Posts Tagged ‘selling pictures’

We’re busy with our final preparations for fotoFringe London 2012, the picture buyers’ fair which is being held tomorrow in King’s Place, a newish office block and conference centre where The Guardian have their offices, near King’s Cross.

And it’s an article in The Guardian that I want to write about. A friend in Euskadi alerted me to this one (thank you Peta) because it’s one of my favourite topics — the freedom of photographers to use their cameras.

Stonehenge, Trafalgar Square, National Trust properties, a whole bunch of places in the USA — the list of places where photography is banned or restricted lengthens daily. Now, unsurprisingly, we can add the Olympic park in East London to the list.

I’ll never get to see this place because all my ticket applications have proved unsuccessful. However I am permitted to contribute substantially towards it through a hike in my London rates over the next ten years. So I’d like to see some pictures of it.

The Olympic venues are technically private property (purchased using our money, but when did that ever restrain our dear leaders?) so control can be asserted over what can and can’t be photographed within the precincts. But not on the public spaces surrounding the venue, of course.

The Guardian thought this could be interesting, so they sent a couple of photographers and a video to test the temperature of the waters. They struck lucky straight away when they ran into an incompetently and incompletely briefed security guard whose debating skills and command of English were no match for the fiercely well prepared Guardian hacks. He simply attempted to stop them filming in a public place. They refused. Reinforcements arrived.

And here — well, you know I’m on the side of the photographers, but this was outright provocation and harassment. The Guardian hacks were milling around, pushing for a reaction. But they came up against an intelligent, articulate and reasonable security supervisor who conceded they had a right to photograph on public land but as this was a sensitive area — the Olympic Park’s security centre — it would be most awfully kind of them if they could possibly desist.

The Guardianistas hectored and interrupted. They tried to photograph the armband name badge of an old fart security guard who looked worryingly like me, and he tore it off to prevent them. Bad move. The hacks loved it.

I want photographers to be able to photograph what they want when they want where they want, within reason and without causing offence, upset or danger. Yes, there are security concerns. Yes, there are privacy issues. I’m less impressed by the “we own it, therefore we should profit from it” brigade. I personally find papparazzis distasteful, and I believe they were the major contributing factor in the death of Princess Diana.

Our cause isn’t helped by photographers manufacturing an incident where none existed. But every movement needs an obnoxious vanguard.

Doesn’t it? What do you think?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/apr/23/olympic-park-security-guards-journalists-photos

Whatever one may think about the UK Government, it cannot be faulted for its inclusive approach to pre-legislation consultation. fotoLibra, along with other parties interested or affected by changes in copyright legislation, has been offered the chance to comment on a working document of proposals to change the UK’s copyright system.

In fotoLibra’s case this directly affects our livelihood, and, by extension, not just the income but also the rights of our member photographers. We have to make our views known, whether or not we feel it will have any effect.

First, some practical considerations. The consultation document is over 50,000 words long, about the length of a novel, though not as pacily written. Then comes the consultation response form. This has 113 questions, each of which demands a full written response — no multiple choice options here.

So we can’t fault the process. We are being given every opportunity to have our voice heard, and in depth. My only quibble is my own indolence and my lifelong fear of exams. This looks like an exam paper to me. But I’ll have to buckle down to it.

If any fotoLibra members want points to be raised within the framework of the consultation document, we will be happy to include them in our response. It would be invidious of me to summarise the consultation here, so I’ll simply give you this link to it. I will be happy to include your opinions in our formal response, which we will have completed by March 14th.

Please send your responses to me by March 7th. They must contain the relevant question number from the Consultation response form. Here is a sample question from the form:

63. What do you consider the process and threshold for non-compliance should be? For example, should Government test compliance on a regular basis (say by following Ombudsman’s reports) or on an ad-hoc basis? What evidence would be appropriate to demonstrate non-compliance? Please give reasons for your response.

Any response without its relevant question number and any responses received after March 7th will not be included in our submission, and that includes comments on this blog. UK subjects only, please.

We get more questions about copyright from fotoLibra members than almost anything else, and we are no position to answer them definitively. Copyright law is complex and difficult to interpret without expensive legal assistance. Although lawyers and other people (such as us) may offer views on the meaning of the law, only the courts can set precedents through their judgements; and as we all know, the law means great expense. However well-meaning and fair-minded the new law intends to be, justice will go to those with the deepest pockets.

There’s no cloud without a silver lining. The pathetically low fees now being paid by picture buyers mean that few people are making enough money from their image sales to attract the attention of predatory lawyers. So for the time being this copyright law, such as it is or will be, probably may not be troubling us unduly.

