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Sunday, November 16, 2008

10 Questions for: PhotoShelter

In light of the demise of Digital Railroad, a few readers have written expressing concern about the future of PhotoShelter, and what their
closing of the PhotoShelter Collection means. So, we thought we'd ask them how things are going, and we turned to Grover Sanschagrin for answers.

1) Some readers were concerned about the closing of the PhotoShelter Collection and seem to be confusing that with the entire PhotoShelter service. Can you shed some light on this?
We closed down the PhotoShelter Collection because it wasn't cost-effective to keep it running considering the current economic climate. The last thing we wanted to do was put the PhotoShelter Personal Archive in jeopardy. This is the product we started with over 3 years ago, with over 35,000 photographers subscribing to it. It was a difficult decision at the time, but it was the right decision. Doing so allowed us to cut the burn rate - and "cutting the burn" is the key to survival right now.
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2) So, the PhotoShelter Collection was an effort for PhotoShelter to get into the photo agency business, marketing and licensing images collectively for those PhotoShelter users that wanted to participate?
Exactly. A global search across all archives has always been possible with PhotoShelter. But the Collection added photo editors, a sales staff, research people, and a beefed-up marketing department. It was free for photographers to participate, and when sales were made, PhotoShelter's take was 30%.
3) When Digital Railroad was in its' final death throws, PhotoShelter was very active behind the scenes trying to figure out a way to help stranded photographers rescue their images. Do you feel that most photographers were able to get their images off the DRR servers in time?
Unfortunately, most people didn't get their images off in time. The longer someone waited to get their images, the less likely they were to experience successful transfers. The people who jumped on it the moment you started writing about it on your blog were able to get their entire archives safely ported over to PhotoShelter.
4) Of the reportedly 1,400 or so active DRR photographers, about how many are now PhotoShelter customers?
This may sound like a non-answer, but we really don't know for sure which of our newest customers are from DRR. I can tell you, however, that signups have *definitely* increased. If I were to make a rough estimate, I'd say that somewhere around 35% of the total DRR population have signed up with PhotoShelter since the news first broke.
5) Prior to the demise of DRR, it was said that PhotoShelter (as separate from the PhotoShelter Collection) was a cash-flow positive business, so it would stand to reason that the addition of that 35% who migrated from DRR would make PhotoShelter even more stable moving forward. Can you expand on this?
I can't really expand on that at all, at least not with the kind of specific details that I know you want. But I will say that I am proud of our management team, and that the decisions made were difficult but right, and the company, and product, has never looked better as a result. As a company that takes its archiving responsibilities very seriously, we're not interested in taking chances. We're interested in long-term survival, and putting the company in a position it can happen -- even during an economic downturn.
6) What growth areas do you see for PhotoShelter in the future?
Now that the Collection isn't such a large focus anymore, we've turned our full attention to the Personal Archive. We plan to continue with our aggressive development calendar, and respond to the ideas and suggestions of our customers. Making the product stronger is our main focus.
7) We've previously highlighted the new embed-able galleries features, as well as the incredible shoot-to-live-online capabilities. Are there any exciting new features you can tip us off to in the near future?
Are there exciting new features coming? Yes. Will I tell you what they are? Not exactly. I'm not sure if people realize just how amazing our engineers are, and how fast they can turn an idea into a reality. With their full attention on the Personal Archive, my job has never been more exciting.
8) What can the average photographer be expecting to spend each month on your service?
We've got several different price points, starting with a Free account (with only 150mb of storage) to allow people to get in there and check it out for as long as they'd like. We've got accounts at $9.99/mo (10GB), $29.99/mo (35GB) and $49.99/mo (100GB). Adding more storage can be done on-the-fly and at extremely affordable rates.
9) Shouldn't that nominal amount either be an easily absorbable figure into a small businesses' overhead, or billable out as "online image delivery" to a client when an assignment is delivered that way? (in other words, are other photographers doing it that way?)
Considering what you're getting for your monthly subscription, it's an absolute bargain. A serious photographer using PhotoShelter to drive their business has no problem covering these costs. Wedding photographers can charge a bride/groom for an online digital archive; Retouchers can avoid the costs of DVDs by selling archiving space to their customers; Photographers of all kinds can open up brand new revenue streams with print sales or by making personal-use downloads available, etc.
10) What seems to be the one stumbling block that a potential user is not surpassing that is precluding them from signing up, and what would you tell them if you were talking to them one-on-one?
Many photographers think that in order to make use of PhotoShelter, they'd first have to spend hours and hours uploading their entire archive, and this is time they do not have. I regularly tell photographers to just get started today, and worry about the past later. Tomorrow will eventually be yesterday, so the longer you wait to get started, the more of a chore it will be when you finally get around to it.

