465 MARCH 2002 SELLING STOCK
Volume 12, Number 4
©2002 Jim Pickerell - SELLING STOCK is written and
published by Jim
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manner whatsoever without written permission of the editor. Jim Pickerell is also
co-owner of Stock Connection, a stock agency. In addition, he is co-author
with Cheryl Pickerell of Negotiating Stock Photo Prices, a guide to pricing
stock photo usages.
Thought For The Month
"The stock industry is not a global industry, it is a multi-local industry."
Steve Davis, Co-President, Corbis
The point is that the needs of customers, and the ideal way to approach and service them, vary
greatly from local market to local market. Local characteristics of the market must be given
strong consideration. A single global model is unlikely to work.
WORK STOPPAGE AT SYGMA
French Operation Affected
January 30, 2002 - Story 459 - The French news staff of the Corbis brands Sygma, Kipa and
Tempsport instituted a work stoppage on January 28th. The employees claim that Corbis had refused
to present a decent and fair plan to indemnify the staffers who have been let go as a result of
the reorganization announced on November 29, 2001. (See Story
443 at www.pickphoto.com/sso.)
Ninety-three jobs out of a total of 191 were scheduled to be eliminated.
Michael Croan, Director of Photographer Relations at Corbis says the employees are in the Paris
office, but not performing any duties except to respond to urgent news matters. All daily
production of news pictures has stopped. However, the Corbis Stock Market and Corbis Outline
teams in Paris continue to do business as usual.
Under French labor law, a company is forced to present a "social plan" when a certain percentage
of the staff is laid-off. The plan must be accepted by the unions, government and staffers. The
photographers claim that in the various versions of the plan presented so far, the photographers
would either lose ownership of their archives, lose their press cards, or be unable to force
Corbis to abide by their contracts. The photographers and the rest of the staff in Paris are not
trying to fight the layoffs, but are simply seeking fair compensation.
Photographers claim that at one point Corbis told them their original slides would be returned
unmounted in bags. This was deemed unacceptable because without the identification number that
appears on the mount there would be no way to connect the image to the original caption
information and the images would be worthless.
Croan explained, "The people who are "striking" in Paris are not members of the official worker's
committee - the official body that represents workers' interests. Our work with that group
continues to move forward uninterrupted, in accordance with French labor law and with a focus on
negotiations and individual solutions."
"It's important to remember that our overall objective is to make our French news operation a
successful and sustainable business. Like every other news agency in France, Corbis Sygma has
been financially troubled for years - partly in response to a softening news market worldwide.
Our strategy calls for a shift in focus to more globally relevant stories and features. It also
calls for staff photographers to convert to freelance agreements, like the ones we use with all
of our other photographers in the world and with some of our existing photographers in France. As
difficult as this transition is, we're committed to making it as smooth as possible for these
photographers - we've made sure they can renew their press credentials for at least two years,
and are exploring ways to help photographers maintain some of the securities they currently enjoy
as staff members," Croan continued.
To illustrate how they have been stripped of their rights by Corbis, it is reported that 17 Sygma
photographers have posed naked for celebrity (and ex-Sygma) photographer Marianne Rosentiehl. The
picture is expected to be included in a book that will be released in February. It is also being
syndicated to magazines worldwide by the competing agency Gamma where a number of ex-Sygma
executives and photographers are now employed.
A ROLLING STONE
January 7, 2001 - Story 452 - The following article, based on an extensive interview with
Tony Stone in London, was written by Sarah Saunders and first appeared in Visuell in October
Sarah Saunders writes regularly for Visuell about the stock industry and digital imaging
developments. She runs Electric Lane, an image industry consultancy and training company based in
the UK. Electric Lane helps businesses of all kinds handle their image workflow from production
through to print or digital use. Tel: +44 20 7607 1415, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,
By: Sarah Saunders
Tony Stone, "father of the industry", is back in the business. Since he sold Tony Stone Images to
Getty in 1995, he's been watching developments in the image world from a safe distance. Now that
the dust has settled on his deal with Getty, he is clearly keen to get his teeth into something
new at the leading edge.
Tony Stone Images, still the most successful of the Getty brands, started in 1962. Although he
began as an editorial photographer a few years earlier in Capetown, he trained in London as an
advertising photographer, and started his business shooting and selling flower images to
chocolate box and greetings card markets. As demand grew, he employed in-house photographers, and
his subject matter broadened to include landscapes, kittens and other subjects.
