Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Magnum's Buzzkill - OnRequest Deal Dead?

Back in January, we were critical of Magnum's deal with OnRequest, and just how bad an idea it was (Message to Magnum - Pass The Dutchie, You've Had Too Much, 1/18/08), where Magnum's efforts to expand into commercial/corporate work was to be handled by OnRequest.

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Now, if the whispering is true (and I expect it is), that deal is dead. Apparently, Magnum wanted more control of the production end of things, and OnRequest said no, and a power struggle ensued. Inquiries to Magnum head Mark Lubell seeking comment, were not returned.

Well, it seems that just a few months have gone by, and the high that was, is now the dim afterglow of roaches in the ashtray, the beer is gone, the sun is rising on a new day, and the lingering effects of a hangover are clearing the haze that caused this deal to happen in the first place.

With this the case, I say - Good move Magnum, and isn't this about strike 3 for OnRequest?

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70 Is The New 80 - Digital Railroad's Mis-Step

I recall with great fanfare the buttons and messaging - "80 is the new 20" that was heralded from the booth of Digital Railroad during last year's PhotoPlus Expo (PhotoPlus Expo Day 2 - Highlights, 10/20/07). What exactly does that mean, I wondered.

The explanation was quite simple, actually. Major agencies were collecting, say, $100 for an image license, and paying the photographer $20, or, a 20% commission. Conversely, Digital Railroad instituted just the opposite approach - paying photographers 80% of the sale, and keeping 20%. To me, that made perfect sense.

Until now.

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Before I get into that, let me go back a bit. Back in the days of film, it was common for there to be a 50/50 split, and it was justified because your agency marketed your images, their library, handled requests, sent film out, billed for the use, recieved fillm back, refiled it, and so forth. It WAS a lot of work. Now, images sit on servers, and there's little manual labor involved. So, it would make sense that the 50/50 would shift in the photographer's favor. I know that when I took a large collection of images to a library, I was successful in negotiating 60/40 for me. As costs diminished, it would only make sense that things would swing in photographer's favor. But that was not to be, thanks to Getty and Corbis.

When Digital Railroad announced their percentages, (DRR was the first to put out their percentages over PhotoShelter), I expected that it would be 85/15, and then I was disappointed with it was 80/20. As someone with images with both, 80/20 was not what I was hoping for.

Then, PhotoShelter came out with 70/30, and I was frustrated by that. But, both were surely better than a 50/50 deal.

Amongst the many comparisons that were made, by me, and many others, It remained that Digital Railroad continued to offer 10% more per license sale than PhotoShelter. To some photographers I talked to, they considered that a selling point. However, they also factored in the $50 a month they would have to pay to be in Digital Railroad, against the cost of - "free" with PhotoShelter, and thus, it was bet that they would do better without the monthly fee, and thus, some opted to go that route.

For me, I use both services to also service client image requests and assignment delivery, so paying for both (PhotoShelter does offer a Personal Archive paid package of services too) gave me the ability to service those clients, and so paying isn't such a big deal for me.

Which brings me to the "70 is the new 80" problem.

Yesterday, in my inbox, an e-mail arrived titled "Important Pricing Changes to Your Account". Uh Oh. That can't be a good title for an e-mail, I thought.

They first couched the bad news by something good. They're selling 80GB of storage for an extra nickel. $0.05. That's like, $0.60 a year. Could it be that there's just extra server space sitting around?

But then comes the reason for that $0.60 offer:
We are also announcing another important pricing change: our Marketplace transaction fee. With our recent release of robust automation tools (our new automated price calculator in particular), strong month over month growth in Marketplace traffic and Marketplace sales, we've officially moved out of our Marketplace beta period. To reflect the changes that are bringing significant value to our members, we're increasing our image-licensing transaction fee from 20% to 30%.
Then they say:
Digital Railroad is as committed as ever to returning the bulk of the licensing fees to our members – now and in the future.
Actually, no. If you were that committed, you wouldn't have decided to take another 10%. "the bulk"? Why not say "a majority", so we know that it's headed downwards again, until it arrives at 51%, in a year or less?

Then they wrote:
if you've recently renewed your subscription and it's not set to expire for several months, please note that we will respect your current agreement until your next renewal date. All new pricing and fees will then apply upon renewal.
Does this mean that you won't get that extra 80GB for the additional $0.05/mo unless you also agree to a 10% per sale reduction? Hmmm.

Back in January, we wrote about staffing cuts (Digital Railroad makes major layoffs, 1/10/08), which ended up being about 50% of the total number of people working for them, both on staff, and contractors, and in November I wrote about a major leadership change (Stepping Down, or Stepping Up? DRR's Nisselson Makes A Change, 11/21/07), which, from all appearances, ended up being the eventual shift out of Nisselson, actually, if not symbolically. I've heard of some folks who are not getting their customer service calls returned, as a result of a slashed staff.

