The Future Is Alamy.Com

Posted on 9/6/2001 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



September 6, 2001 is beginning to look like the leading option
for photographers to market their images. They plan to launch a major promotional campaign this

fall to image buyers.

One of the major advantages of is that it comes closer to being a pure technology
service provider (TSP) than most of the alternatives. Many of the other operations are focused
toward trying to be full-service stock agencies, rather than just providing technology services
to all comers -- photographers, stock agencies, editors, etc.

The system is a new model for marketing stock photography. It promises to offer
photographers much more control over their work, and eliminate many of the disadvantages that
have been inherent in the stock agency systems up to this time.

When alamy first announced their plans in the fall of 2000 many photographers had reservations
for a couple major reasons:

  • They questioned whether could supply all the services stock agencies
    presently supply on only 10% of sales.

  • It appeared that the editing of the file would be very loose and many thought that a poorly
    edited file would turn off customers.

In answer to the first question, alamy never intended to offer ALL the services of stock
agencies. They are focused on being a supplier of technology services, and that is what the 10%

To understand the true value of this offering you must first accept a few facts:

  • While photographers can build their own searchable web sites, it is very time consuming
    to keep up with the latest developments in technology. It is very easy for a photographer to end
    up spending more time building a web site than taking pictures.

  • There is an advantage for the customer in being able to go to one location to find the
    images offered by many suppliers, rather than having to search through hundreds of different
    sites to find what they need.

  • There is a huge advantage for the customer in being able to use a keyword searchable
    database to search for images rather than try to find images on web sites that are not fully
    keyword searchable.

  • Sites with a large number of images provide economies of scale that are not available to
    small site operators. This enables large site operators to provide a much more efficient service
    at a much lower cost per-image.

  • Sites must be marketed to be effective. The larger the number of images those costs can be
    spread over, the cheaper the cost-per-image.

  • There are advantages in having someone else manage the day-to-day operations of an online

  • There is an advantage in being able to get started with a relatively low entrance fee,
    rather than having to pay the full costs of setting up a searchable site before starting to offer

  • The needs of stock photo customers are much different from assignment customers. A personal
    web site may work very well in presenting a portfolio to a targeted group of customers who are
    looking for a photographer with specific skills that they can hire for an assignment,
    particularly if this targeted group is of limited number. The stock photo buyer wants to see a
    cross section of images from a number of photographers on a very specific subject. And that
    subject will change from day to day and job to job. Two totally different types of marketing are
    required to reach people with these different buying needs -- even though they may be exactly the
    same individuals on different days.

If you accept these statements, then there is a big advantage to having someone who will just
supply technology services. Based on our analysis and discussion with alamy we believe that once
they reach a critical mass of imagery they will be able to supply these basic services for 10% of

However, there are a lot of normal agency services that are not part of's core
business. They will not be providing:

    1 - Assistance in editing

    2 - Scanning

    3 - Keywording

The way they handle negotiated sales, and the degree to which there will be any negotiating will
be different from a traditional stock agency. They will not have a worldwide staff of

Custom marketing to special user groups is likely to be done by the suppliers rather than And they are not set up to provide special research to assist buyers in finding the
images they need. This may change, but is not in the present plans.

If photographers don't need these kinds of agency servies, then this is not a problem. But every
photographer that the services offers for their basic fee are not as comprehensive as
the services of most stock agencies.

The system is designed to overcome the technical and cost hurdles in building a
comprehensive online presence. This reduces capital investment and enables the photographers to
focus on their key skills of editing and production.

New Developments - Solutions for the Editing Problem is now offering two new features that greatly expand the potential of their site. They
are Custom Portals for Agencies and Collections.

Now with Agent 1.0 stock agencies can have their own website address where customers can search,
purchase and download images. The agency can also handle negotiations directly with their
customers and all library contact details are displayed on their home page. This custom portal
shows only the agency's images and nothing else. The agency can then promote that portal to the
agency's customer base. They pay 10% of sales to for managing and maintaining the
technology, and they focus on what they know best -- the editing, customer relations and
negotiation of sales. Agencies can also use this tool to create smaller collections of their
total offering -- much like a catalog -- that show their best images on a particular topic.

"This is a major breakthrough for the industry. For the first time, agencies can offer their
customers full e-commerce capability. Agent 1.0 is an effective and secure way for agencies to
take their first step into the digital future. By having no upfront costs, libraries can also
invest more in marketing and focus on delivering value to their customers," said James West, CEO.

Some of the libraries already using the new service are Arcaid, Garden Picture Library, Steve
Bloom Images, Image Source, Image Farm, Pictor, and BBCWild. To see an example of a specialized
agency using this service see and search for "museums".

One of the major advantages of this strategy is that it is now easy to market custom sections of
the site, as well as the total site. Potentially much more marketing will be done
because various groups will be doing special interest marketing to special interest buyers.

Getting Images Into Special Marketing Groups

Photographers who post their images on directly will also benefit from this service. In
the near future alamy intends to make it possible for agencies with images on the site to connect
with photographers who have already posted images on the site, and include images (when approved
by the photographer) in separate agency promotions.

