrait studio, we ugraded from 35mm to 6 x 6 then 6 x 4.5 and bought the best we could afford. 60″ x 40″ prints get a bit grainy from 35mm negs. I had to know enough to expose properly because nothing was auto, but more important was the picture.

    Technically perfect but dull was not an option for us. We won a stack of Kodak Portrait Awards which were aimed exactly at pics that would please customers.

    Make the pictures the best people have ever seen of themselves and their families – including the pets. Get down to kids and dogs level, bark at the dogs if necessary, but get the shot. If its a bit off centre, put it right in the enlarger. If its a bit out of focus with movement, see what the customer says – most likely its the one they want.

    Very often, when we thought a reshoot would be demanded on a sitting, the customers were raving with delight. Those who ‘always take a good picture’ and we thought we’d got some good stuff, would very often just grunt non-commitedly. Can’t please them all!

    Now with fotoLibra, try to follow what’s wanted and get it in. If we’ve already got some old shots, scan them in and see. If its close or can be done, give it a go. Auto everything on digital cameras means only composition is needed to make a shot stand out from the rest. I prefer shooting people and animals, so my landscapes are nothing spectacular – pity!

    Kicking myself about the running for a bus. We could have done that but (a) thought everyone else would do it (b) we’ve given up on using our bus passes because the service round here is useless – though that would have meant no danger of the driver seeing me and stopping (c) the deadline – if I remember – was a bit tight. Better luck next time -but then everyone else will think the same!

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      No doubt your slightly grainy 60 x 40s were shot on ASA 10 stock?

      • Derek Metson says:

        Nice one Gwyn.

        24″ x 20″ was grainy on 35mm but we did sell the odd one.

        With the studio and need for display pics of a good size, it had to be 120 film and heavier cameras. That’s why I get neck and back pain now when I sit too long at the computer.

        35mm size digital cameras suit me nicely!

  7. Julia Rich says:

    Many, many, moons ago GCE students were told that exam technique revolved around “Answer the question asked, not what you think it said” – the thinking process applies to stock photography too. Upload what is being asked for, you are far more likely to make a sale. Bung on a pretty picture because you’re hopeful someone’ll like it, it won’t. If I don’t sell, it means I don’t have what the customer is asking for, or someone else has a better version for the customer’s desires. Not rocket science!

    • Mark Goodwin says:

      Of course you’re absolutely correct Julia. The easiest way to make sales, and to satisfy the customer so they return again and again, is basic Sales & Marketing training.
      First, Ask the customer what they want (precisely).
      Second, Give the customer what they asked for (precisely)!
      Job done!

      What is difficult with fotoLibra is that ‘normally’ we don’t get the opportunity to ask the customer what they want. So, most of the time one has to try and second guess the requirement. Except of course when dear Jacqui sends out the call, which is then very specific as to what the customer wants. But then the problem is,
      a) Do I have a pic like this in my archive that will suit or?
      b) is there a possibility that I can get to the location to get the shot – profitably? And of course you always have,
      c) If I do invest in getting the shot and get it to fotoLibra in time, will it be chosen or will it go to another tog?

      Please don’t think I am being negative here as I am not. I am very pleased that with the relatively small number of pics I have in my fotoLibra portfolio, I have made a number of sales. But what I am saying is this, does any members have any suggestions as to where we should be concentrating our efforts? Should we specialise in say Wildlife or a specific genre that we are au fait with? Or should we shoot everything that moves or doesn’t move?

      It’s a dilema, but if we can come up with a formulae that works, maybe there will be a little Fame & Fortune for all!

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      95% of our photographers deliver the photographs our customers ask for in the time they want and in the format they want.
      But it’s the 5% that don’t, won’t or can’t who make the most noise and take up 95% of our time.
      I’m not complaining, it’s the way of the world and it obtains in every walk of life. Just an observation. We were told that this was the way it would be and we were told right.

  8. Mike Mumford says:

    Who are your customers,” the young”, NO they are still finding their way thought the multimedia maze and sending smartphone messages. The mature person is trying to do their best for themselves and bring up a family. This life struggle starts a cycle of fact finding, a re-educating oneself for a wholesale betterment.
    We assume the pursuit of knowledge for ones work or hobby should be a fulfilling one. The mind should be in a positive state of keenness. This is to combat weakness in society, while the media dishes up to the masses. Play hard and work hard has its rewards, fitness in mind and body, and you will succeed with enough personal effort, to do almost anything.
    To use your drill/hole example, a square peg in a round hole makes the peg a tight fit.
    Life is a tight fit, “waste not, is to want not”. We see a wasteland all around us in our high streets they are dying because our Supermarkets are taking over everything, including replacing established brands with their cheaper own-brand. I can truthfully say Fortune and Fame are a burden, give me the simple honest healthy happy life. You to, will live longer than your parents and appreciate “eureka moments” too. This is where words replace the images of the mind, if you know what I mean?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      At the fotoFringe Picture Buyers’ Fair in April (I was going to say ‘last month’ but I’d be wrong) about 50% of the picture buyers were under 30. I’m the wrong side of 60. But they still talk to me!

