464 MY TURN - Peter Dean
February 23, 2002
Editors Note: Peter Dean has developed a very effective way for someone with a small
file of images in a specialized subject area to make those images available for searching online.
His experience is worth considering for those with lots of images and limited resources for marketing.
A Website Catalogue
by Peter Dean
In story 452 by
Sarah Saunders Tony Stone is quoted as saying,
"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."
We agree that many online searches are cumbersome but we do not agree that nobody has
thought out how to make an online catalogue giving a "better experience" because that
is exactly what we set out to achieve. At least we tried; you need to judge
agripicture.com for yourself?
About five years ago at a time when most UK business was only thinking about websites
I started to build my own very simple design in basic HTML which was a competent
effort and we were able to promote a small catalogue, but adding images required the
building of new pages with associated links, the more image pages you add the more
complicated and time consuming it becomes and it is not an ideal system for a busy
photographer. Back then most of my UK clients were not connected to the net anyway
and sales from the site were non existent but we learned a lot.
Almost by accident the design was also able to transfer directly to a CD where it
worked perfectly; that is quite easy to achieve in HTML. This had some important
implications and it led the way to a rethink and redesign. I know my limitations and
I knew I was unable to build my next design. By sheer good fortune I met Collini
Design from Sweden on an internet forum. Collini had very similar ideas and
philosophy to us; the challenge was to build a searchable database which also runs on
CD and to solve the keyword problem at least for a "catalogue".
The CD website catalogue would not need server side software with the associated
ongoing costs. This was important for a small business who only wanted to promote a
relatively small number of "core" images. If you are building a large online
searchable database (and you may have very good reasons to do that) then keywords are
crucial. (For more about keywording see Story
445 .) It is vitally important that
all keywords including misspellings are entered into the database.
It is not so crucial for our catalogue however with only a few vital keywords and we
can have images displayed quickly and efficiently on the web. Only the key RELEVANT
words are required. We learned much from our old website; we were able to track which
keywords were used to find our site; it became clear that at least in our niche
subject area very few keywords were in fact used to find our image pages despite our
meta keyword data being very comprehensive.
controlled keywords combine to provide the "better experience", at least our clients
tell us they like it. After our home page is loaded picture buyers are only three
mouse clicks away from viewing relevant images and they do not have to think about or
type keywords into a search field.
People told Collini it could not be done; but they did it; people told me I was crazy
not to use as many keywords as possible but that is what we did. Because we use so
few keywords (approximately 8 average per image) we do not display the word search
field in an obvious place; we are still deciding on the best way to present the word
search as it needs to be used with care; it is our best kept secret, you click our
logo top left to activate a word search without using the menus. We use it mostly to
show clients specific images we think they should see if they email or phone us. No
search function is perfect! and I am sure it can be improved but we made a start;
images are being seen and licensed in a RELEVANT and SPEEDY fashion. We will also add
a lightbox feature to improve the experience as much as possible as we refine and add
features but we want to keep everything as simple and useful as possible.
You need to be thoughtful with keywords (relevance rather than quantity) and for each
catalogue project you decide which words are the most relevant. It is actually
possible to manipulate how many images a client will see in any particular category
search. For example we have ten images related to cattle in our "foot and mouth"
pages but we only included the keyword "cattle" with two of those images as most
people searching on cattle would not expect to see "crisis" images but we wanted to
make sure at least one was shown; the serendipity factor.
As a single photographer my catalogue project is essentially a long term one updating
with suitable catalogue quality images when I make them. I expect to promote only a
fraction of my work in this way. As a former contributor to the agency Tony Stone
Images I learned the valuable lesson of "less is more". Our strategy is to show only
a small selection on the web but we have not abandoned "file" images; we do good
business with file images as our clients continue to want them.
Images from file are all digitally delivered too after first providing previews in a
private directory. We just don't think it is a good idea to display them all on the
web. Tony Stone made a good point; they just get in the way but we would add that it
is still important and profitable to make them available. While our design was
created to make an "organic" catalogue project affordable for a single photographer
much larger collections could build a complete catalogue as a single project.
We recently discovered that Getty Images Stone used a similar script logic in making
the "Quest" catalogue CD which is very professional but as far as we know it is not
also running on a web server. But why would we want to duplicate a website on a CD
anyway? The reason is very simple and is all to do with marketing.
Currently agripicture.com is the work of only one photographer and the clue is in my
comments above. As I have already suggested our catalogue is "organic" and growing
sustainably at very low cost. We do not have to produce a new CD project every six
months to keep our clients interested in us; we send an updated CD instead. Our
regular clients like the CD as it can be used to transfer the whole catalogue to
their hard drive where searches are literally instant, like flicking the pages of a
book. No surprises, as that was the whole idea of course.
The complete catalogue could even be zipped and delivered online if desired; this
might be useful to distribute updated copies to overseas agencies but upload speeds
from rural UK leave much to be desired and we save our bandwidth for image delivery
and paying customers! Currently 516 images occupy approximately 20MB of web space.
Image delivery after price negotiation is ftp to a directory on our webspace from
archived CD's. High tech but again relatively low cost.
No additional software is required with the CD because the catalogue will run on any
machine with a recent internet browser installed including MAC PC and UNIX. The
catalogue can be copied to and deleted from a hard drive without affecting any
settings. It is easy to distribute around an office where not every machine is
connected to the internet. We date the CD and suggest buyers connect to the web to
view any updates.
This design and method of search was initially a leap of faith; the proof as they say
is in the pudding. We launched the web catalogue in January 2001 with 200 images
promoted; in January 2002 we had 516 images promoted all available as drum scans at a
size to meet any conceivable use. All sales in UK were digitally delivered. In the
full year the catalogue (not including file) turnover from a relatively small client
list was 29,000 UK pounds ($40,000). The design including logo; the one time search
function license and the 516 drum scans cost approx 8,000 pounds ($12,000) to get
online. Running costs including unlimited ISDN internet access and mail forwarding
with 35MB included webspace from my ISP in UK cost 550 UK pounds per year ($800).
Our catalogue is weighted to a UK client base but we tried to include as many generic
"international" images as possible. The turnover figure above is UK only and does not
include sales of the same RP images by any agents outside the UK. In USA we are
represented exclusively by Grant Heilman Photography; 2001 gross sales from this same
core collection in USA were $8,000. At 50% this gives us $4,000 making the gross
total turnover for 2001 $48,000 with our gross being $44,000. All licenses are Rights
Protected Agripicture images and they are not available anywhere as RF. We think RF
is a very poor business model for us.
The size of a catalogue on a CD is only limited to the maximum data storage area. On
the web, catalogue size is really limited to internet speed as the entire database is
loaded upfront while the home page is loading. We think currently the limit on the
web is 2-3000 images. About the size of a paper catalogue? On the web we have always
believed we need to respect the Lowest Common Denominator. I would say that at least
for UK average connection speed is quite low, as speeds increase for most users this
will not be such a limiting factor.
The search function is copyrighted by Collini Design with the Swedish copyright
office. For more details about this system contact firstname.lastname@example.org.