"It wasn't quite up my street, my true hero was Cartier Bresson, but I saw it as a golden
opportunity to bring expertise to an area shunned by talented professionals." The agency side
started by chance when a Cadbury's buyer admired a photo of the Dolomites on a calendar on his
office wall. "I'll get it for you" Stone said. "Some of it was incredibly corny stuff, but we did
it better than most and we flavoured it with style."
In the early 70's, now servicing all the major commercial markets, Stone started the first of his
master dupe collections. This was to be a major turning point. "I'd always spent a lot of time
analysing sales. I'd noticed that although we tried to shoot nothing but saleable photos, only 5%
of them actually did sell. I thought, what's the point of shooting the 95%? It created a very
disciplined approach, to try and understand what made some images sell and others not at all.
This crazy obsession is still with me."
In the 70's and 80's, the customer friendly approach - so essential now - was not yet widely
adopted in an picture industry known for its cussedness. But Stone was passionately interested in
customer response from the start. He says, "The way a photographer saw an image was often
influenced by his memory of the shoot and what was happening outside the frame. The customer's
response was determined only by what was seen within the frame, so our editors brainstormed to
understand this process. It enabled them to help photographers create content which was entirely
relevant to the purpose of their images."
"We were always talking about it, always honing our skills. We'd go to advertising conferences
and other events to be amongst people who were using pictures. We sought the views of top
creatives and had to take it on board when they told us in the late eighties how stiff, how
unreal, so many of our images were. It was quite unusual then, and still is amongst most visual
content providers, to speak to customers about creative style."
"We were the first people to create rights protection. We did it from the beginning with a system
designed to handle in-camera dupes. By the end of the eighties we could make more than a hundred
non-conflicting sales around the world in a year, all from a single image duped maybe 80 times.
This gave customers all the exclusivity they desired, and photographers a high return on their
shoots. Because the dilution of photographers' revenues was an issue, we worked with fewer
photographers and fewer images than our competitors. Our photographers earnt more, were highly
motivated, they bonded with us, and helped us prove that stock imagery could be consistently
better than most commissioned photography. This has always been my approach and if I get into the
industry again it will still be my approach."
Tony Stone is a photographer, and remains close to photographers. But his is a highly disciplined
market-led approach, and he has little time for the purist approach to photography. "If you are
taking pictures for a market you are not a fine artist. Creativity as well as content must be
tailored to serve a commercial audience, and the creative styles in a stock collection must be
widely varied to meet the tastes of customers. There are stock providers now who have riveting
up-to-the minute photography, but much of it is often commercially irrelevant. The images are
very attractive to art directors, but when they try to use them they find it very difficult."
By the time he sold Tony Stone Images to Getty Images in 1995 worldwide revenues were over 60
million dollars and 95% of that came from the 30,000 images in the master dupe collection. With
hindsight Stone is still not satisfied with that statistic. "The amazing thing is that even in
the 30,000 there were a load of images that hardly sold, so we didn't get it quite right. As I
re-emerge in our industry, my aim is to get it right next time round, by demonstrating a method
for acquiring only the images which customers buy."
Stone has been driven from the start by the desire for quality, getting the picture right,
working out how to do it better and the understanding that quality, in this business, is defined
by the customer. Those values have been shown to work, and other agencies have adopted a similar
market-friendly approach. So why are we now faced with such multitudes of online images; many
mediocre, most of which will never sell? Has the market not learnt anything from the last 30
According to Tony Stone it's not that easy to create the criteria for relevance and get people
driven to be very tight editors. "Most people are convinced that if you have a million images,
you'll have something for every conceivable need, you'll find exactly what you want by pumping in
keywords, so why bother to have a small collection? My answer to that is that even if the images
people want are all there, present search systems ensure that they get in each others' way."
He is scathing about keywording systems. "You couldn't design anything more effectively to be so
inefficient. Almost invariably keywords call up huge numbers of irrelevant images." So why do
libraries - and that certainly includes the major players - insist on the scatter-gun approach?
He comments mildly that it is indeed surprising given that the best of his editors are now
dispersed in other libraries throughout the industry. He points out that in a market of, say,
$400m, universally poor editing and search systems might not be reducing the numbers of pictures
sold, all they do is make image searching a long and inefficient process. "But this means that
there's now a singular market opportunity for the first content provider who can solve the
industry's endemic editing and search problems."
