The New FPG

Posted on 11/16/1997 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



November 16, 1997

FPG, a stock agency founded in 1936, was recently purchased by the London based

conglomerate Visual Communications Group, a subsidiary of United News & Media plc. The

new CEO at FPG is David Moffly.

FPG has a staff of approximately 230 in New York and gross annual sales of around $30

million. They represent 150 to 200 photographers who are their core producers and

around 3,000 who have pictures in the files and submit occasionally or are no longer

actively submitting.

The agency's marketing focus is catalogs. Mr. Moffly said, "People buy pictures they

can see. The catalogs themselves are a very efficient metaphors for looking at

pictures," said Mr. Moffly. He emphasized that the focus of FPG's energies will be

directed at choosing the images for the 10,000 to 15,000 product slots that become

available each year in various catalogs. These catalog slots are responsible for

approximately 80% of FPG's gross income.

At first glance this sounds like a tremendous increase over the 4,000 to 5,000 FPG has

been distributing annually. But, the FPG photographers will now be competing with

photographers from all the other VCG agencies (Telegraph Color Library, Colorific, Pix,

Bavaria, and Planet Earth) for these coveted spaces.

Current thinking is that FPG and the other VCG agencies combined will put out six

catalogs a years. Some will be general and others specialized. Every catalog has the

potential to be distributed worldwide

It used to be that a catalog produced for the U.S. would go into the International

market as is. Increasingly, a catalog prepared for one market is radically edited

before it is released in the other market. About 25% of the images were changed in a

recent VCG catalog released in the U.S. by FPG.

While the six catalogs a year is a goal, after releasing two catalogs in late summer

and early fall, FPG decided to delay the November release of a CD-ROM catalog and

combine it with Selects Vol. 8 which will be released around the beginning of 1998.

According to David Moffly the feeling was that they were releasing too many catalogs

too quickly. There may be a little shake out in determining the optimum number of

catalogs to release in any calendar year.

A CD-ROM disc will be produced from every print catalog and FPG is working on an

on-line database which will also contain every catalog image. The on-line site is

expected to be launched in December and the URL will be: Rebecca Taylor,

Director of Publishing, indicated that they are still considering whether some of the

general file material that doesnoet make it into the print catalogs should be included

on-line. She said, "Ultimately, everything we take into the file may go on-line."

However, Moffly indicated that, for the time being, the only images they will put

on-line are their catalog selects. Thus, it is possible that a single image might be

distributed in a U.S. print catalog, an International print catalog, on a CD-ROM and


Tighter Editing

A year or so ago, FPG was reviewing over a million images a year and accepting 250,000

for the general files. Moffly pointed out that a relatively small percentage of these

images ever made it into some type of catalog.

About 80% of FPG's approximately $30 million gross sales come from the catalog images

(the 4,000 to 5,000 mentioned earlier) and only about 20% of income comes from the rest

of the file. Moffly feels "that the returns from these two areas of business are all

out of whack. Rebecca (Taylor) has been a guiding force in trying to bring that back

into some sort of equilibrium."

JP. What do you think would be equilibrium?

Moffly. "What we are looking for is about 250,000 submissions annually and we might

accept about 70,000 or 80,000 images for the file."

Rebecca Taylor did point out that a high percentage of the images they accepted in the

past were distributed to agencies overseas. At present, the only images FPG

distributes overseas are dupes of those chosen for a catalog.

Moffly. "There was a program of distributing dupes and originals to the overseas

agents, but I don't think it was a big money winner. It was expensive and didn't pay


Moffly. "FPG has been very pro photographer putting up with submissions that arrive in

a shoebox." (My guess is that submissions this sloppy have not been accepted at FPG

for years, if not decades, but Moflly may believe that is the way the business has

operated). "As a business, we need to work with photographers who take the time to make

organized submissions. We're asking them to take a look at their processes. They

can't just say 'I can't make a decision so you make a decision."'

"They have to be objective about their own work and determine what is good and what

isn't good and try to submit to us only the good. Is that unreasonable?"

Photographer/Editor Collaboration

JP. There is a very fine line. Part of the problem is that the photographer knows

what he or she has sold in the past, but has no idea what has been requested from the

agency. Also, the photographer has very little idea as to what FPG already has in the


Moffly. "We are asking our editors as part of this whole new process to really step up

to the plate and communicate authoritatively with their photographers (by telling them)

where they see their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, the editors will focus the

photographers toward their strengths rather than encourage them to try to be, and

invest in, areas where the images are not going to be up to par, and where they are not

going to sell."

