Saturday, August 4, 2007

I told you so? No, not really. (Well, maybe, sort of)

Recently, I posted an article about shorting Getty's stock as the only good short-sighted idea I could find. I was quickly criticized by Dan Heller both on my comments, and in a lengthy blog post. Interestingly enough, it was his Getty commentaries (in general) that got him hired as a stock analyst. Previously, Heller said he didn't see a downside and that the stock would stay the course. While I have never been hired as a stock analyst before, and wouldn't know where to begin if I was, perhaps they called the wrong guy? Heller's 8/2 blog entry is missing something - an acknowledgement that, either by luck or by learn-ed observation, I got it right. Getty's stock plummeted almost 20% this past week, and over this weekend, sits at $34.59. With more than one fund having millions invested in Getty, those folks still holding GYI are have taken a huge hit and are probably pretty upset. Could it have cut the other way? Sure. Could it drop again at the next quarterly report when the new website is finally launched? Quite probably, given that, in the final stretch, they fired the person incharge of that process, as Daryl Lang, over at PDN, reported in this interesting article that's a must read, along with previous related posts worth reading for further insight. Silly decision on Getty's part.

For those analysts trolling for insights - here's one, for free: When your profits are based upon ad clients and rights-managed image licensing, with an average license of around $200 or so, and you are seeing a decline in that model because you also now are the proud owner of iStockPhoto, where the license is about $1, and that model is growing while the rights-managed model is shrinking, take a hint - Jupiter Images stock (JUPM) just sunk below the $7 mark - you should be lucky that GYI is where it is right now.

One of the problems is, I wasn't actually saying you should short the stock when I posted it. It was an analysis of the stock's past performance more than anything else, and it was a critical commentary on the contract conditions under which freelancers produce work for Getty. I was suggesting that working for Getty is a short-sighted idea, that is bad, and that, shorting their stock was about the only short-sighted idea I could find. It was a funny play on words to make the point about how bad GYI is for the field of photography that they rely on. I hadn't shorted it before, and I didn't short it this past week. As they always post as a disclaimer "past performance is not an indicator of the future...".

Getty has given validation to the istockphoto company, and more importantly, it's model, and is further encouraging other companies to buy up other microstock competitors. In addition, while high end clients may have gone to Getty for imagery before, and avoided the cheaper options, now those RM clients are far far more comfortable avoiding paying the "front of house white tablecloth prices" for a meal, and instead, going around back to the alley entrance to get the same meal on a paperplate for a fraction of the price.

Try this - Go to the Getty Images site, and, say, you are looking for a photo of The White House. Under "news editorial", not a single photo on the front page, with a search return (as of today) for 'the white house' - 46495 images found, is of the actual White House. It's all photos of the President. Changing to "all editorial" instead of "news", yields 51614 images found, but again, no photo of the actual building I am searching for.

Finally, when searching the "creative" division, I get 127 images found. Really? Only 127? The first page of about fifty images yields only 30 images that fit the bill, and there are mis-identified images as well, including one of the Capitol, and one of a field of Cactus with a white building (house?) at the top of the frame.

Go to istockphoto, and the first three images from the home page search are what is being sought, including this one - The White House on iStockPhoto.

This image on istockphoto, submitted by DHuss, looks remarkably like this one submitted as a part of the National Geographic Society's collection, photographed by Richard Nowitz.

This one, on the Getty Images site shows the White House at dusk. So does this one, on iStockPhoto.

Interestingly enough, the iStockphoto site yielded more to choose from (182), and the right results, first.

A search for "golden gate bridge" on Getty yields 555 images. An Istockphoto search? 870. Both front pages yield perfectly usable photos, sharp, clear, all angles, and so forth.

I could go on, there are countless examples, you get the point. While Getty isn't revealing how much of their RM clients are turning to the IStockPhoto solutions, clearly, the content is there for the picking, and, based upon the White House example above, iStockPhoto is actually a better resource.