It is a turbulent time for photographers in the stock industry, and Stone is sympathetic. Some of
the long-established libraries have not dealt with them as sensibly or as constructively as they
should. He recognises that changes in the commercial environment mean that some libraries will do
very well, but thinks some of the new portals may be storing up trouble for themselves. They set
out by taking on too many photographers and far too many images. "Photographers who've escaped
from unhappy experiences with some of the established players may be heading for discontentment
with the new ones. Even if they ramp up their sales very fast the revenues they provide will be
diluted amongst too many."
There will have to be changes, he says. It is not enough to simply throw pictures up on-line.
"The business generated by a million images is not very much when only one in a hundred has a
realistic chance of selling, and the photographer is left with the bill for paying for 99 scans
for every picture sold." However Stone remains interested in the portal companies. "Some of them
are run by very bright people. If they are learning as fast as I think they are, they are going
to be very viable companies in the future."
In the drive to get images on-line, what has happened to the customer experience? In visual
terms, on-line searches are often uninspiring. Stone says, "This is the great conundrum. On the
one hand you have to brand your site and let your audience know you understand the way they work,
and that can make for a pleasurable and bonding experience. But the guy looking for pictures
doesn't want the distraction of branding devices. He just wants to move through screens to find
images. If that process works well, it's all he needs to make him happy." He agrees there's a way
to go yet to improve the customer experience. Online searches are still cumbersome, and it's
nothing like finding pictures in a good catalogue. "A catalogue offers lots of opportunities for
serendipity. It's a better experience. I don't think anybody has thought out how to do it online,
but I believe it can be done."
Why did he sell such a successful company? "I had put in a lot of effort over the years, and
thought it was time to capitalise on that. Tony Stone Images had become number one and it was a
good time to reduce the number of work hours and the stress." Stone is proud of his legacy to the
Getty empire, which includes of course his name. "It was a very strong brand and it was quite
clear they had to keep the name. They acquired a global photo library - we were the world's
leading visual content provider with the best name for creativity and professionalism . Our
programme of acquiring new collections and agencies was already well under way." Stone knew the
company needed more funding to continue its growth and make it to the top in the new growth areas
of film and illustration. He says the platform, the momentum, and the plans for future growth
were already there. Other than that, it was a change of name.
Is Stone happy with the way things are going at Getty? He comments : "The Stone brand still
maintains a great image among many customers, and that gives me a lot of pleasure. But many
photographers have been made discontented by rather insensitive treatment. That makes me unhappy
too because we always took great pride in having wonderful relationships with them. But they're
now running the business in a different way. In some respects they have been doing
extraordinarily well, in others less so, it seems they've created enormous costs by acquiring
companies that have added little to their brands, and indeed create a sort of brand confusion.
It's a legitimate business approach - businesses often merge and it can take time to achieve the
full benefits. As an outsider, it's hard to tell whether Getty is becoming as efficient as it
would like to be at the speed they would like to go."
Stone knows what he wants to achieve, but for the time being he is not specific about his future
plans. He says, "I am talking to a number of companies. I'm hoping to attract one or two of them
to a new global strategy and a new product which will provide customers with rapid access to
imagery which is entirely relevant to their needs."
For a somewhat different perspective on the things Tony Stone talks about in this article, see
Jim Pickerell's analysis in Story 453
CONSIDERING STONE'S COMMENTS
By: Jim Pickerell
January 7, 2001 - Story 453 - Given Tony Stone's experience and success in selling stock
photography to commercial buyers, everyone in this industry needs to pay careful attention to his
assessment of current market conditions and proposals for the future.
However, there have been huge changes in the business since the 80's and early 90's when he was
so successful. Strategies that worked then, may not work as well now. Based on the information in
Sarah Saunders story, I have a few observations related to some of the points Tony made in that
Customer Friendliness. Certainly a key ingredient in selling to the creative community is
finding a way to supply customers with what they need as quickly and painlessly as possible.
However, the best way to accomplish that goal is very open to debate. Most online search
operations have been designed to let the customer do the searching. That may have its benefits in
some cases, but for many customers time is their most valuable commodity.
An important issue is not how quickly they can start a research process, but how long it takes to
complete it. The more time they spend on the search process the more painful it becomes.