On the other hand several FPG photographers tell me that their editors seem to be

pushing them to shoot what is needed for the next specialized catalog rather than

focusing on their strength. The editor gets focused on her current need and not

necessarily on subjects that may be useful in a catalog two or three generations down

the road. Thus, when the next catalog is on "family life," as an example, the editor

tries to encourage the industrial, travel or landscape photographer to shoot family

life situations. That often doesn't work and is not necessarily helpful to either the

agency or the photographer.

Moffly. "We want the photographer to focus closer to the essentials. We want tighter

editing. We want photographers to stop overshooting." However he also says, "We want

to increase our file sales. We need a wide, but focused file. We want to accept less

work, but sell more of what we accept."

When photographers are pressured to edit tighter before submitting many salable images

never leave the photographer's studio.

I have the impression that Moffly believes the photographer/editor collaboration can be

systematized to the point that photographers will only shoot what is needed and never

produce anything that might be redundant to what is already in the files. This fails

to take into consideration that fact that the photographers are not employees, but each

is competing with many others in the agency for those coveted catalog slots. They know

that their income will be directly proportional to the number of images they get in the

catalog. They all want to shoot the subjects that are in highest demand and will give

them the best chance of catalog placement.

In addition, the agency relies to a great extent on the photographers to come up with

ideas for the photos. Usually, the only way an editor can determine whether the

photographer's idea will produce an "exceptional" image (by the editors definition) is

to look at the image after the photographer has produced it.

The problem for the photographer is that he or she has no way of determining that fact

unless the images are shown to the editor. Pre-planning is helpful, but no grarantee

that the final results will be "exceptional" in the editor's eyes. This is

particularly true if people are the subjects of the photos.

If an image is rejected by the editor, the photographer has basically wasted his time,

energies and expenses on that shoot. Another factor that plays into this equation is

that, based on past sales experience, photographers know that many of their above

average images are what clients will often buy to fulfill certain specific needs,

provided they know they exist.

Every photographer wants to produce great photography and I believe every FPG

photographer is trying to produce a great picture every time he or she goes to work.

However, for most, "great" doesn't happen every time. There are a lot of good, above

average, and excellent images produced along with the occasional outstandingly great

image. For most, if they can't figure some way to sell a reasonable portion of the

good, above average and excellent images they can't afford to produce the "great"

"premium" images at the prices that are currently being paid for such usages.

Even it the prices can be raised slightly for this higher level of quality that is

being demanded of the photographer, that probably will not be enough to insure the

photographer a profit. When a photographer only receives 25% of the gross sale, any

price increase to the client must be huge for the photographer's marginal increase to

be enough to cover his or her added costs.

There is also the question as to how much pre-planning will actually take place.

FPG has 8 editors for 200 active shooters. Thus each editor is responsible for about

25 photographers. My guess is that an editor could afford to spend no more than 1/4 of

her time on the phone talking to photographers and still get her other work done. That

means that at best she can afford to give each individual 20 to 25 minutes per week of

guidance relative to specific shoots.

Moffly seems to believe that most images are being rejected because they are not up to

proper "technical" standards. I suspect that is not the case unless the technical

standards have been raised to extraordinarily unrealistic heights. I suspect that the

vast majority of imagery that has been submitted by photographers who have been given

an FPG contract are technically at a very high level. My guess is that the bigger

reason for rejection is that there are already better images in the file on that


The dilemma, and this is not only at FPG but at every other major catalog agency as

well, is that the 200 photographers are capable of producing many more exceptional

images than the agency is prepared to distribute or the market is prepared to absorb.

The agency is clearly seeking a balance that will insure its growing profitability.

Photographers should not expect the agency to distribute more images simply because

they are capable of producing more images.

International Emphasis

In the past there was some cooperation between the Telegraph Colour Library and FPG in

sharing images for their various catalogs.

Moffly. "We are re-defining our processing systems for the next year to make images

produced by our photographers available to the publishing programs that run out of our

London office."

At the same time London is choosing images that will be integrated into the New York

files to be sold to the American market.

Moffly. "The business theory is that the best shot makes it into the catalog. The

challenge for the group is building those bridges to make the best images available in

both places at the same time. It is simply a re-defining both here in New York and

London the way images are reviewed for our publishing program."

JP. Which editors decide what are the best images, editors in the U.S. or the U.K.?

