667 BLEND IMAGES
September 28, 2004
A group of veteran stock shooters with broad experience in the business have partnered to form Blend Images, a Royalty Free production company with a slightly different strategy from most RF production companies.
Blend is focused entirely on producing contemporary, targeted content and does not intend to license or distribute any of the images directly to customers. Rather it plans to provide fully model released, retouched and keyworded digital files to its sales partners. At this point no sales partners have been announced, but Rick Becker-Lechrone, President of Blend says, "we are in negotiations with a number of different sales partners worldwide." (Some RF companies have well over 100 sales partners, and there is every reason to believe that most of the existing sellers of RF imagery will be very interested in representing the production of Blend photographers.)
The company claims to be developing a "very targeted collection of multi-ethnic people in business and lifestyle situations". With changing demographics both in the U.S. and Europe, they believe this is an underserved area of the market. Their goal is to stay ahead of market changes and have content in place as customer demand develops.
Becker-Lechrone invited some of the leading stock photo producers of the last decade to participate in Blend, and every one of the 23 founding partners has a tremendous track record for producing stock photography that sells. These photographers not only have a clear knowledge of what is in demand, but are also prepared to do the elaborate productions necessary to create top quality content.
Blend's infrastructure will be located largely in Las Vegas, but given the technology orientation of the business key employees may reside elsewhere. All edits will be done online, and the founding members will deliver 50MB to 55MB TIFF RGB files ready for marketing.
Becker-Lechrone joined Digital Stock in 1996 and was its first Director of Content and Technology. Digital Stock soon became world's second largest RF production after PhotoDisc and was sold to Corbis in 1999. Becker-Lechrone was Co-Director of Commercial Content at Corbis for two-and-a-half years, and after leaving there set up his own RF production company called PictureNet, Inc. Given his experience he clearly knows what sells as RF, how to motivate photographers to shoot imagery that is needed, and how to prepare the imagery to satisfy distributor's requirements.
At present Blend has about 7,000 tightly edited and keyworded images ready to deliver to distribution partners, but the most significant part of their offering is that with their concentrated, highly motivated team of shooters they have the capability of providing a significant stream of new imagery on a regular monthly basis.
Advantage For Distributors
As the business has changed many distributors that have also been producers are now looking for ways to cut costs and offload a lot of the duties they have previously handled in-house. As they move in this direction one key is to deal with suppliers that can be trusted to provide a regular stream of quality content. Blend's experience at every level of digital operations should provide portals with a high degree of confidence in their ability to meet production requirements.
Another advantage for the sales partners is that the Blend founders are prepared to spend big dollars on productions. Having done this kind of thing in the past, they recognize the benefit of hiring great talent, producers, wardrobe, etc and are willing to absorb such costs. While many photographers can't afford to do big productions, this group can.
Looking For Photographers
The founders and participating investors are fairly static, but in the near future Blend intends to actively recruit photographers for its brand. Information will be on the web site www.blendimages.com prior to PhotoEast (October 21st to 23rd) outlining how photographers should present portfolios for review. Blend is planning to give photographers at least 30% of what Blend receives from its distributors, and this is the highest percentage offered by any RF company in the industry. (A number of the founders will be speaking on panels at PhotoEast on October 21st.)
Becker-Lechrone says, "We're looking for photographers who have a lot of potential and really want to become stock shooters. They will be paired up with some of our founders who will mentor them, work with them and get their content to move. We want young, interesting photographers to join us. They must be willing to work with and learn from the people who have the experience."
Another unique characteristic is that the founders not only shoot themselves, but tend to work together in production groups of three or four founders to provide extensive variety of coverage on a particular subject. One group is in the planning stages of a big shoot in India in December. Their goal is to illustrate the business and lifestyles of the Indians working in partnerships with Europe and the U.S. This type of collaboration is expected to happen regularly.
Photographers are allowed to make keyword suggestions in the template Blend provides. The bulk of the final keywording is outsourced. Blend may bring someone in full time to do keywording, but at the moment they are happy with the work the outsourcing keyworder is doing. Initially, photographers create web galleries that the editing team uses to choose the images. Then each founding member provides 50MB to 55MB TIFF RGB files, retouched and ready for delivery to the distributors. Blend provides its photographers with submission guideline that take into consideration all the potential sales partners and their needs. Ultimately the photographer sends in the Excel spread sheet and their 50-55MB file.
Listed among the founders are: Anderson-Ross Photography, Colin Anderson Productions, ColorBlind, Inc., PictureNet, Inc., J. David Buffington, Inc., CircleStock, Inc., Stewart Cohen Photographer, ER Productions, Jon Feingersh, Jamie Grill, Jack Hollingsworth Photography, Jacobs Photography, Ronnie Kaufman, John Lund Productions, Hill Street Studios, Shalom Ormsby, Jose Pelaez Inc., Trinette Reed Photography, Eastville Studios, Larry Williams Photography and Design and Jeremy Woodhouse.
It is interesting to note that Blend includes many producers who have built their careers shooting Rights Managed photography. It is my understanding that most of these people will continue to produce some RM imagery, but they also recognize the value of producing and marketing RF images as well.
For those not familiar with some of the names above, a little background may be useful.
Jack Hollingsworth was an early-adopter of the RF strategy and has been a major producer for PhotoDisc and Corbis. He also has done RF shoots for many other RF brands and has established his own RF brand.
Jon Feingersh was the leading RM producer of business and lifestyle images for The Stock Market before it was sold to Corbis. In the last few years Feingersh has had a continuing relationship with Corbis and been producing some RF for Getty as well as RM imagery for Getty, Zefa and Masterfile.
Trinette Reed is a very experienced Stone shooter. Colin Anderson works out of Perth Australia. Ben Edwards (ER Productions) specializes in medical illustrations in the UK and has licensed his work mostly through Stone. Walter Hodges and Phil Banko operate ColorBlind, Inc., a major production operation in the Northwest.
Jamie Grill has been in stock since she was born - literally. She began her career in stock as a model for her father, Tom Grill (formerly principal shooter for Comstock and in recent years producing both RM and RF for a number of different brands). In recent years Jamie has turned to shooting and is a very talented photographer on her own right.
Many of the founders see Blend as an opportunity to exercise greater control over getting their work to market. One of the frustrating things in the last few years for many top producers - particularly those creating RM images -- has been the difficulty in getting a significant portion of their work accepted by some of the leading marketing organizations. Now that many marketing organization have become more open to accepting the work of "qualified" third-party production companies and allowing those suppliers to control the editing a new way to get images to market is opening up. In most cases the portal will add to their site pretty much anything the "approved supplier organization" wants to post. This has become the new preferred way of getting images to market and Blend appears to be perfectly placed to take maximum advantage of this new market development.