Friday, November 21, 2008

Star-Ledger: It's a Team Effort

There have been a variety of comments on the subject of Assistant Deputy Photo Editor Mitchell Seidel (LinkedIn: Profile), as reported in Editor & Publisher (Buyout-Depleted 'Star-Ledger' Reassigns Two Journos -- To Mailroom, 11/19/08) now working in the mailroom.

Many reports and comments I've heard centered around the ha ha, isn't that funny, and the is this what they went to college for, kind.

As I sit back and contemplate the evolution and the changes that are taking place, I see Seidel doing exactly what he should - pitching in WHEREVER he is needed.

(Continued after the Jump)

Feel free to mock him if you'd like (and I'll watch your karmic savings account self-deplete), but in this downturn, what Mitchells' actions are saying is "I will do anything - whatever it takes - to keep my job and my paper alive." His actions most definitely are speaking louder than words. Mitchell is not above this "type" of work. None of us are above it. Heck, next they should slash the cleaning crew, and let everyone on their way out of the office at night empty their own trash. What a cost savings that would be.

Mitchell - hats' off to you and your 28 years of service to the Star-Ledger. You epitomize what it means to be a team player.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Speedlinks - 11/19/08

Today's Speedlinks.

  • The Perfect Storm Has Arrived - From Vincent Laforet - THIS ONE'S A MUST-READ FRIENDS.

  • Magazine Death Pool - A sad take on the death of the pulp printing industry, but it's worth a bookmark!

  • Paul Melcher on Getty - Paul's got an interesting open letter to Marc Getty. Within the rant, it's a good read. UPDATE: It seems Paul's post is gone. Interesting...

Now go! Check 'em out, and come back soon!

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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The Wizard of OZMO (Caution: Look Behind the Curtain)

As the story goes, the Wizard of Oz was thought to be the end-all-be-all solution to those in need in the land of Oz. Yet, the truth was that the Wizard was nothing more than a charlatan. Take a quick look at one of the Wizards behind the curtain pulling those levers, and pushing those knobs for OZMO - it's Creative Commons.

Ozmo is "a new web-based service focused on helping photographers, bloggers, and other content creators license their work for commercial use", according to a blog post on Creative Commons' website. ASMP wrote is their latest Member Update email. "There are no set-up fees with Ozmo and content creators can license as much content as they want. Payment is collected from the buyer when the rights are purchased. Ozmo even helps sellers track and manage sales and buying trends."

Fatal Error #1 – On its first day in business, OZMO has likely offended and alienated every professional photographer in the industry.

(Continued after the Jump)

You realize this once you learn that Ozmo is a licensing service offered by the Copyright Clearance Center, an organization that has collected hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties on the reprographic usage (photocopying) of photographs and other creative works contained in publications, and has consistently rejected appeals by photographers and their organizations to distribute those funds to the rightful owners.

To add insult to injury, the CCC’s Ozmo service has adopted a stock photo licensing scheme developed by Creative Commons, an organization whose leadership has consistently promoted “free culture” which in plain english means the weakening of the copyright protections on which pro photographers depend for their livelihoods. Creative Commons has demonstrated a commitment to encouraging open sharing and free usage of photographs and other copyrighted works.

The particular flavor of Creative Commons adopted by OZMO is “CC+” a new and untested commercial extension of Creative Commons license packages. Creative Commons has received millions of dollars in support from free culture advocates and has used that support to develop CC and CC+ without participation of the professional photography industry, while every photography organization in the country has been actively engaged in collaborating with image buyers on the development of PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System), a comprehensive system of standards designed to simplify and facilitate image licensing. While ASMP’s announcement refers to the adoption of PLUS by OZMO, the CCC’s marketing materials indicate that OZMO has adopted Creative Commons CC+ licensing.

While amateur and hobbiest photographers might find Creative Commons to be a convenient way to share their works, few professionals would consider the use of Creative Commons in any form. The reason: Creative Commons is a dysfunctional system. Images offered under Creative Commons licenses are routinely used beyond the defined scope of use, resulting in widespread infringement.. Attribution is not provided where required. Derivatives are made despite prohibitions on derivatives. The Creative Commons definition of “commercial use” is nothing more than an unfunny joke.