Here's how that will work. After reviewing images that are available on the main site, the agency
will make contact with the photographer and indicate that they would like to show some of the
photographers images as part of their edited group of images, on their portal. If the
photographer agrees, the images can easily me made available through both the agency's custom
portal and the main portal.

Of course the agency will take some type of percentage of any sales they make because they are
going to be spending money promoting their special portal. What this percentage might be is left
to negotiation between the agency and the photographer. is out of the picture at this
point, but alamy will still be managing the overall portal and setting certain rules for how
transactions will be handled.

One of those rules ia that if an agency negotiates a sale, certain specifics about the sale must
be reported in a online reporting system the day the deal is completed. Eventually (this module
is not completed yet), the photographers will be able to view this information for all sales of
their images, and determine on a daily basis which of their images have been licensed in which
parts of the world.

This is a total win situation for the photographer. The image remains on the main alamy site. If
a sale results from a customer coming to the main alamy site (which is promoted separately) the
photographer gets 90% of the fee minus the 3.5% to 5% charged for either credit card payment of
invoicing. If the sale results from the customer entering the agency portal the photographer
gives up an additional percentage, but this is only on those sales that he wouldn't have gotten

There is no limit on the number of agency portals on which a photographer can participate. The
only limiting factor would be if some of the agencies insisted on being the only agency in their
country representing a particular group of images. Some agencies may choose to operate that way.
But such a strategy would seem not to be in the best interest of the agency because it would
limit their offering to their customers. In any event, we expect that in the near future there
will be plenty of agencies seeking to represent the images photographers have posted on the alamy
site in certain special markets.

What About Exclusives?

If multiple agencies are able to license rights to my images doesn't that eliminate the
possibility of making big ticket exclusive sales?

The simple answer is No. If the image is only available on the alamy site, all the sales
information on that image from all the agencies licensing it will be available on the alamy site.
Thus, any one of the agencies can, at any time, determine whether there are any restrictions on
the licensing of that image. In addition, if an exclusive is licensed, a block can be put on the
licensing for any competing purpose during the time of the exclusive. This feature is not fully
operating on the Agent 1.0 version, but it is a simple process to set up and is sure to be
offered in the not to distant future.

For any who are skeptical, consider what had to happen when an exclusive was licensed through one
of the many Image Bank offices that used to be located around the world. If a U.S. exclusive was
licensed in New York there had to be communications with Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, etc. that
told them they could not license certain uses to that image for a certain period of time. The
online database just makes this process simpler. It is not important whether all these sales
offices belong to one organization, or whether they are many organizations so long as the data is
reported to, and maintained, in one central database.

Getting New Work Up Quickly

One advantage for the photographer is that they can put new images up as fast as they want to and
not have to worry about some agency taking too long to look through their new images. At that
point the images can at least be seen through alamy's main site. Once the images are on the site
photographers can contact any custom portals they would like to work with and ask them to take a
look at these new images. Many of the organizations with custom portals will be happy to accept
images in this way since they no longer have to incur costs of scanning and keywording.

New Groupings

Some photographers want to set up cooperatives. These can be organized around any subject such as
travel, wildlife, nature, education, aviation, cars, etc. Certain photographers who produce
several different types of work might want to become part of several cooperatives. One of the
keys to making such cooperatives successful will be in deciding how to market their custom
portal, and identifying a particular group of customers. We recommend that photographers not rush
out to set up a cooperative until they have a solid plan for promoting their portal and have a
plan for handling negotiations when the automatic price doesn't work for the customer.

Choosing Which Groups To Join

Get a contract, be convinced that the agency will pay you promptly for any sales, understand who
the agency will be marketing to, get comfortable with their pricing structure and see how this
type of marketing develops. Also try to get an easy termination clause if the relationship
doesn't work out as expected. alamy can easily add or remove images from any custom edit group.

Collections has also developed a system called "Collections". With this system any editor can come
onto the site, and select a group of images for a special collection, give
that collection a title, and have it included on the alamy site as part of a list of collections.
The editor must get permission from each photographer to include their images in the collection
unless the photographer has given blanket permission to be included.

When photographers upload images, offers them the option of having their images
included in: all collections, collections with specific approval or no collections. I recommend
that photographers not give blanket approval and only allow their images to be included in
collections with their "specific approval" until it becomes clear how well the collections
strategy will work. One of the problems this raises is that the collector must do the work before
he knows whether he can use the images in his collection, or not. But, I believe photographers
should not give up an additional 20% of sales until they get a thorough understanding of how
collections might be used.

Let me explain a little more about collections. Suppose an editor searches the site for
"Birds of North America." This person finds that there are too many bird pictures to look through
and they are not well organized by North America, so the editor decides to produce a
"Collection." The editor puts together a selection of what he or she thinks are the best North
American bird pictures and gives this collection a title. If a buyer searches through this
collection and chooses an image from it the collector gets a percentage of any sale that results.
If the buyer finds the same image on the general site without using the collection the
collector gets nothing. In this situation it may be beneficial for most photographers to have
their images included in the collection because it is likely to be a useful aid to buyers looking
for this type of imagery.