  9. It would be interesting to know if any of the picture calls were exclusive to Fotolibra photographers. In other words, are our submitted images competing only with fellow members, or not? Also does the customer ever give any feedback regarding quality etc ?

    I have sold some images, mainly to educational publishers, and have been pleasantly surprised at some of the fees. However I’m constantly in a dilemma as to much effort to put into acquiring some images, especially given the apparently low success rate.

    • David Williams says:

      Certainly some of the picture calls are NOT exclusive to Fotolibra members – as there was one for European cities late last year for National Geographic Traveller. I subscribe to the magazine and although there are many photos of the various cities – not one is credited to Fotolibra! Also there seems no system of feedback unless you sell – just a lightbox icon – still there many months later, which is pointless.

      You are right – it would be be interesting to find out if any of the picture calls are exclusive to Fotolibra contributors and if so what %.

      Good to hear that at least somebody is selling. From the recent sales section it seems that largely the same people sell again and again.

      What does not add up is that I sell regularly on another site – images been used in books, magazines etc and in a number of different countries.

      I am training to be a professional photographer – so in future will have many thousands of images to contribute to my chosen site/s. Unless something changes dramatically for the better it looks less and less likely it will be Fotolibra.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I’d be very surprised if picture researchers only researched photographs through fotoLibra, as much as I wish they would.

      • David Williams says:

        I am sure you are right – they almost certainly don’t whilst researching in general for images.

        BUT – when a picture call is issued is that just to Fotolibra or to many other image libraries as well?

        I think you will find many on Fotolibra think it is just Fotolibra being asked when there is a picture call. Presumably you know the answer to that.

  10. John Cleare says:

    Well said, Gwyn !
    The camera is but a tool, it’s the shovel what digs the hole.

    Years ago, in the good old days of LIFE mag
    ( it’ll have been in the late ’40s I think ), the editor called his NY stringers into the office one morning and briefed them thus…
    ” You have 24 hours to shoot New York and here’s a $10 bill. With the ten bucks you must buy a camera and a roll/s of film, the rest is you expenses. We’ll do the processing. Now go to it ! ”
    The results made a classic issue of LIFE – using basic snap cameras from the corner drug store and limited quantities of cheapo film stock, the photographers worked within the narrow capabilities of their equipment, used their creative talents and their knowledge of the freebee locations in the city and produced exciting and telling images. As one might expect from experienced professionals.

    It’s the man ( or woman ) BEHIND the camera that makes the pictures. As far as cameras go, it’s horses for courses – big shovels for deep holes.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I am in awe of people who are blessed with natural talent. Some people know they will be able to play a musical instrument before they even pick one up. A friend of mine in primary school could draw before we had our first art lesson. Shane Williams was born playing rugby. Of course we can all learn more and get better, but some have that seed preplanted. I can take a photograph, and I even make money selling them, but I would never claim to be a photographer. Or a musician. Or a rugby player. Some have it from the start, others have to make the most of what little talent we are granted.

  11. King Lee says:

    Why so little picture calls for pics from Asia?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I don’t really know. Obviously we’re UK-based, but apart from travel books, we simply don’t see that many books in general bookshops about Asia.
      We have had Picture Calls for China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos in the past. But I agree — we’d like to see more.

  12. David Williams says:

    I have no problem submitting to picture calls but as others have pointed out its hard to know how much effort to put in – unless the image already exists in your portfolio. When I have submitted I am hardly ever chosen and am in very few light-boxes either.

    Like Ian I have not sold one single image through Fotolibra – it does not seem to be the right marketplace for my images. That is despite building up a very eclectic collection, diligently keyworded and following Fotolibra ‘guidelines’ e.g. more portrait than landscape and better with some grass/sea/sky etc for copy. Maybe most contributors get a sale with a portfolio of around 250 images – I have over 1250!

    Don’t get me wrong I am a huge fan of Fotolibra BUT and it is now becoming a big BUT – I do sell regularly with the other image library I contribute to, so that enthusiasm is now waning considerably.

    Don’t forget that we (the contributors) are paying to have our photos on Fotolibra. I will soon be £72 out of pocket. Plus all the above has taken many hundreds of hours work!

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I cannot explain why some photographers sell and others don’t. I could theorise about luck, serendipity, whatever. We don’t look at photographer’s names when we’re creating a lightbox to send to a client. And to avoid our much trumpeted ‘image agnosticism’ being compromised, we also include a link so the client can view every single image submitted to a Picture Call. And yet … at the end of each month many of the same names crop up on our bank transfer orders. Today we have sold images to Russia, USA, and the UK. And it’s not even lunchtime yet.