This would seem to favor a tightly edited selection that limits choice. But many customers don't
want their choices limited until they have had time to clearly define their parameters. Thus, the
dilemma -- a tightly edited file, or one with lots of choice.
Research. Tony said, "...present search systems ensure that they (the multitude of images)
get in each others' way." Yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean that fewer images should be made
available. It simply means we need to find ways to make it easier for the customer to find what
he or she needs.
Such refinements don't have to be technological. A proper mix of custom human research by
experienced researchers who really know the file and how to use the technology, combined with a
deep collection of material may give the customer the best of both worlds -- spending little of
their time in research while still having access to a depth of material in all subject areas,
particularly those areas where there never will be high demand.
Tony's system is based on "anticipating" the needs of the customers. From the shooters point of
view that is desirable. But, the customers prefer to be able to first define their specific needs
before eliminating too many options. One solution, once the customer's needs are defined, is to
have a researcher go through the depth of material and creates a narrow custom selection to fit
the customer's specific needs.
We need to take another look at how the old systems worked. There were millions of images in file
drawers. No one was sure which images would sell, but in order for an image to get into the files
some editor had made a decision that they thought it might be of interest to someone. In some
cases other editors would go through the files and pick Selects which were marketed heavily. It
turned out that a large percentage of the uses resulted from these Select images.
When a customer called to request images an editor would first go through the Selects, but if
what the customer wanted wasn't available in Selects she would search through the rest of the
file for images that fit the customer's need. At its best, this system enabled the customer to
only have to review a small selection of images finely tuned to his or her specific needs while
still having access to the broad base of imagery.
The major problem with much of the current online search is that the researcher has, for the most
part, been taken out of the loop -- eliminated. What needs to happen is not reduce the number of
images online, but offer more effective research services. The researcher still needs access to a
vast collection of images. Effective keywording assists the researcher in these searches,
particularly if the researcher does not happen to be an employee of the company posting the
The researcher builds a rapport with the customer and supplies a lightbox with a tightly edited
selection of images for the customer's consideration.
I find it interesting from analyzing my own sales that the small agencies that have good
long-term customer relationships, and who continue to research analog files in the old fashioned
way, have had less fall off in sales than the catalog agencies. Customers want personal service
and they are willing to pay for it.
Price. It is also important to keep in mind that when people make buying decisions image
price isn't necessarily the primary issue. A case can be made that the most important issue for
most buyers is their personal time, and how they can get the "right image" for the least amount
of effort expended. Often they don't have time to do research. They will gladly pay a little more
to someone who is willing to assist them in that effort, or assist them with ideas.
Volume Sales. Tony said, "By the end of the eighties we could make more than a hundred
non-conflicting sales around the world in a year..."
The question is how many of those sales were for small uses, and how many were for major high
dollar uses. My belief is that when a single image was used many time the vast majority of the
sales were for small rights and small uses. This all happened before Royalty Free. Now, no matter
how great -- how on target -- a Rights Protected image is, a large number of the users will pick
a RF image instead.
RF has focused on producing image on those high demand subjects that Tony and his team first
identified. Now RF gets the volume because of their very low price and pervasive marketing.
What RF can't offer is unique, or subjects that will not sell in high volume. These are the
opportunity areas for Rights Protected in the future. No matter how good the research and how
good the editing it is questionable whether someone using the Tony Stone's shooting and editing
strategy can ever again produce the kind of volume sales of Rights Protected images that Stone
generated from the Master Dupe collection at the end of the '80s.
Choosing High Demand. "The amazing thing is that even in the 30,000 (images in the Master
Dupe collection) there were a load of images that hardly sold, so we didn't get it quite
right.... my aim is to get it right next time around by demonstrating a method for acquiring on
the images which customers buy."
Is it really possible to do a better job of tight editing that Tony and his team did ten years
ago? Today, at the height of the success of the agency Stone founded, less than 10% of the gross
spent on stock photography is for Stone images. That means that 90% of the buyers want something
other than what Stone has to offer. If we look only at the commercial market (non-editorial) and
assume that Stone makes no editorial sales, Stone's share of the market might be as high as 20%.
A 10% or 20% share of the market is nothing to complain about, particularly when no other seller
has a share that even approaches this. However, it also clearly indicates that there is a need
for images that are not included in this highly edited selection.
Keywording. Tony points out that in a market of, say, $400 million, universally poor
editing and search systems might not be reducing the numbers of pictures sold -- all they do is
make image searching a long and inefficient process.
