Tuesday, December 8, 2009

FocalPop - Expect Pop Pop Fizzle Out

Who grades these grad school fantasies, Krusty the Klown? FocalPop - the latest incarnation of the idiocy of crowd-sourcing advertising photography assignments has apparently ozzed from the hot Summer nights of UT Austin. Here's the pitch:

1. Seekers fill out a request describing the exact photo they need, how much they'll pay, and how soon they need it.
What's missing: Oh, right - buyers don't get to dictate price.
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2. FocalPop notifies the community of Photographers of the new Photo Request.
What's missing: Oh, right - qualifications to actually do it. "The proof is in the pudding" doesn't work too well here.
3. Photographers review Request details, shoot photos that meet the Request needs, and upload submissions for review.
What's missing: the best results come from a dialog with the client, and who's covering the expenses for the shoot? Oh, wait, maybe that's the photographer.
4. After the deadline, the Seeker reviews all of the photos submitted, selects their favorite, and pays FocalPop the amount they specified in the Request.
What's missing: What if they don't like any? Unlike other plans, FocalPop will select the winning photographer and pay them from escrowed funds supposedly set aside by the client (a.k.a. "Seeker"). According to their T&C - "The Seeker further agrees that it would be unfair if no photographer received the award(s) offered by the Seeker due to the Seeker abandoning the request. Therefore, if the Seeker does not select the winning design/photographer(s) within seven days after their request ends, the Seeker agrees that FocalPop may select the winning photographer(s) and pay the award(s) on behalf of the Seeker. Additionally, you agree that when you are a Seeker in a request, you will complete wrap-up in your request within thirty (30) days after your request ends. You authorize us to release escrowed funds to pay the winning photographer(s) if more than thirty (30) days have passed since your request ended." Interesting, so let me get this straight - the client has to blindly agree to accept whatever images are produced by an unknown quantity/quality of photographers? Oh no, wait - their Seeker FAQ doesn't quite agree with the T&C above "We take a deposit of 30% at the time a Request is created in order to protect the photographers. We want to ensure no one requests photos that they don’t actually intend to purchase. However, if your Request receives less than 15 submissions and you are not happy with the results, we will gladly refund the 30% deposit – no questions asked."
5. FocalPop provides the high resolution file to the Seeker and pays the winning Photographer a commission on the sale.
What's missing: Hmmm, let's see - FocalPop would be the one recieving a "commission" on the sale, as the conduit. According to their T&C here, they'll take 30% to serve as this conduit. Or, wait - is this the same 30% that the photographer gets if a winner isn't chosen? Hmm, then maybe FocalPop takes 70%?
So far, all 10 of their requests (here) have come from one of the company founders, several of which were used to illustrate the website itself.

So, who are these dreamers? Brian Romanko (LinkedIn: Profile) touts in his biographical sketch about his past - "...Brian worked for numerous startups — both successful and utter failures..." Brian - be glad you got a good grade on this, because the real world has already proven this crowd-sourcing school project of yours to be an utter failure - see Pixish - Stupid Is, As Stupid Does (2/12/08) and Pixish - Finally Down The Tubes (2/7/09), and even the lunacy of David "that model was interesting, but didn't pan out" Norris (7/12/07, OnRequest - Realizing the Obvious). Heck, even Brian's friend Jonathan Cho (LinkedIn: Profile) trashes the idea here "...in the spirit of hating on crowdsourcing, here’s a similar site that my friend’s launching, except instead of design its photography: http://www.focalpop.com/ ...as a fucking awesome designer, i’m a bit ashamed to admit that i’ve submitted a few designs to crowdspring. an hour or two in illustrator = quick buck, right? what’s horrible is that my designs have never been picked. i’ve always lost to much crappier designs. and that is why i hate crowdspring." With friends like that...oh, wait - his friend is actually smart and giving him good advice.

