Saturday, July 14, 2007

Microsoft Pro Photo Summit - A Recap & Review

There was a lot to take in at the Microsoft Pro Photo Summit this past week. It was the second annual event, and my first time in attendance.

I give the Summit high marks for their program. A great deal of ground was covered over those two days -- it certainly could have been extended to a third. Microsoft's Tim Grey hosted the event, with interspersed insights from Kostas Mallios, Senior Director of the Rich Media Group at Microsoft, as well as David Vaskevitch, CTO of Microsoft. This proved to be a heavy-hitting team leading the effort, and they brought in Kevin Gilbert, of Blue Pixel to moderate - a daunting task for anyone, but one that Kevin seemed to handle quite well.

I did not, however, have the historical insight of the previous year's summit. One point that more than one person made, who did have that insight, was to ask about product and metadata integration issues during the IPTC/metadata panels, "why aren't you people working together on these issues" and "what have you done about this since last year", because, seemingly, it was the same organizations/corporations up there last year that were saying the exact same things, and nothing has changed amongt them, was the sentiment that I heard more than once. I do know that the PLUS Coalition is doing as much as it can, but they can only do so much - it's like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

Apparently, last year, it was highly recommended that there be more panels, and Microsoft listened. They had many many of them. This year, while I didn't think that break-out sessions were warranted, others did. My argument against them is that I didn't want to miss any of the panels/subjects, and I'd rather stay an extra day than miss out on any of the session contents.

One of the tools they used - to great effect - was the "3 minutes to WOW" concept, some scripted, some last-minute presentations were:

  • The absolutely surreal PhotoSynth is something that you must see to believe.
  • Peter Krogh showed his RapidFixer tool that allows you to make almost all of the CameraRAW adjustments to your images from within Bridge, and the latest incarnation steps it up a notch or two from it's first showing back in CS2. It's a time-saver well worth what little he's charging for it.
  • Evan Nisselsen, who was on an early panel on Day 1, followed the panel on "Images Everywhere", here he took the 3 minutes to WOW to demonstrate how Digital Railroad's member archives were used to great effect with Universal News and Sport's coverage of a terrorist incident at the Scotland's Glasgow Airport, where the "little guy" beat the big corporations, using DRR's Marketplace to deliver the images. A WOW response from the audience ensued, clearly impessed.
  • Grover Sanschagrin of PhotoShelter stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the proverbial park demonstrating how you could search for an image of Barry Bonds, select it, price out the license using the pricing model from FotoQuote, and download it. Sanschagrin did the search and pricing so fast that he'd not even used up two minutes before saying he was done, WOW-ing them with the obvious ability to make good money, and with over 8,000 subscibers that many more people charting their own course is going to be good for our community.
  • Also making an exceptional showing was Tricia Gellman Holmes, of Livebooks. She demo'd their new video series, which is worth a look, especially the first one on Michael Jang. I had previously been skeptical of Livebooks because of their inability to appear in the search results, but doing a search sports photographer on Google yields Brad Mangin, a Livebooks user, at position 3 on Google, and Sports Photographer on Yahoo in #2. While Livebooks isn't a panacea for ranking, it's clearly not a hinderance, as people (including me) suggested in the past. So, it's definately worth a look as one good solution if you're not going the full customization route.
The panel "Impact of Digital", had several folks on there. I previously reported on OnRequest's appearance, but I had to pick my questions, as I've previously mentioned istockphoto in the past, I would have surely wanted to pose a question of two of their on-panel representative. Also on deck, was Bob Rosato, who's the brother of Ed Rosato, who owns US Presswire. Bob was on hand representing Sports Illustrated, but I would have liked to have asked him more about his brother's operations, and whether or not Bob has a hand in how they are running things. Bob's been around a long time, and doesn't deserve the "guilty-by-relationship" ill-will that many have expressed about how his brother has been running his operation and treating his contributing photographers in an unfair manner, with questions about payments not being made, and so forth. I certainly was critical of US Presswire over at SportsShooter here, as it related to their contracts, and so forth. I know that the folks at US Presswire like to think of themselves as some sort of training ground, but, if that's the case, they're teaching their protege's that it's acceptable to work on spec, take little pay, and otherwise be taken advantage of. I would have liked to have had the option to ask Bob to distance himself from those shenanigans, which I would have expected him to do. If not? Well, that'd be another issue altogether. Yet, time, and the fact that I'd already asked Norris about his failed CustomStock model was all I was able to ask about.