When we become rich and successful, that’s when we can expect Mr Lionel Hutz to come calling.

The New Year is traditionally the time to herald new things, starting with the Epiphany of the Christ Child on January 6th and the chance to play and replay my Desert Island carol, Peter Cornelius’s “Three Kings from Persian lands afar”.

So a happy New Year to you all. At my age things no longer occur, they tend to recur, and it’s rare to encounter something that appears to be completely new. Continuing the religious references, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes thunders “Is there any thing whereof it can be said, See, this is new?”

What I’m writing about today is a camera. That’s not new. But a light field camera is new to me, that’s for sure.

A light field camera? A field camera is one of those bulky great things with bellows, a permanent tripod, and a hood so the photographer can view the upside-down image on the 10×8 plate in darkness. Great for architectural photography, less useful for sports.

A light field camera is nothing like that. ‘Light field’ is the word phrase, and it refers to the way the device captures light data. The ‘light field’ is defined as the light travelling in all directions through all points in space. In conventional cameras — digital or film — the image (or light data) is captured on a flat plane at the back of the box. This can either be film or a digital sensor. The rays of light are combined and recorded as a single unit of light and shade.

In a light field camera, it is claimed that its sensor can capture the colour, intensity and vector direction of all the rays of light in a scene, providing much more data from which to compile an image.

What does this mean? Well of course the science is beyond me, but what I really need to know is what does this mean for the photographer, and obviously as a picture librarian, for image sales? In what way is the resulting picture different? Note that I didn’t say better. It’s not a field camera, after all, which is the gold standard for image quality.

My first thought is lots of data means big file sizes. And what do we do with all that extra data? The answer is nothing, at the moment. We’re back to 1950s Britain, where you couldn’t buy garlic or olive oil because “there’s no call for it.” At the moment, there is no call for it — there is no commercial need for the additional data a light field camera can produce. Here in 2012 fotoLibra has the ability to supply 8 bit, 16 bit or 32 bit images; we can supply HDR images. We don’t, because we’re not asked for them. At the moment professional picture buyers are content to buy 8 bit JPEGs.

I didn’t see the point of an HD television until I got one. But I can totally see the point of a professional quality light field camera to create images of record for museums and archives. Imagine being able to focus and study every plane of Nefertiti’s head. Wow.

Because here is why an image taken on a light field camera is different. You can refocus on any part of the image — after the picture has been taken. This is not the same as an Ansel Adams image at f64 where every part of the image is pin-sharp; these are images taken at f2 with a very shallow depth of field — which you can subsequently vary at will.

It is fascinating. I can play with these images for hours.

A light field camera has just been launched for the consumer market in the United States. Its brand name is Lytro, and I guess that could go the way that Hoover and Biro (and Kodak once did) to become the generic name for a light field camera. The first Lytro has an 8x optical zoom and an f2 aperture lens. It doesn’t look much like a camera, more like a square tube, and it comes in three colours and two storage sizes, 8 GB and 16 GB — 350 or 750 photos. It costs $399 (£255, €206) and $499. The aperture stays constant across the zoom range, which allows comprehensive light capture in the foreground, the mid ground and the background. The images it produces are 1.2MB JPEGs, which are at the lower end of the quality scale.

Do I want one? No, not yet. Remember, I’m not a photographer, I’m just a bloke who has a camera. Will it be more than just a curiosity? It’s hard to say. It’s certainly cheap enough for many people to be able to buy on a whim and play with, experiment with. Would I recommend you get one? If you’re a curious and inquisitive photographer who’s not strapped for cash, then yes, definitely. I would love to see what real photographers can achieve with such a tool.

At the moment the Lytro doesn’t meet the fotoLibra quality standards set out in our Submission Guidelines.

But I think we’ll make room for it.

Even though ‘There is no new thing under the sun.’

Yesterday we sold an image for a large amount of money, bought off the site by credit card.

As always, we were delighted — until we saw the image. It was a very jolly and colourful cartoon in a style reminiscent of the 1970s. I thought Blimey, this photographer is talented! He can’t half draw!

And then a little shadow of suspicion crossed my mind. This cartoon looked like the work of a commercial artist from the 70s, not a talented photographer from the 20 teens. We looked at the photographer’s portfolio. As well as his photographs there were several images which demonstrated a bewildering variety of artistic talent, from etchings to cartoons. In a number of different styles.

Now fotoLibra prides itself on being an open access picture library. Anyone can upload anything as long as it passes our technical Submission Guidelines (and isn’t porn, of course) and the photographer adheres to our terms and conditions.

