Posts Tagged ‘BAPLA’


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.



fotoFringe, May 11

March 11th, 2011

When fotoLibra was just an ickle bitty new picture library we scraped all our pennies together and took a stand at the BAPLA Picture Buyers’ Fair. We thought it crucial that we should hang out our faces in public, and meet all those radiant people who would (we were convinced) shortly be buying shedloads of photographs from our wonderful members.

It hasn’t quite worked out like that, although we haven’t done too badly. We’re nearing half a million images online, which although it doesn’t yet match the behemoths of Getty, Alamy, Corbis and the microstock rabble, is still a respectable amount of superb images.

So it was with sadness that we learned that BAPLA would not be holding a Picture Buyers’ Fair this year.

Full marks therefore to the lovely Flora Smith of Topfoto who reasoned “If they’re not going to do it, then we will”. She hired a room and some trestle tables, called the event fotoFringe and invited a few friendly picture libraries to exhibit with her. “What a great idea,” I thought, and emailed Flora to say “Count us in!”

No room.

It was by invitation only, and she’d filled it already. 21 picture libraries, plus media partner Photo Archive News, will be exhibiting at fotoFringe — but not fotoLibra. We’re on the waiting list for a table, but we’re not holding our breath. Of course we’ll be there in person(s) (Flora said we could come), prowling round the room like hyenas and jackals, but we won’t be sitting at the top table.

Sleepless nights haven’t resolved the question of why Flora and Will Carleton of Photo Archive News didn’t think of us when choosing 20 picture libraries to exhibit with them (is it my tendency to dribble? my flatulence? my general nastiness?) but there we go. We will just sit on the sidelines and wait.

fotoLibra strongly supports the idea of fotoFringe, and hopes that every picture researcher worth her salt will attend, despite the formal absence of fotoLibra, Getty, Alamy and Corbis. There’s a website for the event at, and it takes place on May 11th at the spiffy new Kings Place venue just north of King’s Cross. See you there!

One thing the fotoFringe website doesn’t do is link through to the exhibiting agencies’ websites so you can see what they offer, so as a service to picture buyers I thought fotoLibra could contribute that here.

And rather than list the libraries conventionally in alphabetical order, I’ve listed them in the order they appear on Alexa, the website ranking index standard, to see how close they get to Google, Facebook and Youtube. The lower the number, the more people visit the site.

Although fotoLibra isn’t exhibiting at fotoFringe, it would be invidious to leave my own company out of any listing. So here we go:

Wenn Celebrities 44,438
Splash Celebrities 90,218
fotoLibra General 149,195
Image Source General 307,297
Bridgeman Art 312,278
Heritage Images Heritage 367,724
Photoshot General 386,375
Topfoto General 442,985
Robert Harding Travel 581,251
Photo Archive News Trade News 824,236
Nature Picture Library Nature 940,390
View Architecture 1,179,000
Camera Press General 1,904,000
Picture Research Association Industry Body 2,080,000
Mary Evans History 2,138,000
Arcaid Architecture 2,216,000
Mirrorpix News 2,424,000
Country Life Heritage 2,667,000
4 Corners Travel 3,590,000
Specialist Stock Environment 7,590,000
Ronald Grant Archive Cinema 8,012,000
Arenapal Performing Arts 9,170,000
John Walmsley Education Education 22,800,000
Writer Pictures Authors no data

It came to me in a flash. At a BAPLA Picture Buyers’ Fair (remember them?) I was barking and shilling on the fotoLibra stand. OK, I admit it, I was pretty desperate. “Roll up, roll up, leddies ‘n’ gennelmen, come and see our fabulous photographs, so beautiful they’ll bring tears to your eyes etcetera etcetera.”

A harassed-looking woman was walking past quickly, head down, eyes averted.

“Come and avva gander at our bee-yootiful pickchars, darlin’!” I bellowed.

She stopped — she had to stop, I was blocking her path — and looked at our elegant display.

“They’re lovely,” she smiled sadly, “but I don’t buy lovely pictures. I buy photographs of things people don’t see.”

Now the tables were turned. I was the one who was stopped in his tracks. “If people don’t see things, how can they be photographed?”