This move removes one differentiator that I think photographers looked at when making their decision to choose a service platform, between Digital Railroad and PhotoShelter.

Bad move DRR.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Image Recognition and the Future

My colleague over at PDNPulse - Daryl Lang - wrote about Google (Google: We Will Organize You, 7/1/08) , and the concept of autonomously recognizing subject matter within an image.

This reminded me of conference I attended - Department of Energy Computational Science Annual Fellows' Conference, where I was fascinated by a presentation by Kristen Grauman on Scalable Image Recognition and Retrieval. Grauman was the recipient of a scholarship for her work in this field, and her presentation - all 43 minutes of it, can be seen here (stick with it for the first 45 seconds of audio, her visual presentation starts at 45 seconds). Having seen it live, I still enjoy watching, and re-watching, the presentation online.

If you'd like to see even more of her research, including her 2006 presentation that I also saw, click here. For those of you interested in this, it's remarkable to see how concepts like human to computer interfaces, manual keywording, and image sorting by subject will be done much more automatically in the future. This also may be one of the ways in which images are recognized in the Orphan Works issue.

Image a photograph of a panda bear, with a link next to it that reads "Click to view more like this". Kristen, and Google, will likely be among the solutions to the visual database. At the 3:13 mark in the first video Kristen talks about object recognition within an image (identifiying a specific person or building), and the category mode (like buildings being similar, or animals, and so forth). It REALLY starts to get interesting at about 6 minutes, but BOTH videos are well worth your time. (Check the PDF's of each presentation that are available via the link for a higher resolution version of each presentation, and the abstract above the video.) Her bio as a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, can be seen here, which includes her e-mail address if you're so inclined to learn more about her research.

Google's R.J. Pittman, Director of Product Management (as seen on here) should be calling Kristen ASAP about her research!


(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Orphan Works & Image Recognition

One of the big problems with Orphan Works is how do you describe something like a dog on a beach. Are the clouds white or grey, blue sky or sunset, stormy or clear, sandy beach or rocky one? The descriptions of visuals is a huge problem, which is why there is a huge push to have the databases (sometimes called 'registries') for works that are to be considered orphaned, be required to have a way to upload the intended image, and have it reside in the registry/database, and that, in turn, the images be compared to images that visual artists have uploaded to see if there is a content match. How, on earth, would you do that?

(Continued after the Jump)

Enter services like PicScout, TinEye, Attributor, and others. PicScout was chosen to testify before Congress on the subject (see article here), and TinEye's slogan is "TinEye does for images, what Google does for text..." (check out their video here, and their blog here). Hmm, do they want Google to buy them, perhaps? Oh, but I digress....

...And, Google already does this for video. Google has what they call a "content id" (see here) where you upload a video, and whenever video that matches that is uploaded to Google Video (YouTube anyone?) the content distribution is restricted. From Google:
The digital content identification file which corresponds to a reference file (a piece of content like a movie, music or other audiovisual material). This file is generated using Google software and is also known as a "fingerprint."...The solution is very accurate in finding uploads that look similar to reference files that are of sufficient length and quality to generate an effective ID File. The system is tuned to offer the best possible automated matches while eliminating most false positive matches. We are constantly tuning the system to deal with attempts to circumvent it, therefore exact rates are not available...Google Video is committed to giving copyright owners the ability to maximize their choice in how their content is made available on the site. Content identification is the latest tool that Google Video offers content owners to more easily identify and manage the use of their content on the site.."
What does this mean for you? Well, you'd better have a digital copy of every image of yours you want protected against becoming Orphaned, so you can upload your images to TinEye or PicScout (for a fee per image, of course), or whatever future image recognition capability Google creates (which they will figure out some way to monetize), so that when people in the next few years want to use your image, they can find you. This presumes that these are the solutions that are integrated into the proposed two registries, which is where you'd end up having to upload your images to.

How much will it cost you to upload each image? $0.01? $1.00? For me, that equates to potentially tens of thousands of dollars, even once I already have them all scanned!

Of course, whichever of these companies succeeds and breaks away from the pack will almost certainly be acquired by a major player in the stock photo business, or perhaps more likely --- by Google, or Microsoft or a media conglomerate. Scary thought, as this would place the content, operation and pricing of the entire database of images from thousands of owners and competitors under the control of a single, major stakeholder. One other option would be the PLUS Coalition, which I've written about before, which is an international umbrella group that represents the interests of all industries involved in creating, distributing, using and preserving images. To protect the interests of all concerned, the PLUS Coalition is busy creating the PLUS Registry.