Keep in mind that while has set 20% as the collectors share, that is open to
negotiation, if you are giving specific approval. Some collectors may accept less, although it is
hard to see how it will be worth the collectors time to accept much less in most cases. Some
collectors may want more, and that may be worthwhile if the collector is going to promote the
collection in some special way and you believe the collection is likely to really produce

At the moment, alamy is hand picking collectors to maintain the quality of the editing, and to
see how the whole collection strategy develops. It is not clear, at this point, that buyers will
use collections. If that is the case then an editors work could be totally wasted. To really be
effective, I believe specific collections will need to be promoted in some way, and it is not
clear exactly how that is going to happen.

One area where I think collections are likely to be very effective is in textbook research. Many
textbook researchers spend weeks doing indepth research for the book projects they work on. They
are often required to provide five or six images for each situation they are trying to
illustrate. They may pull together hundreds of images on a specific broad book topic. Once the
researcher has such a group of images for a particular title, if he or she creates a collection
that will be available for use by the next person working on a similar project, this original
researcher has the potential of earning additional income from the work already completed. This
will also be an incentive for researchers to use as much as possible.

Agencies can also use the collection strategy to develop smaller groupings of images on
particular subjects within the images they are already authorized to represent. This may turn out
to be one of the most beneficial ways to used the collection tool.

Editing Solution

It should be clear that the above initiatives solve the entire editing issue. There is no longer
reason for concern that will become to large and unwieldy. Now there are all types of
custom edits being marketed separately. When this strategy fully flowers it will offer the best
of all worlds for photographers. It provides custom edits that can be promoted separately, and a
huge site that has plenty of depth in lots of subject areas for those who want to spend the time
to go through it.

It makes it possible for photographers to get their images into an online database quickly at the
least cost. And it offers them the possibility of having those images marketed by many different
marketers using a wide range of marketing strategies.

It is important to recognize the huge advantage this system offers buyers over the Getty and
Corbis offerings. No longer will the buyers choice be limited by the vision of a few editors who
have risen to the top at these large corporations, and who control what will be shown on to all

Through hundreds of different editors will be offering different selections, and
different perspectives to the limited sections of the market with whom they deal. In this way a
much more eclectic offering will be made available to the buying public. There may be some
difficulty for the buyer in learning which custom portal to enter. But that can be solved to a
great extent through targeted marketing. This is far less of a problem for the buyer than having
no idea whatsoever where to go to find the image they really need.

Pricing Uses

One of our concerns about is their pricing structure for uses. Most of the rates are
based on United Kingdom rates which are often very low when compared with normal U.S. rates. In
the next version of the software, expected to be launched before the end of the year, stock
agencies will be able to require that all uses be negotiated. Then they can charge their normal

Based on everything we can determine from the buyers of Rights Protected images in the U.S., we
feel that requiring buyers to negotiate uses rather than providing them with automatic pricing
will not inhibit them from using the site.


Another potential advantage of a large central site are the statistics that can be generated and
made available to the suppliers. promises to provide information in the future as to
what subjects are being requested and the subjects that are in greatest demand.

As this industry moves ahead image suppliers will need to be smarter about what they shoot and
what they post online. They will not be able to afford to spend money to post images that no one
is interested in buying. They will need regular feedback on what is being requested. The data
from a large database will be much more useful than the data that can be generated from any
small, individual photographer site.

Thanks to Getty and Corbis

We need to take a moment to thank Getty and Corbis for working through a lot of the problems in
online selling and pointing the way to what does and doesn't work. Due to the pioneering work
done by Getty and Corbis customers are now more ready to accept online search and delivery than
they were a year or two ago. With today's knowledge many of the expensive mistakes and the
general costs of the past can be avoided.

Given the huge upfront investment that Getty and Corbis have made to get their operations where
they are today, they have little alternative but to retain a high percentage of revenue (thus
keeping the photographer's percentage low) in order to return something to the investors who have
subsidized their huge start up costs.

At this particular time a new start up like has the benefit of not being saddled with
huge unnecessary costs, the knowledge of what has already been tried and found not to work well,
and a technology that is more mature.

It is unnecessary to spend the kind of money Getty and Corbis have spent to build an efficient
online operation. Much of the technology is much cheaper now and does not have to do
much of the costly experimentation. It also seems clear from Getty and Corbis' efforts that
acquiring all the major agencies had not been beneficial for two major reasons:

  • They don't own the product they are selling, the photographers do.

  • They have fired or gotten rid of most of the people with institutional knowledge and good
    customer contacts. has set up a system that gives the photographers more power. It supports, and takes
advantage of the existing agency structure, rather than trying to supplant it with something
totally new. It recognizes the value of many of services to both photographers and customers that
agencies have always provided and supports those existing practices and operations. If it turns
out (as I believe it will) that analog files will still be needed to some degree can be
successful and profitable at whatever level the digital search and delivery is needs. With their
structure Getty and Corbis can only be successful if they can drive everything to digital.

History will probably prove that Getty and Corbis came into the market too early when there was
little knowledge and costs were too high. It looks like's timing will probably be
flawless. They got in at a time when the early leaders were beginning to falter, but early enough
to lead the Second Wave.

Copyright © 2001 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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