“Well, they do see them, well enough to avoid them, but they don’t notice them. And photographers don’t notice them either. As a result, there aren’t many pictures of them.”

“But what are THEY?” I persisted. “What is it that people don’t see?”

“All sorts of things. Roadworks, men in fluorescent jackets, bus stops, rubbish bins, pavements, overgrown signs, health clinics, everything you don’t really notice as you go about your everyday life.

“All I see here are sunsets over the Maldives, the Taj Mahal by moonlight, palm-fringed beaches — and I work for Eborum District Council.

“We have a picture of the Taj Mahal in our canteen, but I didn’t buy it. I need access to pictures of the stuff we live, work and have to deal with. Parking meters, for instance. Even dog poo.”

“Dog poo?” I asked tentatively.

“Yes, dog poo, or IPSV2603 and 2604 as we refer to it. IPSV is the Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary — the code councils and government use to talk to each other. Virtually everything you can think of has an IPSV code — model soldiers, jogging, ex-servicemen’s associations, even UFOs and the U3A.”

That’s great, I thought. Here are fotoLibra’s 10,000+ photographers busy recording glorious sunsets all over the world and the customers want doggy doos. So I grinned my best grin and said “You’ve got it.”

And now she has.

I went back and rallied the fotoLibra photographers. Oyez, Oyez, I blogged, please add IPSV codes to your UK images. I posted a list of all 8,000+ IPSV codes on the fotoLibra site, at With varying degrees of reluctance and enthusiasm, many of them complied. Subjects of previously unimaginable banality were uploaded to the site, and we broadened our reach to encompass the trite and the commonplace as well as the rare and majestic.

In my Damascene revelation that a picture doesn’t have to have a pretty subject, I forgot to take our reluctant visitor’s name, but if that lady ever stumbles across the site again she will find over 17,000 images of everyday stuff, carefully labelled with the correct IPSV codes  from religions to town parks, from skips to lifeguards, from pills to parking meters.

And just because the subject is humdrum, everyday or boring, it doesn’t mean a photograph of it will be. As a result, at we now have images that are practical as well as beautiful.

Thank you, local authority lady. You helped us open our eyes.

This article was written for Montage, the magazine of the Picture Research Association


Mountains into Molehills

April 1st, 2010

fotoLibra member John Cleare is a world-famous mountain photographer who made his reputation long before fotoLibra was even a gleam in my eye, so we can claim no credit for his fame, alas. Indeed, I handled the publicity for one of his mountain books back in 1979, so he knows whereof he writes (and shoots).

Brocken Spectre, Lochnagar   ©John Cleare / fotoLibra

He sent me an email yesterday, lamenting the decline in standards of captioning, and I agree with every word.

I’ll share with you my indignation at the use, all too frequent these days, of wrongly captioned pictures by the media. It’s my current pet gripe, and I could recount a series of ghastly gaffs that I’ve noticed since digitisation became the norm.

Only the other day the Daily Telegraph ran a major travel feature on skiing at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, illustrated by a (very nice) picture of Moraine Lake, which of course is somewhere else and is well known and easily recognisable to boot.  Naturally I take note of the many pictures of Everest that I come across in the media — from the Times, to the BBC, to my wife’s magazines. Some 30% or more are not Mount Everest, yet are captioned as such. Colleagues tell me such happenings are all too frequently seen in their own fields too.

Is it that the photographer doesn’t caption the material properly ?  Is it that Mr Getty doesn’t care ? Is it that the Picture Editor doesn’t care ?

I can’t see it happening with the fotoLibra system !

I’ve moaned about the matter to BAPLA many times over recent years but of course they can do little about it except to encourage “TRUTH”.

At the risk of blotting my copybook, I’ve moaned to guilty (?) picture editors and researchers in several really blatant cases. Even when we’ve known each other by name, in only one case has there ever been a response — and that was claiming the caption supplied was incorrect.

It may well have been true, but it’s as good excuse as any.

