On Monday we received a cancellation notice from a member. He had joined fotoLibra in February, uploaded five images of sunsets, and quit because he hadn’t sold any in nearly three months. It didn’t cost him anything, but he quit all the same.
Do we raise people’s expectations too high? We don’t promise the earth. fotoLibra was never a Get Rich Quick scheme. It was always a Get Slightly Better Off Over A Long Period Of Time operation, although Von wouldn’t let me use that as a slogan for the company. Nor would she … oh, I’ll leave that till later.
What’s a reasonable expectation? The most famous example is a guy who heard about fotoLibra on a Wednesday, uploaded a single picture on Thursday, we sold it to an ad agency the following Tuesday and 30 days later he received a cheque for £1,100 / €1,228 / $1,619. OK, that’s happened once. But it can happen. On the other hand it is possible to be a fotoLibra member for years and never sell an image. But for the great majority of members, once the upload number passes 250, fotoLibra provides a small but steady income.
The big bugbear, which we have yet to figure out a way around, is the etiolated delay between uploading a picture to a Picture Call and getting paid. Here’s the process, and if anyone has ideas on how the workflow can be improved, we’d like to hear them.
1. Picture researchers send us a list of images they want and when they want them.
2. Jacqui Norman sends out a Picture Call to our members, along with a deadline on the same day the researcher wants to see lightboxes.
3. We prepare anything up to 10 lightboxes per Picture Call, working at high speed to get the images on to the researcher’s desktop the day she wants to see them.
4. She makes a selection and shows them to her client (an editor, an advertiser, whoever). This could take anything up to 3 months, and it’s out of our hands.
5. The client makes a decision. This may take another three months. It is not final, but the researcher comes back to fotoLibra and downloads the hi-res images. We still do not know if the images are going to be used.
6. The book — let’s say it’s a book — is written, edited, designed, made ready for the printers. This takes at least 6 months.
7. The book goes to press, and we are sent a list of the photographs used and which we can invoice for.
8. 10 minutes later the invoice is sent out from our offices.
9. With a few very honorable exceptions (step forward, John Wiley & Sons, and receive the fotoLibra Plaudit) we get payment between 90 and 120 days after our invoice.
10. Once the money has been received, only THEN can we assure our members that a sale has been made. We pay everyone within 30 days of net sales receipts.
A simple addition will show that this process can take anything up to 18 months, with our member not knowing a thing about failing or being successful until 30 days before he receives his money.
It’s not good. But we can’t see a way round it. We can’t say a picture has been sold before we receive the money, because it hasn’t. We can and sometimes do say it’s been optioned, if it’s to a rock solid client like John Wiley & Sons.
Customers who buy off the site with a credit card are a different matter. That’s always a nice surprise to the member, when a cheque arrives with no warning. That can be 30 days after the picture’s uploaded.
All this is simply to warn new members that this is a long, drawn-out journey. So don’t join and take your images down a few weeks later. Let them mature. After all, we are a picture library, and items shouldn’t disappear from a library.