Yes, it is inefficient in its present form. But despite its inefficiencies almost $250 million in
sales in the U.S. in 2001 resulted from finding images online. I estimate this to be about 37% of
total U.S. sales. Buyers would love to have a more efficient system, but in the meantime they are
willing to put up with its inefficiencies because it is the best option available to them.
Tony said, "You couldn't design anything more effectively to be so inefficient. Almost invariably
keywords call up a huge number of irrelevant images."
Talk about inefficient. Think about the manual system of searching for images in file drawers
that is still widely used by some agencies. In such systems each image has one physical location.
If you want to be able to search for that image in several different categories you needed to put
a dupe in each category. When there's a request someone has to go through hundreds of images in a
category to find those that are appropriate to the customer's needs.
Back when I started in this business almost 40 years ago Black Star Publishing Co. had a card
file system which told the researcher where to find various subjects like "celebrations" if they
were just looking for a generic celebration image. The images were not normally filed in such
Keywording provides great improvements over the previous system. The images still has one
physical location. But it can be discovered and viewed by using a variety of words, or
combinations of words. In some senses it replaces the card file, but much more effectively.
Keywording provides an important improvement over the previous system. However, it may be of
greater benefit to the experienced editor/researcher who uses the tool daily, than to the
Custom selections of images in subject areas that are in regular demand can also be developed and
made instantly available for customer viewing by using keywords and online viewing.
Don't look for an alternative to keywording. Look for procedures to use in conjunction with it.
And recognize that effective keywording will remain an important building block in any future
Print Catalogs. Tony said, "A catalogue offers lots of opportunities for serendipity. It's
a better experience. I don't think anybody has thought out how to do it online, but I believe it
can be done."
Print catalogs have their place, but given the cost of producing and distributing then, how long
will we be able to justify producing such catalogs for the added sales they generate. If 60% or
70% of the sales come from customers (or researchers) finding images online, is it worth the cost
of producing and distributing print catalogs for the added increase in sales.
Not many people are doing it, but there is noting to prevent images from being shown online in a
print catalog display format. Then the only problem is to get the customer to look at the online
site. If that is the goal, print marketing campaigns that are much less expensive than print
catalogs can be devised to draw users to the web site.
No one knows what percentage of the sales from print catalogs come from people using those
catalogs to find something specific (which they can do just as well with an online keyword search
or by using a researcher), and what percentage result from using the catalog in a serendipitous
Branding. Tony said, "On the one hand you have to brand your site and let your audience
know you understand the way they work, and that can make for a pleasurable and bonding
experience. But the guy looking for pictures doesn't want the distraction of branding devices. He
just wants to move through screens to find images. It the process works well, it's all he needs
to make him happy."
Maybe the "brand" isn't Getty Images, Stone, Corbis, Stock Market or whatever. May it is
researcher Sarah Jones who understands the customer's needs and is always available with a quick
friendly response and who is a problem solver for the customer. Something to think about.
In this world where technology only works half-way, part-time, and leads to lots of frustration,
it is a real joy to stumble onto dependable human assistance. If that is what it is going to take
to win new customers then photographers will need to find new ways to get more researchers
looking at their images.
Peter Dean's Solution
For a solution for the small supplier with a specialized collection, consider Peter Dean's
approach that he outlines in a My Turn article in Story
464 that can be found online at
PICTOR LTD. INSOLVENT
March 5, 2002 - Story 462 - On February 14th the Pictor International Limited creditors
in the United Kingdom approved a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) proposal that restructured
Under this proposal the unsecured creditors (most photographers, stock agencies, and other trade
creditors) will receive 4% of what they are currently owed and this amount will be paid out over
a period of three years. (See note at the bottom of story for possible additional payment.)
An unknown number of photographers who are considered to be key to the future success of the
business are scheduled to receive 40% of what they are owed, and they have been promised that the
amounts will be paid in full in March.
Current debt to the unsecured creditors is 4,586,466 pounds, but 3,010,000 of that is to Pictor
Holdings Ltd leaving the amount owed to photographers, agents and other trade creditors at about
1,576,466 pounds $2,229,000.