Fatal Error #2: Ozmo customers are required to pay for image licenses using Amazon Payments. From the Ozmo website (here)
Why Amazon Payment Services?
Amazon Payments is built on top of Amazon's reliable and scalable payment infrastructure.

With almost 70 million active customer accounts worldwide, is a trusted resource for third-party payments online, allowing for instantaneous payments and anti-fraud protection.
Yet, checking the Amazon Payments website (here) reveals:
"At this time, payments can be made only in U.S. Dollars...You can also use a bank account to make payments using Amazon Payments. Only U.S. bank accounts can be used, and a verification process must be completed before the bank account can be used as a payment method."
So, unless you're using a credit card (and the nationality requirement of those cards is unclear at this time), you've got to be a US bankholder, payable in US dollars. So, while Ozmo touts "70 million active customer accounts worldwide", it's just US bankholders that apparently can make payments.

According to that same ASMP update that arrived via e-mail yesterday, "ASMP members are encouraged to investigate and evaluate this service (OZMO) as one piece of a photographers marketing arsenal."

My advice to photography trade organizations: think twice before aligning yourself with an organization (CCC) that is in the business of withholding royalties from photographers, and a service (OZMO) that has partnered with an organization (Creative Commons) dedicated to destroying the livelihood of your photographer members.

I think that OZMO might just be DOA. Not sure? Consider Pixish. We wrote critically of them - Pixish, Stupid is, as Stupid Does (2/12/08), and less than a year later, we reported on their demise - Pixish - Finally Down the Tubes (11/7/08). Sometimes, it takes several quarters to burn through all that "great idea money", before people arrive at the reality of a bad idea materialized and now worth jettisoning. So, perhaps DOA could save everyone some cash and some trouble.

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It's GAME OVER for NYT's Play Magazine

Yes, friends, publishing is sadly not about what's good or great, when it comes to ink and pulp, it's about what sells ads,what keeps the hallway lights on, the cleaning crew emptying the trash bins, and the IT department updating your Microsoft Office Suite with the latest patch to keep the viruses away.

The New York Times reports (Times Shuts Down Sports Magazine, 11/17/08) "Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for The New York Times Company, confirmed the closing. Mr. Bryant said that the magazine “was more or less breaking even,” but only because of an Olympics issue in which all the ad space was bought by Nielsen."

Here's where we begin to see tricky staffing though.

(Continued after the Jump)

The article at the end, states that almost all the staffers - including the editor - were contractors. Thus, they likely did not participate in retirement plans, healthcare, or other benefits usually reserved for employees. If they did get those things, that's a rare occurrence indeed. The notion of publishing an entire publication almost entirely with contractors - especially by an employee-laiden company like the New York Times, belies a new paradigm - or atleast the front-and-center of it for all to see.

Let's set aside the "gosh, that's too bad" thoughts, because we all have them. Instead, let's look at how and why.

The Times, looking to capitalize on those well-off readers put forth a luxury-styled magazine centered on sports, for the jet-set and well-heeled. It was a quarterly magazine, so even though it started on February of 2006, that means they probably published fewer than a dozen issues. Yet, even with the likely tie-ins to pre-existing advertising in the papers' Sports section for select high-dollar products, they couldn't make a go of it. The mighty NYT Co, with an ad department that has the weight of that same name behind it, couldn't make it happen in the media capitol of the world. It's a business venture gone south. Nothing new to see here, move along.

As papers downsize, and produce new ventures, both with ink and pulp as well as the online flavors, continue to look at the staffing as an indicator of their commitment. Employees with benefits and so forth are one good indicator that someone is trying to do something right. Yet, more and more publications are moving even their existing positions from staff to freelance. Why? Because it's cheaper. Period.

The reality of this is that what happened is business. Period. When people tell you they want you to work for them for free or cheap, "because of the love of the subject matter", or "because of the love of {insert altruistic concept here}", look closely at the organization. If everyone else is doing it as a volunteer, and they're doing it out of a scrappy office in a strip mall on the outskirts of town, and there's no corporate conglomerate listed as the projects' owner, then maybe it's worth considering pro bono. Otherwise, they're trying to pull at your heartstrings while you're feeling, and your pursestrings when you're not looking.

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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.
(Continued after the Jump)
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.

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