Actually it will be an integrated system of registries that will be operated on a non-profit basis, as a community resource, and will place the control of pricing and usage of the registry in the hands of an industry-neutral organization. The PLUS Registry will include an Image Registry, with image recognition capabilities, and given that photographers, customers and stock agencies are all participating in PLUS, the PLUS Registry is likely to become the registry of choice. It will be interesting to see which image recognition company partners with PLUS, to support what will almost certainly be the largest registry in the industry.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Photographer Learned Helplessness

One of the things I enjoy is my daily read of the Consumerist website. In this piece - Do You Suffer From CLH? (Consumer Learned Helplessness), they write, in part:

After getting shocked from every angle for so long, with credit cards' shrinking due dates, flagrant violations of our privacy, rebate scams as acceptable business models, and "it's company policy" as the magic wand to excuse it any time a company screws us, that we just lie down and accept it.
So too, does this apply to photographers.
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Thus, I've evolved the term from CLH to PLH, or, Photographer Learned Helplessness.

When your client, or a proposed client says things like:
  • You're the first photographer who's ever raised a question about our contract
  • We require original receipts for all expenses
  • Our contract is non-negotiable. We haven't modified it for anyone else, so we can't for you, sorry.
  • Of course we own the reprint rights to the photos and article. We paid you for the assignment.
  • We can't pay in 30 days. I know your contract that we signed says that, but we pay in 90 days.
  • We can't promise adjacent photo credit, or that it will be accurate, but we'll do our best.
  • We don't pay a digital processing fee. Don't do any processing, just burn the photos to a CD and send it to us. My assistant can pick out the photos and work on them.
Simply just laying down and accepting eggregious terms is what results from PLH. It's as if there are no clients out there who you think respect you, and so you just have to take whatever scraps and morsels of assignment work this client has.

Don't believe these things. I have drawers full of contracts from clients that counter the above. I have FedEx receipts from clients who paid in 30 days (and I have collected administrative fees for those who have not paid within 30 days). I have clients who respect me and what I bring to the table. Did they take time to become my regular clients? Sure. And I surely declined assignment offers where the deal did not show me the respect that a reasonable person should expect.

Avoid PLH. Don't accept deals you know are bad. Sometimes it's easier than others. But in the long run, it's what will sustain you.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Orphan Works - A Mistaken Perspective

On Friday, an e-mail notice from long-time stock photography promoter Rohn Engh arrived in my inbox. Over the weekend, I finally got around to reading their issue - PhotoResearcher Newsletter, which includes a front page piece by noted attorney Joel Heckler.

I read the piece. And, sadly, there's a number of erroneous conclusions in the piece. This is an example of how people come to conclusions that are not based upon a studied reading of the proposed legislation.

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Hecker's first statement that jumps out as erroneous is that he writes:
In March 2008, Congress revisited the issue with the filing of a 19 page bill in the Senate and a 20 page bill in the House of Representatives. These initial bills were substantially similar.
Anyone who's read the bills will tell you that the House bill is considered the one with all the photo-centric considerations, and the Senate bill is considered the "clean" bill. All of the input by visual artists' groups (including ASMP and PPA) had an impact on the House version, allowing for "useful articles", and so forth. The Senate bill doesn't have all these accomodations. To suggest that they are "substantially similar" is inaccurate especially when ASMP is the only photo trade organization that supports the House's 5/8 version (PPA isn't supporting it, they are just not opposing it - there is a nuanced difference), and many outside of the photo industry are supporting the Senate version, but there isn't a photo group that is. That, in and of itself, should validate the notion that they are not "substantially similar."

Heckler goes on:
The overriding concept of the 2008 bills is that a potential user of an Orphan Work must identify the Work, conduct a good faith diligent search for the copyright owner, and failing to find the owner, file a notice of use with the Copyright Office prior to using the Orphan Work.
Unfortunately, this isn't accurate either. Just the House version of the bill has this as a "possible" final requirement. The Senate version does not include this. The American Library Association is fighting against this provision of the Senate version, so it could well be removed from the final version of the bill. But, to pluralize the word "bill" and suggest that both "bills" have this language is just not accurate.

There continue to be highly regarded and very public members of the photographic community that are suggesting things in the Orphan Works bill versions that just aren't there. Other notables are telling us these bills are going to pass, and that it's the best we can hope for, or else it will get worse next time. Heckler surely is a highly regarded and substantive contributor to our community. Unfortunately, his commentary and conclusions in this piece are, in several places, just inaccurate. And, where Heckler is accurate, his omission of multiple significant issues does much to minimize the sweeping changes that the proposed Orphan Works legislation seeks to make. Thus, many readers could be caused, as a result of his commentary that barely scratches the surface of these issues, to conclude that the proposed new law isn't such a big deal.

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