I've been criticized by others for suggesting that what people are doing, and the microstock model in general, is bad for the field of professional photographers. That doesn't make what I am saying false, people just are choosing to bury their heads in the sand. Consider this - when a paper or lumber company plants seedlings as they cut down 100-year-old trees, they will never see that benefit themselves, not in their, nor their grandchildren's lifetimes, but it is "priming the pump" for future forestry opportunities. This is a long-term good idea. Getty's (and they are, by no means, alone) way of paying photographers diminishes the creative stock, and they are depleating it faster than they are replentishing it. There is no reforestation. Getty is the big dog in town, and has a responsibility to "reforest" the creative population, and protect their current assets. They are not doing this to support long-term growth, they are doing this to appeal to Wall Street demands. Next up? Well, let's see - when a stock tanks from a high of over 90, to below 40, with no signs of a resurgence, and only a hope of stopping the blood-letting, there needs to be more of a transfusion than the dumping of the website leadership, a wholesale new CEO is needed. Jonathan Klein needs to head to the unemployment line - perhaps the next 1.5 million dollar glitch needs to be related to his salary ( Andy Goetze over at Stock Photo Talk has a 2004 article giving you some ideas as to his past compensation.)

Forbes reported what happened at GYI. An AP article notes "Baird analyst Steven Ashley cut his price target...He also noted that demand is shifting toward less expensive images....", and then went on to say GYI was still attractive "...since most of its images are owned by independent photographers and are created at their expense."

Right. The indpendents still own their own work, and can sever ties with Getty under their contract terms. That means that Getty could have a lot of empty hard drive space and idle servers, which is why they are working very hard to secure wholey-owned content which can't walk on a whim.

Thanks to Stanley Rowin for writing here about Heller's blaming "human behavior", and noting that perhaps, I got it right. Rowin points out "...it’s the stupid humans that make up the market force that determine how photography is priced, no longer the photographers." Right Stan - the bean counters cannot possibly know what goes into being a photographer, the costs, and thus, when properly schooled in their own self worth and costs-of-being-in-business, a photographer can properly value their own work. There's one exception I know of - John. He's an accountant in Baltimore who is also a professional photographer - he gets the right brain and the left brain stuff!


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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Business Practices a PITA and an Obstacle?


My raison d'etre in doing blog entries on the subject of business practices is to be helpful to those who may need just a nudge in the right direction of information, need a little push, or need a full-contact shove. The degree of effort made is tempered by the degree of need, and some people may not like the counsel, but that doesn't invalidate the benefit.

Recently, a reader commented to me - "...some of us aren't into it for the money or as a profession. We're into it for fun or as a creative outlet of expression and art. Therefore, the business side is just a PITA and potentially something that just gets in the way..." Here's the problem - if you are not looking to be a photographer by trade, then don't collect money. Feel free, by all means, to make beautiful nature images, photograph protests in your home town, or do a nice portrait of a family friend. However, if you have any respect for other creatives, and to tangentially ensuring their longevity - your actions of taking $50 for an assignment that should have been $500, or giving away for free your photographs for access to the limited locations that are credential positions, what you are doing is detrimental to your fellow creatives, and those who's work you admire.


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I'm Supposed to Feel Sorry?

The granddaddy of the royalty-free (aka RF) world is Photodisc, who's owners have passed her around as some cheap trick to serve a shifting master. Jim Pickerell writes over at BlackStar rising about their latest woes:

When PhotoDisc, Inc. started back in the early 1990s, the owners went to...Weststock [who] had a large stable of photographers who had been offering their images to customers on a RM basis. The owners...went to their photographers, told them about this new opportunity to sell images on disk, and asked if they would let some of their images be used in this way. Some photographers said they didn't want any part of this business model, but a number agreed to produce images that Weststock could supply to Photodisc. By contract, Photodisc would pay Weststock a royalty on each disc sold, and Weststock would pay the photographers a percentage of what they received...Many photographers say they have not received any payments from Photodisc for more than two years. Their images are still on Gettyimages.com and on CDs that Getty is marketing...the royalty share that photographers agreed to way back in the 1990s was very low and helped establish the precedent for the 20 percent share of RF sales that is the industry standard today. Part of the argument back then was that Photodisc had huge production and marketing costs, and thus could not afford to pay the traditional 50 percent to the image creators...over the years, the cost argument changed quite a bit when the RF people started selling images online, much of the hard goods cost was eliminated...Online search and delivery became the overwhelmingly preferred way for customers to buy RF images. Nevertheless, the standard share to the image creator remained the same.
Am I supposed to feel sorry for the photographers who provided the content that validated Photodisc, and started the slide towards RF? If Weststock had turned away Photodisc, Photodisc might have decided that they couldn't source the material and thus not delve into their new venture. Or perhaps, had the idiots at Weststock been more forward thinking, they would have become some form of partner, allowing for lower percentages at the initial stages, and then higher ones as physical costs diminished or marketshare grew.