The documents filed as part of the CVA indicate that Pictor Ltd. had gross turnover in the 10
months of 2001 ending on October 31st of 2,903,000 pounds. Administration overheads, not
including any of the royalties that were owed to the photographers and stock agents were
2,835,000 pounds leaving a balance of 68,000 pounds. The total "cost of sales" (the royalties
owed photographers and stock agents) was 1,138,000 pounds or about 39% of total turnover.
(Managing Director Jonathan Gibson pointed out that the cost of sales also incorporates photo
costs (duping, scanning, production staff, etc.) and depreciation. The royalty portion of the
cost of sales equates to about 700,000 pounds of which 300,000 has been paid.)
In addition Pictor Ltd had 476,000 pounds in finance costs that were payable. (According to
Gibson this has been compounded and frozen over the term of the CVA.)
There are two major creditors, The Thames Fund Ltd and Pictor Holdings Ltd., that are
collectively owed 10,097,000 pounds. However because they are insiders their debt will be
subordinated to that of all the other creditors and they will not receive anything until the debt
to the other creditor is paid.
Total turnover in 1998 was 4,193,000 pounds, a 9% drop from 1997. Turnover has continued to fall
since 1998. The CVA is premised on the managers being able to generate a 16% improvement in sales
performance in 2002. Given the state of the economy, and the state of the stock photo industry,
this seems wildly optimistic. The most successful company in the industry, Getty Images, reported
in early February that sales in 2001 were down 7% from 2000. For 2002 they are estimating that
their sales will range between a loss of 5% and an increase of 2%. It seems questionable as to
whether Pictor can somehow do so much better.
Gibson said, "I must highlight the actual sales results and performance of '01 (the CVA figures
were not for the entire year). This stands at an 11% growth for the group (excluding USA and
space fees). It is important to note that none of the financials in the CVA pack include Inc.
(the U.S. operation).
"The growth in revenue over 2000 was 6% in the UK, 8% in Germany, 4% in France and 12% in the
rest of the world, not counting the U.S."
"The 16% is achieveble given the '01 performance and the release in Q3 of '01 of three top
hitting catalogues 'The Green Catalogue' being one."
"In addition Pictor has relaunched Pictor.com, a dynamic site offering RP/RF, online accounts and
credit card transactions, and sales from the site are growing monthly.
(It is believed that Pictor has about 40,000 other images currently scanned and in its database.)
Pictor has also added 28 agents to its network over the past 18 months," Gibson added.
Pictor Inc., a wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Pictor Ltd., has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy
since May 1, 2001. In the seven months of May through November Pictor Inc. had gross sales of
$315,758 in the U.S. In November their total sales were $26,279. Expenses for the May through
November period were $567,723 not counting the $140,545 owed the photographers. Salaries alone
for the seven months were greater than total sales and this was after the company had made major
staff cuts at the end of April.
Through November 2001 the photographers contracted to Pictor Inc. were owed at least $610,949
according to documents filed with the court. Approximately 700 individual photographers worldwide
are affected by the actions of Pictor Inc. and Pictor Ltd.
PictureQuest had made an offer to take over the licensing in the U.S. of the images of the
photographers who hold Pictor Inc. contracts, but that offer was withdrawn shortly before the
vote on the CVA.
Currently 13,257 Pictor images are marketed through the PictureQuest site and they generated
about $145,647 in gross sales in the past year. Pictor's share of this would be $87,388 (gross
minus 40% share to PQ) and the photographer's share would be $43,694 (half of what Pictor gets.)
(No share of the monies paid to Pictor by PictureQuest has been paid to photographers since
Pictor is now trying to find another agent in the U.S. who would represent the images of their
photographers. Stock Connection has expressed a limited interest, and has notified the Pictor
photographers of that interest, but it is far from clear that an arrangement satisfactory to all
parties can be negotiated. (Jim Pickerell, editor of Selling Stock, has a minority ownership
position in Stock Connection.)
Note: In the CVA document there is a clause that provides for increased contributions
above 4% to the creditors if profits reach certain levels. This clause says: "In addition, a
review of the trading profit is proposed on a six monthly basis in conjunction with the
supervisor. From these and a review of the audited accounts an additional premium will be paid,
within 3 months of finalizing the audit, based on the following schedule:
0 to 300,000 pounds --- no increase
300,001 to 450,000 pounds --- 25% increase
greater than 450,000 pounds --- 50% increase."