Thanks to digitisation, the whole picture industry has changed so much in recent years that the days of the small, specialist independent are in the past, perhaps fortuitously at a time when folk seem surprised that I’ve not retired long since. But of course like mountaineering, making pictures is a way of life from which one can never retire — I’ve done five books in the past eighteen months and led one excellent small expedition, although I suppose I shall gradually fade away in due course.

I do like the fotoLibra system, and for someone busy like myself, responding to specific picture calls is a convenient way to operate, besides airing pictures that no one would ask me for in the normal way, given my specialist reputation.

John has hit the nail on the head. There is a lot of sloppy work out there, and I don’t know whether it’s because people are too busy, overworked, stressed, tired, drugged, drunk or because they simply don’t care. Forty years ago if you did something wrong you got sacked. That can’t happen now.

And thank you John for your very kind comments about fotoLibra but the unpalatable truth is that it could occasionally happen. I don’t think many of our staff could readily distinguish between Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, so we have to rely on the accuracy of our members. We’ll correct errors where we’re sure we’re right (the Eiffel Tower is not white, circular and leaning), and thanks to the brilliant Colin Smedley our aviation photographic captions are the most accurate in the picture library world — but in the end we have to rely on the photographer.

Let’s work together to turn this picture captioning mountain into a molehill. For our part, it’s down to us to ensure the captions and keywords we give to our images are as precise and as accurate as possible. After they’re sold, publication is out of our hands — we can’t afford to go to the printers and stand over the Heidelbergs — but if the final image appears wrongly captioned or attributed, we can and always do make our displeasure strongly known to the buyer.

Don’t mess with fotoLibra members’ photographs!


Here’s an index to the fotoLibra Pro Blog for the whole of 2009.

As I complained 6 months ago, it takes a surprising amount of time to compile, so if there are any WordPress experts out there who know how to automate this process, we’d love to hear from you.

If you’re new to fotoLibra, welcome, and may we suggest you read through the HINTS & TIPS section, and if nothing else read Great Expectations. If you enjoy a bit of controversy, read BAPLA Shock Horror.

Comments are welcome, even on old posts, and will be read and often responded to.
















If we were astonished when we heard BAPLA’s plans to go into business on Tuesday, we were grateful and even more astonished by the overwhelming flood of support from so many people to our last blog posting.

Simon Cliffe, the BAPLA Director, used the fotoLibra blog to post his refutation of our complaints, happily writing “The great thing about blogs is that you get an opportunity to respond, which is what I’m doing now.”

He subsequently posted an intemperate attack on fotoLibra on the BAPLA site, accusing us of posting

“a blog that was full of misconceptions that led to many inaccurate statements. Due to the potentially destructive and libellous accusations, BAPLA is forced to respond to reassure members and the industry that fotoLibra is completely mistaken in its perception of BAPLA’s future plans.”

Destructive? Libellous? The great thing about a closed website like BAPLA is that no one gets an opportunity to respond. So we can’t comment on what Simon wrote in the way that Simon could on our blog. We have to reply here.

We are not remotely worried by the sale of mugs and mousemats. That’s an irrelevant diversion. What concerns us is, as we wrote in Wednesday’s blog, is that

“The BAPLA Academy will be directly competing for the subscriptions of the same photographers who supply fotoLibra with its top images. The same graduates, keen amateurs, semi-pros, wedding and studio photographers we work hard to attract, encourage and foster. It’s not about print and mousemat sales versus rights sales, it’s about diverting a body of good, keen and potentially great photographers to ally with BAPLA rather than fotoLibra. That’s not BAPLA’s remit.”

Yet Simon missed that. He writes

“This is the only part of the BAPLA Academy which they seem to have registered; the sale of prints to the public.”

That doesn’t concern us in the least, Simon. We’ve already said that.

What truly concerns us is this: The public purse is only so deep. Who is going to want pay a subscription to fotoLibra as well as to BAPLA? You don’t buy Nike and Reebok, you buy one or the other.

We agreed with Simon at the AGM that we would meet up to discuss this when he returned from his holiday. We’re still expecting to. As we wrote on Wednesday:

“But if they’re determined to do it, then they should talk to us — once we’ve overcome our horror and dismay. We are better placed than any other organisation to help them.”