Royalty-free has elements of a drug habit you can't kick, and of (initially voluntary) slavery (calling it indentured servitude misses some of those elements.)

As a client, it's a drug that kills budgets, freezing them so low that they never will see the light of day again, and then precluding a budget that will sustain assigning a photographer that can produce fresh, client specific needs, and thus, the designers quality of content suffers. I know many a designer who's firm, and then their clients, got their fix early, and now can't ween themselves from the teet, and the designers themselves see their work product - and own portfolio pieces, suffering.

As a photographer, early income streams may have existed for some, but these were short-term gains, and once the product hit the market, people had no need to pay for more, since the CD's were "all you can eat". Calls for more work were filled, despite reservations to the contrary, and then photographers were enslaved by their own actions, no longer generating sales of their images at one-off rates, as these same images were a part of the buffett, nearly free for the taking. Further, these short-term gains canibalized the market, as Jim stated, setting the bar so low that it was not sustainable for professionals in the long term.

These photographers did not save any of their ill-gotten gains for a rainy day, so they could afford attorneys to defend their rights - especially early on. Thus, they are continuing the cycle - first, sell their work for less than pennies on the dollar in a manner that promotes the "you buy it you own it" mentality that encourages and teaches re-use without additional payments, which the translates to an overall lack of respect for copyright. Then, they re-inforce the "it's ok to steal from photographers, they won't sue us" mentality, waiting two years to collect and further, not maintaining knowledge of the whereabouts of all of the channels their images are being sold through.

So, until these photographers pursue this to the hilt, with a take-no-prisoners attitude, I can't see them making up for their many past indescretions, and thus, deserving of little in the way of sympathy from those left to do business in the tattered landscape of RF/RM markets. It's kind of like trying to feel sorry for the inventors of the nuclear bomb, who came down with cancer during the course of their career pursuing nuclear technology, and are now suffering.
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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Along The Continuum

Mark Loundy has a great column he writes, that I usually first read in my NPPA magazine 'News Photographer', but it appears also on the Digital Journalist, as well as his own website. In it, Mark has a section of the article he titles "The Good", "The Bad", and "The Ugly", calling out poor business practices by organizations. Previously, I'd written about USPresswire, and I received a number of comments, fairly evenly split - "You were out to sink Bob, next time talk to guys who really are enjoying their US Presswire experience..."; "You went too light on USPW..." (and many folks I talked to wouldn't go on the record, for fear of some form of retribution); and then there were those that said "Man, you hit that one on the head, and it was fairly done...". All in all, the comments, most of them via phone or in person around town, were fairly split. One of the concerns I had though, was one that Bob mentioned during our talk, where he wanted to know why I hadn't been critical of others - seeking to ask Jonathan Klein about his practices, and I mentioned that I had, on several occasions, taken Getty to task - "About the only good 'Short'-sighted Idea I can find", and "When Your Agent is Not Your Friend" (via Ed Greenberg). In addition, I have tried to talk to Klein before. Further, I've been critical of OnRequest - "nOnRequest - This is Not Your Father's 'Agency'" and "OnRequest - Realizing the Obvious", Dreamstime - Free photos (and $13 Superbowl ads)", and iStockphoto - "Sour Grapes?. Some suggested that I had just singled out USPW - not true. In fact, I had a broader perspective (clients to contributors, and so forth) than on the others, and the article illustrated that.