IMAGE RETURN IN BANKRUPTCY
February 23, 2002 - Story 463 - Here are some things to be aware of if your stock agency
files for bankruptcy. The first step is usually a court supervised reorganization (Chapter 11 in
During this stage all debt owed is frozen giving the company time to file a plan of
reorganization. This can take months. No portion of any money owed for the licensing of your
images prior to the bankruptcy filing will be paid until after the reorganization plan is
presented. Typically the plan might provide for a payout of the monies owed over a period of
months or years. It is also possible that you will never receive more than a small portion of
what is owed.
During the period while the reorganization plan is being developed all images that were on file
with the company must remain with the company, even though they are your property. Images can be
returned if the photographer had terminated his or her agreement prior to the filing of the
To protect yourself if you have any suspicions that an agency is in trouble:
- Check regularly with the agency to make sure you are being paid as soon as the agency
collects on any sales.
- Get on a monthly payment basis, not quarterly.
- If the images are not selling try to work out a deal to terminate the contract and get
originals returned before any bankruptcy is filed.
- Volunteer to assist in searching the files for your images. If the company is in trouble they
will not be able to afford the staff costs necessary to search through the files and return
- Try to maintain a friendly relationship. The owner will be under attack from all quarters, and
is more likely to be willing to help someone who is sympathetic, rather than belligerent.
SUPERSTOCK CREATES X-FILE
January 22, 2002 - Story 456 - Two-Tier Scanning Strategy
Problem! It's impossible to license rights to images a customers never sees. Thus, the issue for
photographers and stock agencies is how to get more of their images where they can be seen by
SuperStock has developed a new two-tier online search strategy that may offer their photographers
a tremendous advantage over photographers represented by other agencies.
Many agencies are only accepting a small percentage of the new images being offered by their
photographers. There are several factors that drive that strategy.
- The web is becoming the predominant place where customers go to look for images.
- There is a high up-front cost of scanning, cleaning up the scans and keywording every image
that is made available on the web.
- There is already a tremendous oversupply of images on the web in most subject categories.
- Some customers are discouraged from using the web because it takes too much of their time
to use keyword search and look through too many thumbnails to find the right image for their
These factors have lead many image suppliers to focus on tighter editing and purging their files.
SuperStock recognizes that for photographers to be successful they need to find ways to show a
larger portion of the images they produce. As a result SuperStock has developed a two tier
editing strategy for the images they make available on the web.
The first level of editing (tier) is similar to what all the other agencies are doing. The images
selected are unique shots that illustrate the classic concepts in a new and different way. CEO
Jim Ong points out that the subject matter that sells hasn't changed since SuperStock first
started selling stock images in 1973. What constantly changes are the buyers needs to find new
and exciting illustrations for these same subjects and concepts.
The images SuperStock selects at this level are of the highest quality in every way. Many of
these images will go into one of the two or three new print catalogs that SuperStock produces
annually. SupersStock currently has about 45,000 images online that fall into this category.
These images are scanned at 300 dpi and large enough to allow them to be printed as a double page
spread. This produces approximately an 80mb file. Once an image is color corrected and cleaned up
it is compressed as a JPEG at a Photoshop setting of 11. These images are then made available to
the customers by page size - double page (A3), full page (A4) and half page (A5), which
approximately corresponds to JPEG sizes of 20MB, 10MB and 5MB. Most customers tend to choose the
intermediate size of 10MB (40MB uncompressed).
Once this level of editing is completed, there still tends to be a lot of images from any take
that in the past would have gone into the general film files. These images may meet the needs of
certain clients, but are unlikely to sell many times. In the past, if the customer couldn't find
what he or she wanted among the catalog selects, a researcher would have been asked to search the
general file for other options.
In the digital age SuperStock needed to find a way to make their researchers more efficient. But,
they also recognized that the film files contained many valuable images that needed to be
accessed in some way because these were images that many customers wanted.
They were also driven by the fact that 2/3rds of their gross revenue comes from sub-agencies
operating outside the U.S. and a significant portion of this income came from dupes of "file
selects," not just the catalog images. At their peak they manufactured approximately 1.25 million
dupes in one year. These factors led to the development of their second tier editing strategy.
This level of editing is designed to take some of the remaining images - 2nds, 3rds and similars
- that every photographer produces and get them into an online environment where they can be seen
by their researchers and included in lightboxes that are sent to their customers. It is important
to note that the quality of these images it equal to the first tier images, but for various
reasons it is not expected that they will be licensed as frequently as the first tier. This
X-File gives both the agency and the photographer a chance to earn revenue from images that don't
survive the initial tight edit, but nontheless are images some customers want to use.