Co-Founder Becky Parker (LinkedIn: Profile) seems to be simultaneously tasked to "Oversee the strategic planning for Sony Electronics' online social marketing programs" at marketing firm Powered, Inc, as well as trying to "...find her passion for offering true value to customers online and in developing meaningful customer relationships" for FocalPop. Becky - try working to find value for the creative talent that will produce this work, not pennies on the dollars of what the projects should really be worth. Hint: A project you facilitate for $100 that earns you $30 for FocalPop really could earn you $300 if it was more appropriately priced at $1,000. I guess, though, that winning the Moot Corp contest taught you to over-value moot money? Tip: moot money is as valuable as monopoly money in the real world.

The third in the trio of wunderkinds is Shawn Carr (LinkedIn:Profile), wooed in by the void left by Ronnie Lebert (LinkedIn: Profile), Eddie Howard (LinkedIn: Profile), who have both left for smarter options at Dell and Datran media respectively. Carr hasn't left the chilly weather of New England where he is an IT manager for a small company, and consulting for Croop-LaFrance. Hint - don't quit your day job, Pixish and OnRequest, as detailed above, are your harbingers of things to come, and that equity you might have - not going to be worth much, just make sure you get paid before you have to post that "out of business" splash page.

FocalPop is the quintessential example of the re-hashed ideas coming from MBAs time and time again. This idea hasn't worked before, and it won't work this time.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Washington Spaces - Empty Space Earns Smiley Face

Former media company turned educational company Washington Post Co (NYSE:WPO) has axed one more of its under-performing assets, under the guise of blaming the economy. Washington Spaces will cease publication with the November/December issue. In an e-mail sent to clients by CEO and President of Greater Washington Publishing Company Becky Loker (LinkedIn: Profile), she refers to this as a “very difficult and painful decision.”

Suffer on, I say. Loker's publication was built upon a faulty premise that you could con photographers to give free use of photographs and cover expenses on assignments. Here is the laughable, and ill-written agreement that they attempted to foist upon contributors:

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I grant a copyright to Washington Spaces magazine to publish the said photos one time at no cost in an issue of the magazine and for use on the Web site in the context of the article. I also grant permission to Washington Spaces magazine to use the photos forever in the context of the article, on the Web site, and to promote the magazine.

I have permission from the homeowners, if applicable, and/or business owners to supply the said photos to Washington Spaces for publication.
Setting aside the illusory phrase "I grant a copyright to" (hint - you grant a right, or, you transfer copyright) it is far and away poor business to demand of your vendors "no cost" products or services. It is not sustainable, period.

Another contract they put out read as follows:

This Agreement is intended to cover any and all Works (hereinafter “the Work”) you create for use by Greater Washington Publishing, Inc. (hereinafter “GWPI”), or otherwise license for use by GWPI.

You and GWPI agree to the following terms:

1. In exchange for payment to you for each Work accepted by GWPI, you agree to give GWPI exclusive, first-time print publication rights to the Work (if applicable), as well as the subsequent non-exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, adapt or display the Work for any purpose and in any manner or medium worldwide during the copyright term of the Work, without additional compensation. The non-exclusive rights granted may be exercised in any form or media in which the Work may be reproduced, published, distributed or displayed (including but not limited to compilations, microfilm, library databases, videotext, computer databases, CD-ROM and the Internet). Provided, however, this non-exclusive license limits GWPI’s use, transfer or sublicense of the Work to inclusion in works that are marketed, distributed and/or grouped under or in association with GWPI’s name or brand.

2. Other than the rights granted to GWPI set forth above, you own the rights to and are free to sell or license the Work elsewhere following publication in Washington Spaces magazine. Any income from such sale or licensing belongs to you. Third-parties contacting GWPI for permission to use individual Works will continue to be referred to you for purposes of such sale or licensing.

3. You represent and warrant that the Work is your creation and that GWPI’s reproduction and distribution of the Work will not violate any copyright or other right of any third party.
The magazine, which published every other month, had a circulation of 80,000. It has not been stated (yet) how many layoffs will result from this, however, it's almost sure to happen, given this closing.

Here's a tip for future publications - you will attract the top creative talent (for both photographic and writing aspects) which will produce compelling content, and you will sustain that talent over time, if you pay them fees and cover expenses that are fair and reasonable. As a result, advertisers will want to be adjacent to other compelling images as they promote their own products. When planning your budget proposals for your new ventures, don't think you know what a photographer should be paid - contact a number of them whose work you respect (as seen in reputable publications) and ask them what they would charge for a variety of assignments. On more than one occasion, I have been called upon for just such a query.