Microsoft clearly has stepped up to a plate, at a game it's been absent from. Adobe and Apple have been photo-industry leaders, while Microsoft has been focused elsewhere. When they introduced Windows Media Photo as a file format back in November of 2006, which has now been re-branded as HD Photo (*.hdp) (more information on it here), many people scoffed at it. What could be better than JPEG? Well, JPEG-2000 was, and HD Photo is supposed to better than both. As Microsoft continues to evolve and grow it's role amongst professional photographers (and thus, into acceptance by pro-sumers and product manufacturers) people will be much more likely to listen and less likely to scoff. This is a good thing, and I presume, one of the many reasons that Microsoft established this Summit. Let's see what next year will bring. I can't wait.
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Thursday, July 12, 2007

OnRequest - Realizing the Obvious

A few weeks ago I wrote nOnRequest - This is Not Your Father's "Agency". Today, at the Microsoft Summit, I heard something remarkable, and it wasn't said once, it was said twice. David Norris, the head of OnRequest, after building a business around the CustomStock Model, whereby "up to five photographers" would produce an assignment, including expenses, and at most one would be paid (or none at all), said of the CustomStock model:

"that model was interesting, but didn't pan out."
Well, of course it didn't. The fact that he didn't realize it at the outset belies his business accumen, me thinks, especially when every photographic group and trade organization was overly public in their declaring the idea a failure. Why didn't he listen? I can't help but wonder how his investors feel about how the basis for his company was an idea that "didn't pan out."? Perhaps the next step will be that they realize that the "ONREQUEST CUSTOM LIBRARY™" concept is nominally monetizable and a short term solution for these companies, who are not paying what these libraries should be worth. Over the long term, they are underestimating what it really costs to produce these materials, and it's just not sustainable at those low figures, unless you're spending your venture capitalists' money at a burn rate that will ultimately flame out.

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Speaking at the Microsoft Summit, July 11th & 12th

If you're anywhere near Redmond, Washington (that's the state, not DC), next week, I have been asked by the event organizers of the Microsoft Pro Photo Summit, and will be speaking on, what else? Business Practices for Photographers. To register, click here. To see the Summit's agenda, click here.On the business of photography side:

The Business of Photography
While many photographers pursue photography as an art form, for the professional photographer the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. This panel will focus on how the changing photography industry has affected professional photographers, and how they can best run a successful photography business. This involves a blend of business management, marketing, and proper utilization of technology to maximize their efficiency and profits.
There will, of course, be lots more to see and learn. So, check it out!

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

About the only good 'Short'-sighted Idea I can find

There are many ways to earn money these days. One of them is the stock market. But, wait, that's a risky proposition, you say. I don't know anything about stocks, you say. But, you do know about photography, I say. Invest based upon what you know.

I know a thing or two, and one of them is that, like Medusa, whatever Getty Images does turns their stock into a stone, sinking to the bottom. Now, I'm no broker, I don't have shares of stock in them, but I do know a bad investment when I see one. So, how to make money on them when they are loosing? It's called, the short. Shorting a stock means that, rather than making a stock buy and hoping it increases in value, you are allowed to borrow the stock and then sell when it's dropped in price, and you profit from the difference between what the stock was when you borrowed it at, say, 55 a share, and then sold it at 50. This can kill you though if you short a stock at 55, and it rises to 65, you're on the hook. It's more complicated than this, of course, so check out this link for a better understanding.

Let's assume you have $5k to invest, and you wanted to involve Getty in your profit objectives. Forget shooting for them, under the WMFH terms they have, that's a day-laborers' game. This you can do from the comfort of your easy chair while watching Wheel of Fortune.

Say you wanted to invest $5k on November 1, 2005. For this exercise, we'll always use the opening price of a stock. You'd have bought 60 shares of Getty (GYI). You also planned to sell at the opening bell of the second day after they reported their quarterly results.

On January 26, 2006,
Getty reported their results from their Fourth Quater of 2005
. On January 26, anticipating their 4th Q results, their stock peaked just over 90, with trading above average at over 500k traded. The next day, when traders were able to let what was reported sink in, the stock dropped to a low of just over 81, an 11% drop, before closing down over $5 a share, with a whopping 5 million-plus on heavy trading. Instead of having bought those 60 shares, you shorted the stock with $5k to cover your trades, having 55 shares at $89.15, and the opening price on the second business day after this report, January 30th (a Monday), you would have earned about $313.50. (check this link for the prices that day.)