One of the dilemmas SuperStock faced was how to cover the costs of scanning and keywording images
that are not expected to sell in high volume. They developed a system to scan these images at
72dpi (instead of 300dpi) with the longest dimension at 600 pixel's wide. This produced an image
that was suitable for preview and comp use, but not good enough for final reproduction.
They use a UMAX Power Look 3 flat bed scanner to do this work. At their current production rate
they expect to produce low-res scans of about 250,000 new images per year. They intend to scan a
much larger percentage of all new work submitted than had been possible in the past, and as time
allows go back into their existing files of about a million images and scan those that have
continued market potential.
To save time and costs on the keywording side, they use a category system of search. This
category system has three levels and according to Chief Operating Officer Kai Chiang sorts the
images into almost 3,000 different categories.
You can get an idea of what these categories are by going to the SuperStock web site
(www.superstock.com) and under "Search for Images" click on "Search Rights Protected". In this
area you can either search by Image Number, Keyword or Category. In the category section there
are three levels of search. The 17 primary categories are: Animals, Architecture, Business,
Computers, Concepts, Food and Drink, Health, Industry, Lifestyle, Miscellany, Nature, Objects,
People, Sports, Transportation, USA and World Travel. Under each of these sections there are many
sub-categories and in many cases a sub-sub-category. That's how they get to the 3,000 different
It so happens that for years their film file has been organized in these categories. Whenever an
image is accepted into the system it is first assigned to one, or multiple categories. (If it
goes into multiple categories in the film system extra dupes would have to be made. In the
digital environment multiple extra categories can all be keyed to one specific film location.)
When an image is accepted into the file it is assigned a specific number that identifies its
category. Thus, the process of migrating from the film environment to one of digital categories
is very simple to implement. It is also a system that the sales people and researchers, both in
the U.S. and abroad, are very familiar with.
The current category search that is available for customer viewing on the site shows only the
45,000 prime select images that have been scanned to 80MB and which are fully keyworded. However,
the in-house researchers, and the researchers at the more than 60 sub-agencies around the world
that represent SuperStock, can review the Second Tier images as well.
High Resolution Delivery
When a second tier image is selected by a customer, SuperStock has the capability of creating and
delivering a high resolution file within two hours during the normal work week. They run two
scanning shifts between 6am and 10pm EST. They have two Heidelberg drum scanners in-house as well
as other scanners. Whenever and image is selected that hasn't already been scanned to high
resolution, it is sent immediately to the scanning department for scanning and clean up.
Once the image has been delivered to the customer to meet the immediate need, it then goes
through a process of additional keywording, if necessary, and is included among the first tier
images for general search by all customers. In this way images that sell are always migrating to
the higher levels of search.
Is The Second Tier Really Needed?
Some might think that with 45,000 top quality images available in the first tier the second tier
wouldn't be needed and that researchers would seldom find cause to even look at this group of
The best indication that this not the case is that after only two months of operation of this
second tier system, SuperStock is already making 8 to 15 sales a day from these images.
As they move forward a lot will depend on how they modify their editing strategies for first and
second tier images. It is certainly possible that their first tier selections will get even
tighter. This would reduce their initial costs of scanning and keywording and still give them the
opportunity to present a greater variety of images to the customers.
Also important will be the percentage of customers who learn to utilize agency researchers to
narrow and focus their initial search rather than relying on a keyword search that they do
themselves. At this point no one is sure whether the customers really like spending their time
doing their own searching, or whether they would prefer to have some help.
SuperStock has a total of 18 sales people and 13 researchers in the U.S. with the capability of
doing secondary searches at the present time. In addition all of their more than 60 international
sub-agents can use the second-tier database for searching.
Kai Chiang says that to date most of SuperStock's customers use keyword search, but as the
company places more emphasis on marketing their research service that could change. I believe
that because of the language difficulties category searches will be used much more heavily in
non-English speaking countries than keyword searches.
Finally, there is the question of whether these second tier images will be made available for
direct search by the customers, or not. Part of the internal debate at SuperStock is whether this
direct access to additional images will be appreciated by the customers, or whether they would
simply see it as an overwhelming number of choices to review. This decision will likely be made
once they have more experience with researchers doing these searches.