Upon hearing this, more than one photographer whom you (Washington Spaces) asked to provide "no cost" photography wrote to me: "this made my day"; "more room on the news stands for the good publications"; and other even more colorful missives.

Good riddance, Washington Spaces.

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One-Stop Shopping for Photo Buyers - Too Complex and Fractured

One of the questions that continues to surface like so much floatsam and jetsam on the sea of discourse about photography licensing, is why there isn't one centralized location to license images. Dan Heller recently tried to answer the question in his blog post here - Why there's no one-stop shop for photo buyers - (11/29/09), and he compares the business of photography to that of electronics, suggesting that the reason that there is a "viable, stable market for electronics (unlike photos) is because there are mechanisms in place that help establish price points, distributors, manufacturers, and so on. In short, it's a mature industry." There are two problems with that position - #1, photography has been in the marketplace for far and away longer than electronics even existed, and further - is is extremely easy to search for electronics because they have model numbers. It is exceptionally easy to compare two products with the same model numbers, and to enumerate even the most nuanced of differences between models when there is even one or two characters that change (example: Nikon D3 and Nikon D3x, or Canon 5D as compared to the Canon 5D II). Even though, if you don't know exactly what you are looking for, there is a very limited universe of variations on each type of electronics. However, if you try to search for a "cell phone cover" you are hosed. 75 millions results. Iphone cover: 110,000,000 results.

The problem is the nature of the medium. Not the maturity of the industry.

In photography, search is most often not for a particular object or product, but for a concept, which may be expressed by the state of a particular object.

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For example, If you want to find a dog photo, not a particular photo but a photo that expresses a certain concept, there is no possible answer (other than wading) but reliance on keywords. And when you do that search, if the results have not been edited for quality, you are going to waste time wading through though thousands of images to find a gem. Supplementary keywords added by viewers might improve keywording accuracy, however, it will be decades - at least - before a computer can parse the difference between a person smiling and showing their teeth - and that same person with a angry teeth-barring scowl, not to mention the micro-facial-expressions that differentiate happiness as compared to attraction.

Visual search can help with color, orientation, pattern, but not concept.

Image recognition can help with finding an exact image if you already have one, or an image with similarly structured feature points if you already have the image that you are looking for.

Object recognition can help with finding photographs of clearly delineated, unambiguously rendered objects, such as a bicycle, but will have a tough time distinguishing between a terrier and a cat. This will improve with time, but it takes a pair of eyes and a brain to distinguish subtleties, and this will not change. A combination of object recognition and contextual search will yield better results than either type of search alone.

But if you are conducting a search at a search engine like google, the results are images IN USE, not images FOR SALE. Big difference.

The problem is, there is almost always, as those attempting to solve licensing problems, a failure to recognize the fundamental differences between different types of products, and different types of intellectual property.

Searching for music is easier than searching for photos because there are relatively *few songs*. Searching for music -- a "mature" industry -- is a big headache, if you don't know the artist or the name of the song, but are just looking for a song that expresses a certain concept. However, lyrics can be of some assistance, beats per minute, genre, and so on. Yet, in the end, to be able to actually experience - by listening - to a song, will provide you with the final answer. So too, by seeing concepts in images, you really do have to either see it, or have had someone see it and keyword in conceptual keywords.

Heller, among others, suggest that even the big fish (Getty/Corbis/etc) can't/won't even attempt to solve these problems, because their results are absent images they don't represent. Yet, as noted above, it's more than that - these results would not include images that are for sale, yet not in a stock agency or indexed by Google.

Further, the licensing of images is a challenge too. If I told you that someone needed an aerial photograph of a football stadium, but they only wanted 200 copies for a printed brochure, how would you price that? Well, it's one thing if the brochure is for a local realtor to show how protected a home's traffic access is to the seasonal traffic jams on nearby roads, and completely another if that brochure will be what sells the NFL owners on having the next Super Bowl at that stadium.

Photography (and illustrations, for that matter) will continue to be far too complex and fractured an industry for there to be any one place to centralize the licensing of it

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