Further, along the continuum, USPW is not, by a long shot, "the ugly" - they do, at least, pay their photographers when a picture sells. There are organizations that will trade you all rights to your photos in exchange for their providing you with a credential. Now that's "ugly.". What's uglier than that? Try actually paying to become a member of an "organization" who will then, in turn, send you a kit to make your own laminated credential, and whenever you need it, they will send a letter indicating that you are "bonafide." These last two organizations serve what I will coin as a phrase "Fan With Credential"or, FWC (note - I googled the phrase, and it does not appear, so I'm coining it, unless someone shows me where it appears, then I'll attribute it to that originator), these are the folks who turn up at events with point-and-shoots, fawn over the celebrities, applaud during a political speech, or bring an 80-200 prosumer-grade lens when a 300 f2.8+ is necessary.

Care to guess who's up next? Feel free to post in comments, or e-mail me with your insights (yes, con and pro). Send along links to these organizations' sites, and so forth. I've already gotten a few.


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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On a More Upbeat Note

While blogs should not be local, sometimes, a local issue has national (ne, international) implications. Previously I wrote about the NYC permitting issue - why? Because, as NYC goes, so goes other jurisdictions. Now comes a glimmer of hope.

The Washington Post is reporting, in their article "Developers cannot prohibit people from taking photographs on public-private space in downtown Silver Spring, the Montgomery county attorney declared yesterday..." Developers cannot prohibit people from taking photographs on public-private space in downtown Silver Spring, the Montgomery county attorney declared yesterday...".

It came down to this - an area of the city of Silver Spring, which was run down and essentially forgotten was completely redeveloped by a major developer. The project, on it's own, was not worth doing, from an economic standpoint. So, the city, seeing the long term benefits invested monies and gave the developer tax breaks to redevelop the area. Somehow or another, that area of Silver Spring Maryland became classified, according to some, as "private property", and thus, access, or the restriction thereof, was governed by the developer, despite being patrolled by city police, and more importantly, appearing as any other city street - public property. Enter photographer Chip Py, looking to snap some images of his community, only to be told be rent-a-cops that he couldn't do it without permission from the developer.

As The Washington Post initially reported, everyone was up in arms. A photographer protest ensued, and now, the restrictions have been removed, and Mr. Py, and anyone else, may happily now make some art.

I previously ran into this in the great state of Virginia, where, out in Reston, near the homes of AOL, and other major dot-com and high-tech companies, I was to make portraits of an executive for a story inside a magazine.

The subjects offices were in their "towne center" and we opted for an outside portrait. While I was setting up my lightstand and power pack, a private security guard approached, and told me I needed permission to make photos there. I showed him my press credentials, told him the subject's company's name was on the top of the office building behind him. "You gotta get permission", came his response. I caught a break though, because I'd not been a smart aleck and I showed him my press credential, and he said "I'm going to walk over there where I have better reception on my cell phone, and call someone. Hopefully, you'll be done by the time I get back", and I was. The photo (to the left), isn't the best, nor was it the one chosen for the story, but it's illustrative of the environment.

More and more, the public spaces we enjoy as citizens will be usurped by corporations , even though those spaces were made possible by our tax dollars. When someone tells you you can't take photos in a public space, don't back down, stand your ground.


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Monday, July 30, 2007

Jumping off a Bridge

I grew up on an island in the San Francisco Bay, called Alameda, where I carried my Windsurfer to the beach, and bridges were the way we got off the island, save for one tunnel. Quite frequently, I'd want to do things that my mom knew were bad ideas, but my friends were doing them. My mom's regular refrain was: "If everyone was jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you do it too?" I always said "of course not mom", and that was the end of it.

Sure, it might have been fun during the drop, kinda like the thrill that drives people to parachute all the time. The problem is, the speed at which you will impact the water ensures that your chances of surviving are next to nil.

Just because other photographers are doing dumb things, exhibiting bad business practices, doesn't mean you should be doing the same things. Of course, it may be less fun, but you'll be in the profession longer, and over time, reap far more enjoyment during that time than you ever would have exhibiting traits that are detrimental to your future. I know of many people who would gladly sign away the rights to their photos just to hang out in the pit at a rock-and-roll concert for the first three songs. They don't care about the photos, taking them and giving them away was their price of admission, in their minds, and much better than paying for a ticket.