I also think that many photographers look at PhotoShelter and ask themselves if it can do everything they need it to do in terms of how they are running their business, instead of how PhotoShelter can, through innovation, actually improve HOW the are running their business.

My favorite PhotoShelter user is anyone who is curious, willing to experiment and try new things, sees the Internet as an opportunity, and is innovative in their business strategy. This kind of attitude and outlook is critical to success and long-term stability - something we should all be thinking about.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Licensing Illiteracy = Obsolescence

If your best client came to you and said "learn Spanish, or you're no longer going to get hired by us." Would you?

If your best client came to you and said "The slang and odd language you use isn't condusive to a constructive dialog when we're working together. If you can't speak proper English we won't be able to work together anymore." Would you drop the street talk and keep the client?

If you answered no to either of those questions, you need to think again. This is business, and if you want to do business, and keep doing business, you need to set aside any attitudes like "Who he think he is tellin' me I can't talk street, yo?" and realize that businesses do whatever they can to keep their clients. It's not personal, or an affront to you, it's just business.

When a client thus, comes to the determination that the language you've been using to describe your licensing is the equivilent of ambiguous street language, and decides that they're tired of intepreting what "collateral" really means, and in turn, they specify the use of the Picture Licensing Universal System (PLUS) system be incorporated into the licensing agreements you convey to them, you'd better step to it.

That is exactly what's happened with the top three image licensees in the US. These three major publishers have called for the adoption of the PLUS standards by picture archives, photographers, illustrators and all other image suppliers. Representatives of McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson each announced that they will adopt the PLUS Picture Licensing Glossary definitions in their contracts, and that they encourage image suppliers to begin embedding PLUS license metadata in all images within one year.
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"We are very pleased that these major publishers - the largest image licensees in the industry - are aligned in their support of the PLUS standards," said Maria Kessler (LinkedIn: Profile), President of the Picture Archive Association of America.

Bonnie Beacher (LinkedIn: Profile), Senior Director of Contracts, Copyrights and Permissions at McGraw-Hill Education, said "The PLUS standards
benefit publishers and their suppliers by simplifying and clarifying the process of licensing and managing images. We are in the process of implementing PLUS standards, and we would find it very useful for our image suppliers to adopt PLUS standards as well."

Jeff Sedlik (LinkedIn: Profile), President & CEO of the PLUS Coalition, said "The PLUS standards will allow publishers to leverage embedded license metadata to increase automation and more efficiently manage images in their digital asset management systems."

What this means is that the Getty, Corbis, Alamy, et al licensors of the world will now be implementing PLUS language into every type of licensing that they do. The license will have to be PLUS compliant, because they won't know if the person browsing their site is a McGraw-Hill person, or a magazine photo editor, as they are filling up their cart full of images, and selecting the licenses they need. So, when the client is considering your work, you'll have to use the same words as the Gettys of the world so that a client can properly manage all images in their digital asset management system.

Clients have already specified to you they need an invoice before they can pay you, and it needs to say "Invoice" on it, be dated, and have your contact information, and so too, the need your tax id # (SSN, EIN, etc). There's little difference here in the standardization of the language for licensing.

When it comes to licensing language clarity, and agreement cross-industry, PLUS is a monumental collaboration, and one we have hearlded from this soapbox for some time. As an individual photographer, it's free for you to use, and you would do well during your down time - like excising the street from your talk, to get to know PLUS better. Your clients are demanding it.


Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Neither Truth, Nor Ethics, Need an Ally

Ethics eBookI love books. If I were to have only one regret this life, it would be that there wasn't enough time to read all the books that I want to. My reading list is a long one, and so often, new books have to fight hard to cut the line. I also collect books, and nestled amongst my signed editions of Ansel Adams' The Negative, The Print, Natural Light Photography, and Artificial Light Photography (note: I am still seeking Book 1), several Sam Abel books, signed limited editions of all the great surf photography books, and books like Csikszentmihalyi's Flow, is a book by the legendary Howard Chapnick - Truth Needs No Ally: Inside Photojournalism. I was honored to have him sign mine, and yes, be represented by his agency, Black Star. Yet, there's no bias here - his independent status as a legend probably preceded my birth.