Moffly. "It depends on who is editing the book. The principle editor in London is Tim

Lund and here in New York it is Phyllis Giarnese. Both have teams working with them

who are responsible for the selection for future books."

The editors who review the photographers' initial submissions choose those images that

they think are of catalog quality and offer them to the catalog editors for

consideration in the next catalog. The international versions of future FPG catalogs

will be edited in London. Rebecca Taylor pointed out that Selects, Vol. 8 is in that

process right now.

Taylor. "The multi-cultural section in the American catalog will not be as extensive in

the international version and many of the images that are stylistically American will

be replaced with images from European photographers that have a more international


Future Of General File

With the cutback in the number of images to be accepted for the general file the

criteria for getting images accepted is certainly being raised.

JP. Do the photographers that have a high proportion of their sales coming from the

general file need to begin looking for another agency to handle their work because of

FPG's catalog emphasis. Many of these photographers shoot material that has more of an

editorial bent rather than being aimed toward advertising.

Moffly. "I don't think so, even if it has an editorial slant we want it to be "good"

photography. If they are not achieving the technical standards that are being

communicated to them by the editors, they are not achieving. I think overall in the

industry, at least in the market we are trying to address, the bar is being raised."

"We have been a file company and we expect to continue. We feel it is an important

component (about 20%) of our business. There is a need. The challenge is to make sure

that the images coming out of the file are of the same caliber as the images coming out

of the catalog. The reality is that you only have so many product slots in your

catalog and you have a lot of great photography and the images have to go somewhere so

they go into the file. The challenge is to have a tightly edited, terrific file so you

don't send out non-model released stuff and stuff that isn't great. I don't expect the

percentage of sales from the file to grow, but I think it will stay about the same."

I asked Rebecca Taylor, "If photographers who have made a large portion of their

income from general file sales can't get the same quantities of material into that

file as they did in the past, will they feel they need to go somewhere else to get that

work seen."

She said that so far no one has come to her with this problem, but if the problem

arises, they will have to look at it on a case by case basis. "We are not trying to

lock up our photographers, and would try to work out some arrangement that is mutually

beneficial," she continued.

It would appear from this statement that FPG might be open to letting exclusive

photographers market certain shots elsewhere if they are not accepted by FPG.

Some agents have indicated that they see the possibility of a resurgence in general

file sales because there are too many catalog images for the clients to search through.

As a result the clients are turning to the agencies with a description of what they

want and asking that they do the searching.

A few agencies say their sales are already moving in this direction. But Mr. Moffly

doesn't see this happening at FPG, or think that is where the market is heading.

Star File

The Star file is a 40,000 to 50,000 image file, mostly of catalog images, but including

many top quality images that have never been in catalogs. At present, nothing is going

into that star file that does not make the catalog. According to Mr. Moffly the file

was created to make it possible to bring certain images that didn't make the catalog to

a higher level of consideration so they could be pushed and brought to market faster,

given the length of time between catalogs. But, he says, "I don't know that it ever

really brought images to market faster."

Web Emphasis

JP. As you move into web products do you think there will be more opportunities for

additional images to get shown, or is it just going to be the catalog images?

Moffly. "It used to be, and it was the thinking in the film business as well (Moffly

was President of the Grinberg Film Library in New York before coming to FPG) that what

differentiated you was the more images the better. It was important to have 20 million

feet of film or 14 million images. The universe of images is really irrelevant to the

fact that you need to have the right image at the right time to meet the customers

needs. I don't think we are going to make more available, but this quite honestly may


"We don't do a lot of food in our catalog, but we have some depth in food in the files.

We might put more of these images in an on-line offering."

Photographers should not expect to see a big increase in the number of general file

images that appear on-line once the web site is in operation. Given current thinking,

it seems likely that the site will be very tightly edited for several years.

FPG will not be using a Digimarc on their web images as a means of protecting them from

misuse. Moffly says that their tests have indicated that this mark is too easy to

remove. At present they are exploring the Signum SureSign technology, which is a

successor of Highwater FBI in the UK. FPG may use that product for image protection

and tracking.

Moffly's background before coming to FPG was in helping entertainment industry

companies manage the process of transferring computerized data from one system to

another. Expect him to put a lot of energy into web development.

JP. How many of your customers are ready to use the web?

Moffly. "I think the web use follows a demographic breakdown. Those in their 20's are

very wedded to the web metaphor. FPG was a bit of a luddite* until we came in.

