Visual Communications Group (VCG), a United News & Media plc group company in the United Kingdom has acquired FPG International.
VCG owns both the Telegraph Colour Library and Colorific in London, Pix in France and Bavaria in Germany and has been in the stock business for a decade. VCG also recently acquired Giraudon, a fine art library in France.
With the acquisition of FPG, VCG has a sales network in over 60 countries and wholly owned offices in all major markets, except Japan. They claim to be the world's largest stock photography business which means their gross annual sales exceed the approximate $90 million annually of Getty Communications, also a London based company. FPG will continue to be operated as a separate division within VCG to permit VCG to capitalize upon the strength of FPG's identity and creative vision.
Sheldon Marshall, Chief Executive of VCG will be appointed President of FPG and David Moffly will be Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Moffly was President of the Grinberg Film Library with offices in New York and Los Angeles from 1993 to 1996. Barbara Roberts, President of FPG, will be leaving the company. Photo District News reports that she made an effort to purchase FPG. Jessica Brackman, who has been Chairman of FPG since 1982, will continue to play a role in the firm founded more than 60 years ago by her father, Arthur Brackman.
Sheldon Marshall says, "The editing for FPG and Telegraph catalogs will be handled separately. However, in the past, the two companies have shared images and there may be more of that in the future. We believe there will be more catalog opportunities for FPG photographers. FPG has been putting out a major catalog every 18 months. VCG put out six catalogs in the last year."
Some photographers who were in the Telegraph's Stock Directory 5 which came out in September 1996 complain about the quality of the reproduction and the design of the catalog. More to the point, however, they indicate that they have "never seen such bad sales from a new catalog as they are getting from this one."
Sheldon Marshall acknowledges that for some unexplained reason sales from the catalog got a slow start, but that they are on track now. He says the possible reason for the slow start is that some agencies may have delayed release of the catalog until after the first of the year.
VCG is actively exploring the potentials of on-line search and delivery, and hopes to have a network up and running before the end of 1997.
When asked about the possibility of providing content in the "royalty free" environment Sheldon Marshall said, "On the one hand it appears to be a threat and on the other an opportunity. We will watch developments closely but we don't expect to make a decision quickly."
Ms. Brackman said, "The stock photography industry has become increasingly competitive, and the pace of innovation and consolidation has accelerated. This move solidifies FPG's leadership position."
Percentage of Sales
In the new environment FPG photographers will need pay closer attention to their percentage of overseas sales. FPG contracts say the photographer gets 50% of what FPG receives. Until recently, it was fairly common for the overseas selling agent to retain 40% of the gross sale and remit 60% to the home office. The 60% would be split 50/50 with the photographer making the overall distribution (40%, 30%, 30%).
Now, many selling agencies are demanding 50% of gross sale, particularly when they pay a high fee to purchase catalogs from the parent agency. When the overseas agent is allowed to retain more the photographers income is cut. When the photographer's share drops from 30% to 25% of gross sales there is a net 17% loss in income for the photographer.
Sheldon Marshall says that in VCG's agreements, the selling office normally keeps 50% and remits 50% to the parent office. He acknowledges that in many of FPG's arrangements with sub-agencies, the selling agency retains 40% of the gross sale and remits 60% to FPG. However, VCG has been handling sales for FPG in the UK, France and Germany on the 50/50 basis for some time. Since these three countries probably represent in excess of 80% of FPG's sales outside the United States, any selling agencies that still retain only 40% are probably insignificant.
VCG may move to buy more offices in other countries. However, Sheldon Marshall indicates that while they are always looking for a good opportunities, there is no urgency because VCG is well positioned in the major markets.
As VCG, and other super-agencies, move into the position of being both the parent "catalog producing" agency, and the "catalog purchasing" sub-agency, it becomes far easier to adjust costs and percentages to maximize income for the agency at the expense of the photographers.
When the same managers control both sides there is nothing to prevent the "catalog producing" agency from charging a high fee for the catalogs (of which they get to keep 100%), and allowing the "selling agency" to keep a larger percentage of any eventual sales in exchange for that higher catalog fee. VCG could make such adjustments at will, and still be in total compliance with FPG contracts with its photographers.