So, it is with reverance that another Chapnick - John Chapnick - comes forth with a new book - Photojournalism, technology and ethics - What's Right and Wrong Today? Oh, and get this - it's a free eBook! Hit this link for the PDF.

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In the book, Chapnick states the obvious. Obvious, that is, to those of us who have been doing this awhile. Things like "altering photographs is unethical." Then there's "Staging photographs is unethical." Now, I know these things, yet I see these things happen all the time, and we read time and again about altering photographs and then their appearing in newspapers. Yet Chapnick delves into these issues, citing the policies of wire services and newspapers around the country, and then proffering the thought process:
The rhetorical justifications for these axioms center on public service. Rather than simply selling newspapers or attracting TV ratings, journalists have a higher calling—to provide their audiences with the knowledge required to be informed contributors to a democracy. And this can only happen when the public believes in the newspaper’s authority.

Ahh. Now some lightbulbs are going off in readers' heads. So, where does the money trail meander? Chapnick goes on:
Beyond this consideration, credibility is essential to mainstream news organizations from a business standpoint. If audiences don’t believe they can trust what they’re reading—and seeing—it’s the equivalent of a broken product. And consumers don’t buy broken products for very long.

Chapnick then goes on to address the excuses we're hearing from our motion picture brethren, that staging is justified "for purposes of editing", or "for purposes of time", or "for purposes of storytelling", even when the audience is not told of these "re-creations". One field notorious for staging photography is in the field of nature/wild animal photography, with all manner of baiting, pens, and so forth creating a reality that never existed, but which yielded a cover photograph on the front page of the most prestigious magazines of our time.

In the end Chapnick also offers solutions for the digital era, and it's a solid read, primer (or reminder), for anyone who professes to produce editorial images. So, hats off to John Chapnick for a well written and thoughtful perspective on the issue of technology and ethics in photojournalism today. While ethics need no ally, its' furtherance surely needs this roadmap to ensure that tomorrows' photojournalists earn and keep the reputation of truth-telling - no more, and no less.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

The Fashion Police - White House Edition

When, several years ago, I was assisting a friend in getting his first Capitol Hill press pass, as we arrived to proceed into the building, I handed him one my disposable razors I keep in my car, and in said "you need to run this over your face." "Why?" he asked? "It's a simple matter of respect", I noted. To this day, he gives me a hard time with that phrase, and we're such good friends that he didn't take offense at my counsel. (and he did get his credential.)

Yesterday, when I turned up at the White House for my planned coverage of Barack Obama's visit, I was dressed in a suit. That's just me, I guess. Others were not similarly attired, but there were a half-dozen other still photographers wearing ties. I recall with great respect then Agence France Presse photographer David Ake, 15+ years ago, always came into the White House well dressed, and he recieved the respect due a properly attired photographer. Today, Ake is the head of the Associated Press' photo operation here in DC, and he remains well dressed.

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Re-enter my good friend and colleague, David Burnett. David is a classy guy - top of his class in so many ways, and his class can surmount jeans, except when it's a random challenge by a press operation that has lost much of it's knowledge-base because of the few days left in it's existence. David recounts on his blog - Common Sense, Not Very Common, (11/11/08), writes:
So last Thursday, at what will no doubt be President Bush’s last cabinet meeting, Paul Richards of AFP and I were singled out of the crowd of a dozen still photographers, and refused entry to the photo opportunity in the Cabinet Room. Like Paul, I have been on the road for months doing the campaign. We were both surprised, unhappily, when we were informed that with just months to go in an 8 year tenure, the White House has decided to ban jeans from the Oval Office, and (apparently) the Cabinet Room if worn by photographers.
While I concur that David shouldn't have worn jeans, he would have learned that 7+ years ago had the current administration instituted that rule - and enforced it - way back then. To enforce a rule they've previously not enforced, or been lax in enforcing, is just petty, and belies the mindset of the outgoing administrations attitude towards the press.