One paragraph reads as follows: (The Member warrants that) it owns the Intellectual Property Rights in the Images and licencing of such rights shall not infringe any third party’s right to privacy.

In our expensive lawyerspeak, this means fotoLibra members are only allowed to upload images which are their copyright, or in the public domain. In the UK, copyright persists for 70 years after the death of the creator of the work. So the work of artists who died before November 24th 1941 can be sold on fotoLibra, unless their estates have extended the copyright.

We go on to say that if someone sues, we’ll dump them faster than Gaddafi shot up a storm drain, or in more lawyerspeak: fotoLibra shall in no way be liable for any breach by the Member of the warranties and the Member hereby indemnifies fotoLibra from and against any and all claims, liabilities, damages, actions, proceedings (including reasonable legal fees and expenses) that may be suffered or incurred by fotoLibra which arise out of or in connection with such a breach.

Our chastened member has removed the offending images. In turn we have grovelled in front of the innocent purchaser, rent our garments and refunded his money. He has been more than magnanimous in his understanding, and we hope he will be buying a different (and even more legal) image from us.

How wonderful some people are.

Please please PLEASE do not upload images for which you do not hold the copyright. And immediately delete from your portfolio any such images. We’ll delete them when we find them, as well.

But it’s YOUR responsibility.

Over the past year we’ve been working hard to build our website traffic on the simple belief that more visitors = more sales.

And it seems to be working. In the first three weeks of May we’ve sold images to seven different countries, all to new customers who have bought straight off our site. A very warm welcome to you all!

They’re not just small sales either. One was for over £400 / $635 / €458, and three others were in three figures. This is remarkably good, given the present state of the picture stock market, and  as a result some of our photographers will be getting a pleasant surprise in a few days time.

We can’t help feeling this must have something to do with increased traffic to the fotoLibra website. On the Web ranking site Alexa.com, fotoLibra stands as the fourth most visited general picture library in the UK.

If this doesn’t sound great to you, remember there are over 450 picture libraries in Britain.

fotoLibra.com now ranks as the 110,000th most visited website in the world. Laughably low, I know, but just go to Alexa.com and input the URL of any small business you know. Then compare it with the fotoLibra ranking.

Surprising, isn’t it?

If you are a photographer, it makes commercial sense to post your images where more people will see them. And if a photograph is one of 500K, it will have more chance of being seen than if it’s one of twenty-five million.

I forgot to tell you about my last blog, Be Careful With Google Image Search, so here’s a link to it.

And if you wonder why we sometimes seem stressed and spaced-out, read my latest personal blog!

By the way, if you contacted anyone at fotoLibra in the last 10 days and haven’t heard anything back, please contact us again as we’ve been having an intermittent email problem which we hope is now sorted.

fotoFringe

May 12th, 2011

There was no BAPLA Picture Buyers’ Fair this year. The lovely and redoubtable Flora Smith of Topfoto decided to do something about it.

With the help of Will Carleton of Photo Archive News she created fotoFringe. 55 picture libraries (curiously no Getty, Corbis or Alamy) piled into the plush King’s Place development on a highly gentrified canal basin at King’s Cross and prepared to tout their wares to the picture editors and researchers they hoped would attend.

And attend they did. I can’t speak for other picture libraries, but at the show yesterday we had 58 — count them, 58 — fruitful meetings. (We would have had more had not at least three photographers managed to evade the armed guards and got to chew the fat over a leisurely few hours with us while we agonisingly watched trains of real live picture buyers, weighed down with credit cards and price agreements burning holes in their handbags, steaming past us. There’s a time and a place etc etc and You Know Who You Are. No — we love you really. It’s just that we went there geared up to talk to picture buyers, not sellers.)

I can speak for other picture libraries, actually. There wasn’t a single voice of dissent. Everyone had a great day. It wasn’t expensive (except for all the bars of chocolate we handed out to picture buyers) and in terms of cost per head per meeting it was perhaps the most successful expo fotoLibra has ever attended.

Let’s do it again!

One interesting point (to me) is that 14 of our visitors had come to a trade show without bringing any business cards with them. Is it just me, or does that seem odd?

If you want to see more (and considerably better) images and read more about fotoFringe, here’s a link to Photo Archive News’s report for May 12. You can see fotoLibra’s stand and Yvonne’s and my cheery faces in the fourth image down.

Meanwhile my only quibble was that as we were in the second wave of bookings for the show along with 18 other picture libraries, our black felt-covered fotoLibra trestle table was placed below water level in the windowless basement. It was interesting to note people’s reactions to the space: the under 25s said “This looks like an exam room;” the 25 to 60s said “This looks like a gymnasium;” and the over 60s said “This looks like a morgue.” Ah, the preoccupations of age.