If you're doing stupid things when it comes to business practices, pull the rip cord fast, straighten up and fly right, the salty aroma of the bay means that you, an object in motion, won't remain in motion much longer. Better yet, don't jump in the first place.


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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reelin' In The Big Fish

Making news in the past few days is Digital Railroad's sales team, led by the ├╝berleet Tom Tinervin, an ASP and client services genius, for landing the New York Times Syndicate Photo Service.

The NYT Syndicate contains an enormous library of images, and Digital Railroad demonstrates, on a grand scale, the ability for newspapers with monetizable libraries to recoup the investment they made in producing their staff images over the years. Despite suggestions to the contrary by agencies like Corbis, who has the UPI/Bettman archives, or Getty, with many collections they represent, this solution will place more revenue in the hands of the papers, and rightly so.

The challenge for these papers will be evaluating their analog archives for images which are iconic in the markets they serve, and then properly digitizing and keywording the images. For more recent images, half that work is already done, and the necessary metadata is all that stands in the way between papers like the New York Times and the realization of the broader value that their archives contain. It would be foolish for papers to not consider seriously services such as this as comparable to those that Corbis or Getty would offer. Clearly, being in charge of your own archive instead of handing it off to someone else is a much better solution, giving you far more power to control the archive's destiny, and more importantly, a higher net percentage of each licensing fee.

Previously, I wrote about how you can utlize DRR's e-commerce capability to price image licensing.

Hat's off to DRR for this smart catch, and to the NYT for their smart move.


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OK, So, about this Permit-Thing in NYC

Well, it seems, everyone's up in arms about this proposed permitting process on photography in NYC. First things first - it's not going to become law. Second, If it DOES become law, someone - probably the ACLU will sue on a myriad of grounds and the law will be invalidated.

That being said, remember, what happens in New York everyone else watches. If this happens, especially with all the vagueness of the language, it will be open season on tourists, students - heck, anyone with a camera. So, click the link above, or if you're not convinced of his bad this is, as written, Read the NY Times article to learn more. The law is so absolutely poorly written that practically everyone that is in possession of a camera when with others is subect to fines.

Now, let's look at some of the good ideas:

any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance.

Operative words..."use a camera...more than a half hour". IF you are using a camera in one location for more than 30 minutes, you really should have a permit, and it'd be irresponsible for you to not have insurance. And, about the criticism of the $1 million liability, that's standard for any professional photographer's business insurance that NPPA/ASMP/APA/PPA offer.

The Permits are free, and only require that you proove you have insurance, and can be obtained online. Of course, permits will cost money in the future.

The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment.

Operative words "plan to use a tripod". Try this: "Officer, these light stands, they're not a tripod, and I have no plans to use a tripod." Then, out loud, you ponder, within earshot of the observant officer, "gosh, I guess I need a tripod, but I didn't plan on it, so there's no 10 minute limit...", and then shooting commences with said tripod.

Just as these rules were set in place as the result of a documentary filmmaker (and make no mistake about it, documentaries are a form of commercial photography), where the videographer was using a hand-held video camera (and make no mistake about the 'hand-held' part, this could have been consumer model, or a professional grade betacam-SP), so too will whatever results be misinterpreted.

How about this though - you're a paparazzi, and you want to stake out a celebrities' front door. Go online, get your free permit, and then when they come out the door, you've got a permit to be there, and now the celebrity is now walking through your set.

Or, you get a permit for the sidwalk outside of the evening's see-and-be seen club, and you can stand right next to the doorman and do whatever video/stills you want, and the club owners can't kick you off the sidewalk because you have a permit.

Or, what about this - if you're covering arrivals at an event, on city property, even though the event organizers have a permit for the carpet and stanchions, you may well now need a permit to be there. Now, that would weed out a ton of the fans-with-cameras, and others who are not legitimate, leaving more room for genuine newsgathering photographers.

As written/proposed, the language is horrible. However, there could be an upside to having the city's permission to be somewhere! Visit the NY Civil Liberties Union to learn more, including how you can file formal comments with the City of New York, but hurry - comments close August 3rd!


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