While you ponder this, check out previous blog posts on this subject:

Proper Attire Whilst Making Pictures, 6/1/08

Leave The Flip Flops For The Politicians, 5/23/07

So, as the saying goes, dress for who you want to be, not who you are. Wait, I want to be David Burnett...but can I do it without wearing jeans?

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

DRR's Formal Notice of Shutdown - One Big Concern

Below you will find formal notice about DRR's suitor - Newscom - recinding it's interest. Of particular interest is the following:

"The creditor will have all information erased from the storage devices and then sell the equipment at auction."

The concern is that someone will simply do a simple erase, and anyone with recovery tools can recover ALL of our images. ALL OF THEM. Stories abound about people's private information getting found on a company's old servers (Government probe launched after details of one million bank customers found on computer sold on eBay, 8/28/08, among others). Here, we have images which will be recovered and then someone will decide they have this huge library of images to do with as they please.

Someone needs to get information on just how they plan to do the erasing.

Formal notice after the jump:
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November 10, 2008
To Digital Railroad Members and Customers;

As reported on October 31st, Digital Railroad (DRR) had received a letter of intent (LOI) to purchase specific assets of DRR, namely its hardware and application software used to store and retrieve images. This LOI was rescinded on November 5th.

On November 6th, a second company became interested in purchasing some of the assets of DRR, but late on Friday, November 7th this company also ended its negotiations.

Without a commitment for the purchase of its assets, DRR’s senior secured creditor will move to take physical possession of the hardware on which the intellectual property of DRR and the copyrighted images of its customers and partners reside. The creditor will have all information erased from the storage devices and then sell the equipment at auction.

Digital Railroad had hoped that it could preserve the images on the storage devices so that the owners of these images could recover them. Unfortunately, this was not achievable. We apologize for the difficulties that this has created but without additional resources we have no other recourse.

With regard to images in Marketplace that have been downloaded and/or used, and for which the publisher has not already made payment, we will work, with the assistance of photographer associations to have the publishers pay the photographers directly.

Please check the Diablo Management website for regularly updates regarding Digital Railroad. The DRR link is at the bottom of the DMG Home page.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

Friday, November 7, 2008

SPOTLIGHT: The Olympics You didn't See (By David Burnett)

My good friend and colleague, David Burnett, who wrote this really great piece about his experience "in the buffer" covering election night in Chicago - History In The Buffer - and which is a remarkable diary of his election night experience, and well worth a read, has put together a really interesting piece about his experiences behind the scenes at the Olympics. Check it out!

The Olympics You Didn't See from David Burnett on Vimeo.

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Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

Doing Less Costs You More

One of my daily reads is Seth Godin's blog. He has a lot of good things to say, and I know that others, including Leslie Burns Dell'Acqua reads him daily as well, and she too highlighted his message for the day about mediocrity. I'll take a similar tact.

When you are not paying attention to the details, you could well cost your business a lot of money, and certainly a diminished reputation. Today, Seth wrote - The sad lie of mediocrity - "The sad lie of mediocrity is the mistaken belief that partial effort yields partial results. In fact, the results are usually totally out of proportion to the incremental effort."

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Here are a few examples:

1) Recently, a colleague of mine wrote to someone, and addressed them as "Mrs." The problem is, she is a he.

2) An estimate went to a client with a DC and a NYC office. The address error to someone paying attention was something like below:
John Smith
Big Corporate Client
1234 Madison Ave, 5th Floor
Washington DC 10017
John Smith
Big Corporate Client
1234 Madison Ave, 5th Floor
New York NY 10017
Because a large majority of our clients are DC based, the software we use auto-fills in Washington DC for that client, but someone wasn't paying attention when that estimate went out.

Paying attention to details, smiling when you're talking to clients, being upbeat and positive during those interactions, saying things like "let me figure out a way to make that happen..." instead of "I don't know if that's possible", and so many other variations on that theme are what differentiates you from your competition. Don't say "the problem we might run into with doing it that way...". Instead, try "we'll have a bit of a challenge in trying to make things work that way...", which suggests you are up for the challenge, and are thinking of ways to solve the problem.

Excellent customer service is key. Customer dis-service, distain, or mediocrity when cast in their direction is a disaster. You just might not realize it until it's too late.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.