 	*Luddites were organized bands of employed and unemployed workers in the UK at the

time of the industrial revolution who rioted and destroyed machines in the textile

industry because they were afraid that the machines would eliminate their jobs. I

think Moffly is not implying destruction, but simply that FPG had been slow to accept

the potentials of the new technology, and that since his arrival we can expect to see a

much more rapid adoption of new technology in every way.

Moffly. "We have installed 4 T1's. Everybody, company wide, has at least e-mail, if

not internet access. I would expect that to be relatively similar in the near future

with most of our clients. Our bigger clients have developed their own corporate

intranets and are starting to build their own in house databases."

The web offering will initially offer about 20,000 images from Selects 5, 6, 7, and

CD-3 as well as the Stock Directory products and the Lifestyle catalog from the UK."

FPG is using PLS (Personal Library Software) for a search engine. All of these catalog

images are currently available as 28mb JPEG files which can be delivered to their

customers by disc or on-line once a licensing agreement has been reached.

The FPG site will also have a visual search engine that will search for similars in

terms of pixel density, patterns and color. "Quite frankly, I am not sold on it as a

search engine. I think the most efficient way is by keywords such as sunsets or people

walking on the beach and that type of thing. However, we will offer out clients both


Catalog Fees

Moffly. "The current FPG price for print catalog space is $350 per image, but that is

changing a little bit as we standardize with VCG. VCG charges by the size and by

whether it is a domestic, US or international catalog. It is actually funny because

VCG photographer were getting a cheaper rate to get into the American market than the

FPG photographers. So we are upping the international photographers a little bit to

bring them in line. There should be no difference between the FPG and the VCG

photographers in the rate charged to be in a given catalog."

Since Selects Volume 7, FPG only charges the photographer when the image sells. Images

are not cross-collateralized. Thus, if a photographer has ten images in the catalog,

but only six of them ever sell the photographer only pays a maximum of 6 times $350 or

$2100. If one or two produce thousands of dollars in sales the photographer still only

pays $350 for each of those images. If the total photographer's commission on one is

$250 that is all the photographer pays for that image.

FPG has also found it necessary to remove logos and clean up a number of images prior

to putting them in the catalog. In the past they had charged the photographer an

additional $100 on top of the catalog fee for this service. In the new operation that

fee will be dropped because VCG's policy is to work these costs into the general costs

of the catalog.

FPG currently charges $75 per image to put them on a CD. At this point FPG has not made

a determination as to what they will be charging photographers to place images on-line.

Moffly points out that the on-line economics are entirely different.

Royalty Free

JP. How is clip photography affecting your market?

Moffly. "I think clip photography is a broadening influence in the overall market.

What they are really promoting is the use of stock photography. As an overall

statement clip photography is very, very helpful. They are pushing the awareness of

the use of images where people may not have thought they could use an image. I think

it is very valid entry point into the market for clients."

Moffly. "What is our saturation point? I think the oversupply in the market has

driven, to some extent the phenomenal success of the royalty free market. There is an

over saturation of photography in the market."

JP. Does FPG plan to put out a clip disc?

Moffly. "No."

JP. What about VCG?

[Other sources tell me that VCG will offer a "Royalty Lite" product either on-line, on

CD or both early in 1998. The images will be licensed for certain minimal uses for the

basic cost of the discs, but higher fees will have to be negotiated for advertising

uses. It is expected that Royalty Lite will really take off when it is tied to images

that are researched and delivered through an on-line catalog.]

Moffly. "As a group I think we would be foolish not to address what we essentially see

as a different price point in the market. We tend to use the derisive term of "clip

disc" for these products, but there is no reason for this derision.

"The producers of these products will very quickly, in the next year or so, be in the

licensing business."

JP. PhotoDisc is already licensing rights to single images.

Moffly. "Yes, they do say for $50 you can have this single image to do with what you

want, but that's not a licensing product."

JP. What makes you think they will move to the licensing of rights.

Moffly. "Because I think it is a logical extension of their business. Fifty bucks a

download for a medium resolution file is a terrible business, but a couple hundred

bucks for some kind of rights control product is a real good business."

JP. All the sellers in the traditional market would be a lot happier if we saw some

movement in that direction.

Moffly. "I think you are going to see the prices of these royalty free discs go up

this year. My guess is that you will see the web offerings of PhotoDisc come up in

price. (They have recently raised the price from $49.95 to $69.95.) Other players will

offer more premium oriented photography, fewer images on a disc, less compression and

higher prices. Their previous business model was built on a sale of $250 or $300 and

the reality is that when you bought that disc you were only going to use one image.