So Simon posted (on our blog):

“I have agreed a deal with our commercial partners who under my instruction, are getting the project up and running (including full market research), promoting the project and managing the project going forward.”

So it’s a fait accompli. Our participation, advice, help, whatever will clearly not be required. We don’t know who these commercial partners are, or what experience they have in setting up, maintaining and growing a subscription-based roster of photographers.

What is a Trade Association for, if not to listen to and act on behalf of its members? We’re astounded by a move that threatens our livelihood, and our own trade association — to whom we pay subscriptions which presumably go to fund their ‘commercial partners’ — responds to our justifiable concerns by describing them as “destructive and libellous”.

Is that supportive?


BAPLA Shock Horror

October 28th, 2009

Yesterday was the Annual General Meeting of the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies, our trade body. BAPLA represents the interests of picture libraries large and small, and fotoLibra has been a member since before we started trading. There is a link to the BAPLA web site on every single page of the fotoLibra site.

Nothing prepared us for what we heard at the AGM. Times are tough for everyone, BAPLA as well as fotoLibra. They’ve lost about 50 members over the past year or two, and as the annual fees are substantial, that makes a hefty dent in their finances.

So they have cast around for a way to improve their cash flow. And they’ve come up with the same idea that we came up with seven and a half years ago.

They’ve invented fotoLibra.

More precisely, they have created something called the BAPLA Academy. The idea is that photographers pay an annual fee and get to upload their images to the BAPLA web site where they can be viewed and made available for “non-commercial sales” (a wonderful oxymoron on a par with business ethics, or military intelligence).

I don’t have all the details to hand, because all this came from the BAPLA Director’s presentation and we don’t have a hard copy. But as I stared slack-jawed in amazement at the screen he blithely described the business plan of fotoLibra — except we provide commercial sales; our members make money from their photographs. That’s the whole point of fotoLibra; otherwise they might as well be on Flickr.

The concept of fotoLibra was to provide a platform for any photographer to make money selling his pictures. No tortuous submission procedure, no minimum upload, no “professionals only” barriers, no elitism — just raw market forces. Display and sell. And we provide all the advice and tools the photographer needs to achieve that aim. Jacqui Norman does an astounding job of advising, chivvying, helping, correcting, and pushing fotoLibra member photographers to make their images as saleable as possible. The web site and the Submission Guidelines are packed with information, advice, hints and tips.

Now our own Trade Association — the guys we pay to represent our interests — have announced that they are setting up in direct competition to us. Yvonne and I could not believe what we were hearing. Up went Yvonne’s hand. She was ignored. From personal experience I knew that was a bad move on BAPLA’s part — you ignore Yvonne at your peril. And indeed after the AGM she cornered the BAPLA President, the BAPLA Chairman and the BAPLA Director and subjected them to a withering blast. If they’d forgotten about fotoLibra — as they obviously had — then they were left in no doubt whatsoever that one section of their happy community was disaffected by news of the BAPLA Academy.

They attempted to placate us. The BAPLA Academy was no threat or competition to fotoLibra whatsoever. They’d trialled it with focus groups, and it wasn’t going to be a problem. But looking into their troubled eyes, we could see this was going to be a BIG problem. They simply hadn’t thought of us.

We’ve done this. We’ve sweated blood to set fotoLibra up and it has cost us a fortune. We know how hard it is. It’s a full time job for eight people. And there are only five of us. Without the help of a company like ours, a company that has already ploughed this unique furrow, BAPLA with its 2.5 staff and its capital derived entirely from member subscriptions is going to have a hell of a hard time running this Academy.

The BAPLA Academy will be directly competing for the subscriptions of the same photographers who supply fotoLibra with its top images. The same graduates, keen amateurs, semi-pros, wedding and studio photographers we work hard to attract, encourage and foster.

It’s not about print and mousemat sales versus rights sales, it’s about diverting a body of good, keen and potentially great photographers to ally with BAPLA rather than fotoLibra. That’s not BAPLA’s remit.

But if they’re determined to do it, then they should talk to us — once we’ve overcome our horror and dismay. We are better placed than any other organisation to help them.