  13. Ken Cox says:

    I accept we should be diligent in trying to match as accurately as possible our submissions to meet the photocall. It is sometimes tempting to add an image as an alternative that you think might catch the attention of the client, but I generally resist doing this on fotolibra.
    I think for me the main problem in deciding what will match the client’s criteria, given that you have repeat clients, is knowing what they have selected for previous photo calls. Unfortunately your “previous sales” selection does not identify this and whilst I try to identify images you include against a previous photocall, I rarely succeed. I have raised with Jacqui previously the problem that the photos were rarely changing in the “previous sales” section and she did get your IT team to do something about it, however, lately it seems to me that several are always there at each viewing. One example is your own image called “The Demolition of Rachel Whiteread’s House” plus miscellaneous tiger ones. It would be good if further consideration could be given to identifying sales shown here again photocalls so we could have some reference point on what your clients are buying – and importantly cross check how these relate to the original criteria.

    • David Williams says:

      Agree with you totally. Would be great progress if images chosen by clients in previous photo calls could be showcased somewhere.

      The photos in the ‘recent sales’ section generally give the impression that there aren’t many recent sales as they are often the same for months on end. The same goes for those on the homepage. Certainly for the last year or so they have been the same set of images showcased.

      Ringing the changes in all these areas would be welcome progress.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Of course you are right, but what we have to take into account is that fotoLibra has two masters — you and the picture buyers. And the needs and wishes of photographers and picture buyers do not always coincide.

      We lost a major client a couple of years ago because we sent out a Picture Call using the same terminology he had used to place the request with us.

      The author got to hear about it and had a triple conniption (in Jacqui’s terms) because he thought someone would connect the subjects requested, write a book and get it published before his was released. And the publisher sided with the author — which is unprecedented in my personal experience. As a result, we got sacked. It wasn’t fair, but that’s business.

      Some clients specifically demand that the images they buy are not featured in Recent Sales. I do not know why.

      Rachel Whiteread’s House? The reason it’s always on the Recent Sales list is because it’s always selling. Three times this year so far. It was an event which can’t happen again, and mine seems to be the only photograph. That’s pure luck. I was standing next to Rachel Whiteread herself as the house was torn down, and I didn’t have the bottle to photograph her or even speak to her. That is why I am not a photographer.

      • David Williams says:

        That seems very strange – as the ‘recent sales’ often don’t even list the client specifically by name.

        The story of the lost client , very unfair and unfortunate, does not have to stop successful picture call images being show cased somewhere.

        • Ken Cox says:

          In response to David’s and Gwyn’s comments I would add that it is important for fotolibra members to understand what the client is selecting, more importantly when as in my case, no images have been purchased to date on fotolibra. The only clue I have at the moment is the lightbox icon, although I am not sure if photolibra select a batch for the client’s review from submissions or the client select themselves. As David has stated earlier, the icon seems to remain there for a long time, probably after the purchases have been made.
          What are the average fotolibra sales per year?

          • David Williams says:

            Ken – excellent point what are the average Fotolibra sales per year. Presumably thats not a secret from contributors?

            Hopefully the icon situation will be resolved in the next version.

  14. Laura C says:

    I’ve been fortunate to sell several photos on fotolibra, though sometimes am frustrated with the time and effort I must invest trying in my Virgo perfection-quest to Keep the Customer Satisfied for seemingly naught.

    Speaking of sales, I suspect all the other folks who had photos chosen for the English Follies are waiting for the first digital sales update which was indicated for May. Gwyn, is that your next blog?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      My next blog? Hadn’t thought of it, but when we divvy up the allocations then yes, I will blog about it. This is the first time we have tried this and it has proved every bit as hard to create and develop as we expected — but once it’s done it becomes a template and the next time we simply repeat the process we are building at the moment.
      The time this is taking is down to two things: 1) me and 2) the imminent arrival of fotoLibra v.5.0 on which we are all working to make perfect from the start.
      Alas, do not hold your breath for the promise of untold riches from the sales of illustrated ebooks. The market has not yet caught up with us. But as they won’t go out of print there will be a steady accretion of royalties for participating photographers. Blimey, I’ve nearly written the blog already.

      • Gwyn Headley says:

        And if you’re frustrated with the time taken to realise a sale, may I point you to this blog:

        • David Williams says:

          I have previously read that blog and it makes some fair points – although 18 months is very very long and must be a pretty unusually long waiting period. Of course Fotolibra is a library and it involves leaving them for a considerable period.

          Like a number of other contributors my images do not seem to sell on Fotolibra. If and when they do – I have no problem waiting to hear about a sale.

          Frustrated – yes to a degree as I, I am sure like others, have put the most staggering amount of work in to building a portfolio along the Fotolibra guidelines. I am training to be a professional photographer – so a very steep learning curve – and of course always learning and listening.