Here’s the stand when we set it up:

and here’s the rest of the room (or The Morgue, as my age group called it).

It really was a cheerful, positive, feelgood sort of event. Let’s hope this leads to more sales for us all.

 

First thing I do every morning is check the fotoLibra website to make sure it’s up and running.

Over this weekend I confess I’ve only shot a cursory glance at it because I have been immersed in rugby, exulting over Italy’s first 6 Nations victory over mighty France, delighting in Wales’s rule-breaking defeat of Ireland and secretly but vainly hoping Scotland might derail England’s remorseless progress to the Grand Slam.

So on a beery back-to-work morning I powered up my (now obsolete) MacBook Pro and went through the site. I checked the Home Page.

And double checked again.

We’ve gone past the half million mark. We have over half a million images on fotoLibra.

WOW!!

When fotoLibra was just a glint in my eye in 2002, I took Anne-Marie Ehrlich, the doyenne of picture researchers, to lunch. She said one couldn’t really take a picture library seriously until it had about 25,000 images. “No problem,” I scoffed, “we’ll have that many in five years, easy.”

And now here we are. We’re not the biggest picture library in the world — there’s the microstock rabble, and of course Getty, Corbis and Alamy (which has about 40 times as many images as we have) but I think we can say we’re now big enough to count. And our images are the images of fotoLibra members, not compilations of portals of images like the three I’ve just mentioned. With the largest image libraries, the same picture may appear from three or four different sources. I can’t say that never happens with fotoLibra, but you are more likely to find a unique image on fotoLibra than with most other image collections.

If you look at the rankings table in my last blog, you’ll notice that out of twenty leading picture libraries exhibiting at fotoFringe, fotoLibra has many more site visitors than any of the others — excluding the two celebrity stock agencies, because we don’t do slebs.

When I had the fotoLibra concept, I was forced to go ahead with it on the grounds that if I didn’t do it, someone else would. And I would have been kicking myself for the rest of my life. “I could’ve been a contender,” I would have been muttering thickly into my beard.

Well, now we’re contenders. Please raise a glass!

OK, never let it be said we don’t listen to you.

It would appear that a small majority of our members are threatening to leave fotoLibra if we pay them more money.

Blimey, I really didn’t make myself at all clear in my last blog, did I?  I blame the flu.

I think people saw the word MICRO and just stopped reading. Or understanding.

This proposal has nothing whatsoever to do with cash flow. It is merely a new concept to make image buying more attractive. It may not catch on. It may even not work. But the day we stop searching for new ideas and new concepts will be the day fotoLibra subsides into being just another everyday picture library.

Here’s our reasoning. Please note, this is merely for illustrative purposes only, and none of these figures are real.

With MICROSTOCK, photographers are lucky to make 20¢ for each image sold. So they have to sell 250 images before they earn a penny because payouts aren’t triggered till they accumulate $50. And all they will ever earn from that picture sale is 20¢ per picture sold.

But with fotoLibra’s MICRO ROYALTIES proposal, photographers will be paid a portion of the net sales receipts of the book per picture used, just like an author — except of course the portion will be smaller.

They will be paid after each royalty statement, which is usually every 6 months. fotoLibra payments are triggered when the member has accumulated £30 / $50 worth of sales.

The percentage share of the Micro Royalty will be based on fotoLibra’s existing average picture sale, which is $80. We pay photographers 50% (Platinum, 60%).

On our standard licensing model, the fotoLibra photographer receives an average flat payment of $40 when a sale is made.

Under the Micro Royalty system, the idea is that if a book retails at $10 and sells 10,000 copies in 6 months, the fotoLibra photographer will receive a micro royalty of $40 — the same as our standard licensing model.

When / if the book sells 20,000 copies, the fotoLibra photographer will receive a micro royalty of $80.

When / if the book sells 100,000 copies, the fotoLibra photographer will receive a micro royalty of $400.

When / if the book sells a million copies, the fotoLibra photographer will receive a micro royalty of $4,000. Per picture sold.

On our current licensing model, if the book sells a million copies,the fotoLibra photographer receives $40.

I hope this makes it clearer. It seems like fair play to us.

Micro Royalties

January 11th, 2011

We don’t need to tell you it’s a tough world out there economically, especially in the picture business. People are buying fewer photographs and paying less for them.

There’s an American photographer whose work I admire enormously. His name is Mike Yamashita and he shoots mainly for National Geographic Magazine. I met him a few years ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair when they built a large gallery showcasing his photographs in one of the halls at the fair. He had traced the footsteps of the thirteenth century Venetian explorer/ trader Marco Polo, documenting his journeys in a stunning series of images.