The true price for that image was a couple hundred bucks."

JP. In their effort to gain market share what is to keep them from keeping prices low

until they drive everyone else out of the business, and then raise the price.

Moffly. "Who knows, we certainly won't be out of business soon based on their pricing


JP. Are you seeing traditional clients use royalty free material instead of FPG


Moffly. "I think we would be fools to say that our traditional clients only use FPG.

What we are seeing is on the insignificant stuff where it really doesn't matter they

buy at a different price point. When they need the products that we have to offer they

call us."

The focus seems to be very much on the price point that produces a profit for the

agency. It doesn't seem to take into account that the price point where the

photographer can realize a profit may be markedly different, given the different costs

involved. The goal, according to Moffly, is to compete at all the different price

points. If small brochure sales start to go to "Royalty Free" or "Royalty Lite," that

fine. The agency will just compete at those price points.

One question to consider is will the photographers who can't get images accepted into

the premium catalog make those images available for the "Royalty Lite" products as the

only way of earning something from the rest of their production.

Discounting and Research Fees

Moffly did not seem to be as concerned about the in roads that Royalty free might make

into the market as he was about the trends to cutting fees for traditional uses.

Moffly. "What I think is more problematic to us (than clip), on a competitive level,

is the deep discounting that we are seeing from Tony Stone Images. They have been

engaged, really, on an international level in some very very systematic, deep

discounting, targeting at specific areas where they want to grab market share. They

are playing a different game. They are giving away the store to grab market share."

JP. It doesn't seem to me that they are picking up all that much market share.

Moffly. "No, it's foolish to me. I saw this in the stock film business. Everyone all

of a sudden went to no research fees. Nobody actually gained any more business by

waving the fee. What they succeeded in doing is upping their volume of research where

there are no opportunity costs for the photo editor to call five companies as opposed

to three. So the job volume goes up and the close ratios go down, and really as an

industry everybody loses and everybody suffers. The photo editor doesn't have to make

a decision up front. They can get everyone's pictures."

"We still have a research fee, but it is only for when you use research and don't buy

anything. It is a very important component. We want to be sure when clients they are

serious. Market pressures may change this, but by giving away the store you actually

gain much except to add to your own costs."

Style of Images They Want

I wanted to try to get an idea of how far the kind of images FPG is looking for and how

far they would be pushing the "cutting edge" in their catalog. Defining in words the

characteristics of this look is very difficult (which also points up part of the

problem editors are going to have in explaining to photographers what they want them to

shoot.). Finally, by way of example, I referred to the Tony Stone Images

"Interpretations" catalog. And we focused on that as a definition of what is "edge" or

"new style."

Moffly. "We call that a 'hearts and minds' book. I think that 'Interpretations' book

is a marketing piece. TSI in my opinion is attempting to tread that fine line of

saying to the creative director 'we understand what you want,' 'we understand you and

this book is our affirmation of that understanding,' 'we have what you need.' At the

end of the day that book as a sales generator is not going to be a very big number.

But, our challenge, and TSI's challenge, is to excite that art director with

interesting, sort of edgy photography, and also give them the beef when that is what

is needed to fulfill a particular client's requirements."

"In the TSI context I think it is a great vehicle to imbed themselves in their client's

mind as "cool, hip, edgy, I've got it" and it ties in very nicely with their print


JP. But, their are two purposes for putting out a catalog, Selling Specific Pictures

and Getting Clients To Come To You To Buy Other Pictures. Which direction will FPG go?

Moffly. "The answer is that we will not be putting out an 'Interpretations' catalog."

JP. Is it fair to photographers to have to pay for the marketing piece that is aimed

at reaching for the "hearts and minds," but is really not going to sell their specific


Moffly. "That's a fair question for TSI, but at FPG we will not be asking our

photographers to do that. We expect a significant piece of revenue from each book.

We have a financial model about how much it costs to produce and distribute our books

and what we expect as a return on investment."

Opportunities For New Photographers

JP. Are you interested in accepting new photographers?

Moffly. "Yes, but even if you are a great young photographer, and you are full of hot

stuff and you come to FPG, we have someone we have been working with for fifteen years

who has saturated the file with their great photography. The poor young guy has very

little chance coming to us, or any of the major agencies, because we still have a very

good, balanced, mature list of photographers."

Copyright © 1997 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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