          I just hope for at least 1 breakthrough sale – to give me the motivation to continue here.

          For the record I do sell consistently on the other site I use.

          • Ken Cox says:

            Gwyn, are you able to advise members the average annual sales or is this something you do not wish to share?
            Will v5 of the website resolve the lightbox issue remaining long after photocalls have been satisfied?

          • Gwyn Headley says:

            I totally agree. 18 months is an absurdly long time to wait. What I was asking was “Here’s the process, and if anyone has ideas on how the workflow can be improved, we’d like to hear them.”

            I put up the post over three years ago, and so far I’ve had a total of 0 suggestions.

            I can’t seem to reply to Ken’s questions below, so I’ll have to answer them here: VisConPro is a private limited company and does not reveal financial information and yes, the lightbox bulb icon will be switched off 6 months after it is triggered.

        • Laura C says:

          Thanks Gwyn, I had read that previous blog. Was referring here more to my investiture of time and effort to go out and actually take the specific photo which may even immediately be selected for a lightbox, it’s happened a few times. And only once has the client come back and removed the lightbox designation even though a sale was not made.

          But hey! I’m not a “professional” either, so statistically I fancy I’ve been darned fortunate to sell or have chosen the pics that have been so far.

          • David Williams says:

            Laura – I am pleased for you that you have some sales – especially if you have sometimes immediately been selected for a lightbox – very different from my own experience.

            You are clearly able to read well what is required by the client. I never send to a picture call unless I have precisely what is asked for – and it staggers me the images contributors do send – often bearing no resemblance to what is asked for.

            Your point about the client being able to remove the lightbox designation is a good one. I have lightbox icons on images from many many months ago that I know for a fact have not been chosen by the client.

            Hopefully much progress in this area in Version 5.

  15. Laura C says:

    Thank you David.

    It is often mind-boggling the images we see in response to a call—clearly there are some contributors whose modus operandi is more suited to Twitter [Look at me! Listen to me–I have nothing relevant to say but here I am hoping the world is listening].

    Thank God the clients don’t see everything that’s submitted or collectively we’d have a pathetic reputation.

    I’ve even had a couple of images chosen for not one but two lightboxes, which really makes you start to drool in anticipatory hope. Alas in neither case were the images chosen.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I don’t know if other picture libraries have indicators to show if customers have selected images in a lightbox. Is it a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? I know that in fotoLibra version 5.0 which I am trying to get finished right now, the lightbox bulb will be switched off after 6 months. Would you prefer it not to be there at all?

      • Ken Cox says:

        Reverting back to your original title “Give the customer what he wants” then the lightbox icon -assuming the customer (and not fotolibra) have made an initial selection, allows members to know whether or not that have at least met the initial criteria and there image(s) are under further consideration.
        I would have thought that the icon should be turned off once a sale has been made against the photocall or assuming the customer is not going to proceed with a purchase, then at that point.
        Re my earlier comment are you able to share with members the average annual sales of our images?

        • Gwyn Headley says:

          I replied at 09:47 if you look through the comments.

          This is from the FAQ page in the forthcoming fotoLibra Version 5.0:

          Images In Lightboxes

          When you see a little lightbulb in the row of icons underneath the thumbnail of one of your images, it means that a registered buyer has put that image into a lightbox.

          Fantastic, you may think, and so it is, but that doesn’t always mean a sale has been made. Picture researchers create hundreds of lightboxes which they pass around to clients. They will never go back and delete the lightboxes they’ve created, so that little bulb just stays there.

          It doesn’t prevent the image being added to a new and different lightbox. But there is no additional notification.

          In this latest version of fotolibra the lightbulb icon will be deleted automatically after it’s been glowing for 6 months, as the chance of a sale being made through that particular lightbox after that time is remote.

          • Ken Cox says:

            Sorry I appear to have this point.

            I still think that after a sale has been made, the lightbox icon against all other members images could be cancelled i.e. why wait until a 6 month period has elapsed to trigger this?

            I assume given you have not responded to the question of average annual sales (requested 7/6 13.21, 8/6 23.39 and 11/6 13.34) you are choosing not to share this with members?

          • Gwyn Headley says:

            Ken — maybe you’re not seeing these responses. I replied to you at 09:47 on 2012/06/11. Look in the comments above. You will find it.

            We’re turning off the lightbulb icon automatically after 6 months following the requests of you and other members. If you look at my Great Expectations blog three years ago — — the process can take 18 months, so 6 months is as short as I’m willing to make it.

            Our choice is between switching the bulb off automatically, or paying someone to find the time to trawl through sales records, marrying up the images and the lightboxes, signing in by impersonating the buyer who created the lightbox, finding the lightbox and deselecting the image. We chose the former option in the interests of efficiency and economy.