Great Expectations

April 29th, 2009

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.


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19 Responses to “Great Expectations”

  1. ben shipley says:

    It would be nice if the list view showed lightbox adds as well as views (at present the only way to get this info is to try to delete the photo).

    Also, after working with other libraries, I am not sure what “views” means – did the photo show up among 1,000 others, or did someone actually bring up the full-size preview? And is that “someone” a valid customer or does it also include fellow members?

    The best thing about fotolibra for my money is the way you all try to keep members informed – you seem like a very cool bunch of souls in general – but one can never get too much clarity, especially when it comes to what is selling out there.

    Along same lines, I am curious where you see yourselves in the photo universe – what niches you aim for, where you saw this going when you started, where you see it headed today, where you fit into the whole amateur/professional photography experience, not just commercial stock. We get hints from Jacqui, but clarity definitely breeds patience.

  2. Gwyn Headley says:

    Ben, your questions ask for more than a response, they ask for a complete blog posting. So I’ll do that for you, and for anyone else who’s interested — after the BAPLA Picture Buyer’s Fair!
    BTW ‘Views’ mean full-size Previews, and they can be from anyone, buyer or seller.

  3. Nick Jenkins says:

    Ref: Gwyn’s opening remarks, I venture to suggest that Contributor X was never going to be vaible, either to fotoLibra or to him(her?) self. Let sleeping frogs cry, I say.

  4. […] recommend anyone joining fotoLibra to read the Great Expectations blog posting to find out more about the exciting community they are […]

  5. […] GREAT EXPECTATIONS tells you precisely what to expect when you go on line to try and sell your photographs. It’s based on the fotoLibra experience, but we don’t think it’s going to be that much different from any other agency. […]

  6. John Hill says:

    May I make a comment regarding the length of time taken by the buyers in notifying fotolibra on the purchase of images.
    What would happen if a image is downloaded by one buyer,then another buyer downloads the same image,both buyers then decide to buy that image under licence.Would the licence be granted to the first
    buyer to pay for that image or the highest bidder,as two licences on the same image can’t run consecutive,unless it is licence free.
    This should help buyers to decide on the selected image more quickly,or lose that licence to another buyer.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      It couldn’t actually happen, because once a rights managed image is sold that usage right belongs to the buyer. So it’s who gets there first. Hence the reason for a price list. The first to notify us of image usage gets the exclusivity for which they pay. But increasingly buyers aren’t demanding exclusivity as their standards are lowered and the market is flooded with new digital images. They don’t care if an image they are using appears in another publication as long as the original price was cheap enough. Sad but true.

  7. John Hill says:

    Thanks for that reply Gwyn.Now lets hope that “Midas pr” attracts the more discerning buyer,not that all buyers are not discerning,but buyers that thrive on competition from other buyers.

    Thanks again,
    john hill

  8. Roger May says:

    Having made one sale in my time with fotoLibra, I would feel encouraged (or perhaps less discouraged) if I knew which, if any, of my images had been selected by you for submission to the client. This would tell me that I was still in with a chance of a sale whereas at present I have the feeling that none of my images is up to standard. Perhaps that is the case…….
    Am I asking for too much? I have no idea how much extra work it would throw on to you or even if it is practicable.

  9. Gwyn Headley says:

    It takes about ten working hours to prepare 15 lightboxes and to send them to one person. The client is also sent a link to all the photographs submitted to a Picture Call. To find the email addresses of every member who has submitted one of up to 2,500 images and then email them to tell them the image has been submitted to a client is additional work of such magnitude and such little return that I cannot begin to contemplate it. If the client sees and likes your picture, it will sell. We do our utmost to place our members’ images in front of them — but as Jacqui Norman recently reminded us, we are not the only stock agency that these researchers go to. You are not competing on price, because these giant Picture Calls only come from organisations with whom we have price agreements in place. Every picture library is paid the same. The hard bit is to get on the list.
    If you’ve made a sale, your images must be up to standard! If you’d entered a dozen pictures of Spanish schoolteachers etc. you might have made a dozen sales.

  10. Roger May says:

    Thank you. I was afraid it might involve a disproportionate amount of work but thought I would ask.

  11. It should be received a alert to the members whose snaps are processing to sell before receiving payment from client.


  12. Gwyn Headley says:

    We’d love to do this Syed, but it is impossible. In the next fotoLibra upgrade, due in late July 2010, you will be able to tell which of your images have ever been selected for anyone’s lightbox, but no sale can ever be guaranteed until the payment has been banked. We do not want to raise people’s hopes, only to dash them.

  13. […] — and may we suggest you read through the HINTS & TIPS section, and if nothing else read Great Expectations from the 2009 blog. It still holds […]

  14. Mikkel Christensen says:

    I completely agree with other posters that lightbox adds should be visible to members. Especially when you have included picture call submissions in the lightboxes for the customer. Everyone can understand that a lightbox add does not equal a sale, and nobody would complain about that. However, it would be very useful to know which pictures almost worked and which ones didn’t. The way it is now we are kept completely in the dark.

  15. Gwyn Headley says:

    Point taken Mikkel, and as I said in #13 above the facility will be available in the imminent fotoLibra upgrade.

  16. Eric Dodds says:

    I am at a bit of a loss, it seems that you put out a picture call and anyone can send in any image, related to the call or not. I try to send in what is asked for but never get anywhere. Is there any way of deleting the “void” images instead of putting them on the call upload page ?

  17. Gwyn Headley says:

    The images that aren’t relevant to the Picture Call are usually removed, and the uploader is notified. When the lightboxes are sent to the buyer, only directly relevant images are selected.

  18. Eric Dodds says:

    Thanks for the quick reply, I thought I was miss-reading the requests or maybe not thinking abstract enough.