On April 20, 2006, Getty reported their 1st Quarter 2006 results, and they closed at 76.13, down nearly 10% from the previous quarter's results. Not to be underdone, expectations were not met (again), and on heavy trading, again, 5 million-plus, it dropped 14% to $65.66 at the end of the next day. It continued to fluctuate downwards, closing even lower by the end of that week. Shorting that $76.13, it had an opening 2 business days later at $65.66, earning you another $680.55.(check this link for the prices that day.)

On October 24, 2006, Getty Reported their 3rd Quarter 2006 results, and the trend seemed to be what folks were anticipating, as, stocks tumbled prior to the announcement, before dropping from just over 48.50 to just under 42, at 15% plummet once again. With $5k, at the 10/24 close, you'd have 108 shares to work with. Shorting that stock from 45.96 to the $41.90 as the opener on the second business day of $41.90, generating $438.48 in your pocket.(check this link for the prices that day.)

On January 29, 2007, Getty reported their 4th Quarter 2006 results, and you'd have taken a few licks, as the stocks seemed to recover a bit, moving up from just over 44 to just over 48. Could it been that the analyists liked the fact that it was reported that they canned dozens of employees days before the October 24th results, so as to have reason to say that things will be changing heading into the 4th quarter? Here, shorting the stock at $44.44 and selling again on the 2nd business day, at $49.25 would have cost you $538.72.(check this link for the prices that day.)

Again, even with the hearlded aquisition of WireImage, Getty again lost money, causing a drop of almost $1 a share, dropping again the day they announced the finalization of that acquisition, on April 26th.(check this link for the prices the day they announced the aquisition.)

On May 1st of this year, announcing their 1st Quarter 2007 financials, with that same $5k, shorting at 51.52, you'd have 97 shares to work with. Selling at the opening on the second business day later, at the $50.00 opener, you'd net $147.44. (check this link for the prices that day.)

Where does this leave you? Summarizing the above net figures, you'd have earned over $1k ($1,041.25) shorting their stock, just because you know how bad they are doing with all their decisions they are making. So, look to their next quarterly filing date, and see if maybe a short is right for you.

Interestingly enough, if you'd really like to see what Getty thinks of themselves, check out their latest SEC 10k filing here, and some interesting stuff appears on page 8 of the PDF, although on page 10, they say:

Some of our current and potential significant competitors include:
  • other general visual content providers such as Corbis Corporation, Jupitermedia Corporation, Amana Inc., Alamy Limited, Index Stock Imagery, Inc., Photolibrary Group Limited and Masterfile Corporation;
  • specialized visual content companies that are well established in their local, content or product-specific market segments such as Reuters Group PLC, the Associated Press, and ZUMA Press, Inc.;
  • other companies operating micropayment sites such as Dreamstime LLC and Fotolia LLC;
  • commissioned photographers; and
  • online search engines which provide for image search, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
There are also hundreds, if not thousands, of small stock photography and footage agencies, image content aggregators and individual photographers throughout the world with whom we compete.
Wow, we, individual commissioned photographers they see as a potentially significant competitor? No wonder they are trying to edge us out of access at concerts and sporting venues around the country!

Speaking of sporting venues, part of this post was prompted by my finding myself inside the Getty lair when they were throwing a "posh" party at a hip and trendy SoMA nightclub they had rented out on a Saturday night to entertain the masses on hand to work the all-star game in San Francisco. Two floors of a night club, with bouncers all in black and a red velvet rope-line kept the unwashed masses out. I had a beer, and looked about for the higher-ups, to tell them of my discovery that an almost surefire way to make money with Getty was to short their stock when they made their quarterly announcements, and to thank them for that reality, but, alas, I couldn't find anyone there to have that conversation with. I was surprised at the overindulgence of the Getty party planners, and I felt a bit like it was a return to the crazy-party days of the dot-com boom. Yet, Getty doesn't seem to actually get the picture (pun intended) and is spending money like, well, it's 1999. Who's minding the store as the stock has slid from a high of about $95, to approximately a 50% loss? Who's genius idea was it to buy another bad business model - iStockPhoto, and create a situation where their current images could have sales canibalized by this micro-stock site. Seems "Getty said its royalty-free images business, which sells the company's pictures to clients such as advertisers at set prices, grew 13 percent.", as reported by Reuters here. Isn't Getty forgetting to realize that royalty-free is a short term potential gain for a long-term loss? Heck, there's a hint right in part of the name of the category - "free"! As in, license it once, for a low-low set price, and never license it again! It's free! Don't they see that this horse is destined for the glue factory? While RF sales have grown 13%, the Getty-ites are busy parting like it's 1999, seeing reality through what I can only guess are their beer-goggles.
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