Great photographer through he is, Yamashita is not the most Pollyanna optimist you’re likely to meet. His glass is rather more than half empty. For some time he has been pronouncing with gloomy relish that “Stock is dead.”

Well, this is simply not true. The proclamation may have been triggered by three of his picture agencies closing their doors over the past year. What is true is that the old established market has been well and truly disrupted. Photo sales used to be the preserve of an elite few, many specialising in one field — jazz, aviation, cricket, ethnic populations — and because communication was twentieth century in its slowness, and photographs existed as physical, analogue objects, they had a scarcity value of their own.

Now of course — and fotoLibra is very much responsible for this shift — anyone can take and sell a photograph. Just before Christmas we were asked for photographs of specific situations in Kazakhstan. Twenty years ago this would have involved the buyer telephoning a series of picture libraries with the request. Each picture librarian would know, firstly, if they had photographs of Kazakhstan or if the buyer was barking up the wrong tree. If they did have pictures, they would charge a search fee to look through the files to see if there were any images that fitted the bill. If there were, they would be despatched in sealed clear envelopes to the client. If the seal was broken, the client would be deemed to have used the image, and would be charged accordingly. If the images were lost, which happened frequently, it would be simultaneously a disaster and a bonanza for the photographer — £400 for each lost transparency, for example.

Today fotoLibra has a number of photographers living in Kazakhstan. We can contact them instantly via email at no cost. One of them is an airline pilot by trade and a keen (and good) amateur photographer by inclination. He is on the spot, and can take precisely what the client wants. We supply the images to the client within the unfeasibly short deadline of 48 hours he has given us. There’s no special thanks — it’s what the client expects. Twenty years ago this would have been completely and utterly impossible.

We break our backs to provide an unsurpassed client service. It’s expected. But it’s still really hard to make a sale.

So we have devised a scheme to make more money for our photographers, with less outlay for our clients at the same time. Impossible? Having your cake and eating it? Barking at the moon? We don’t think so.

We want to make dealing with fotoLibra as easy, as painless and as simple as possible. But Simple and Easy are among the most difficult things to achieve well. Look at the simple Google interface. You don’t need to learn how to work it — it just works. That’s because a large fortune has been spent in making it simple. Underneath it’s very, very complex, like fotoLibra. If you buy a picture from fotoLibra, four simple choices take you to the price. Underneath that is a matrix of 1,447 price points. But you never have to see that. We’ve made it simple and easy.

And our new Micro Royalties initiative follows the same thought process. We want to sell more pictures. We want to pay our photographers more money. How do we solve this? We would move more images if we gave them away. But that wouldn’t benefit us or our members. How about this — instead of selling image rights for a flat fee, how about hire purchase? Deferred payment? Pay nothing now, and the rest over four years? That’s how they sell furniture. Why should pictures be different?

Here’s the plan. We can write a routine so that instead of publishers being billed for image usage in one great lump on publication, they are billed micro royalties six months after publication, when royalties become due. The amounts may be small, but they will come due again every six months. The image providers share in the success of a book. If it sells and sells, the photographer will earn much more for his photograph than if a straight sale had been made.

Of course our normal way of business will be dominating our trading for years to come. This Micro Royalties proposal is simply an alternative option, it’s only designed for book publishers which are one section of a picture library’s business. We don’t expect the take-up to be enormous, until people have tried it and found that it works for them. Maybe it won’t work for them at all. We’ve subjected the plan to all the various SWAT analyses, and we have pinpointed just one downside — if a book doesn’t achieve the publisher’s expected sales, then the photographer’s income will suffer. We’ll make adjustments to the percentages in the next sale to that publisher to allow for that. But this scheme is configured to appeal to the rapidly expanding, untested and as yet illustration-light eBook market, and the joy of eBooks from a publisher and author’s point of view is that they never go out of print. The drip may be small, but it is constant.

Picture libraries invented the Royalty Free image. They created Microstock. Neither of these plans favoured the photographer particularly — they were skewed in favour of the buyer. The creator of the image was outside the loop, the unwanted presence, the cow in the milk bar, the author at the book fair. This new fotoLibra plan rewards the photographer for his part in the success of a publication. If the writer gets royalties, why not the illustrator? The labourer is worthy of his hire.

No publisher has yet taken us up on this proposal, so we will be running a couple of experiments this year to test how easy this is to implement. Then we can tell them about it and demonstrate how it works.

We wish you a happy and profitable New Year.