Saturday, October 25, 2008

How Photo Buyers Work: 2008 Art Buyer Panel @ PACA

Attending the PACA Conference in NYC this weekend, I took special interest in hearing the current views of four top photo buyers on what they are looking for and how they go about finding it in the hyper connected, deadline driven world of 2008.

Photo Buyer Panel at PACA: L-R: Maggie Hunt, Stock Shop (moderator); Darrell Perry, Wall Street Journal; Jennifer Lim, Bill Smith Group; Marc Sirinsky, Rodale Books; Brian Bobinski, Freelance Designer

Top takeaways:

1) Email/Print still get attention: In spite of the profusion of SEM, online marketing, blogs, social networks, etc, Email AND Print marketing STILL works for this group of professional photo buyers.

2) Metadata spells OPPORTUNITY: Whether how meta data helps buyers find images OR how it helps them to organize projects, generate reports/analysis, picture providers with good meta data will find an increasing demand for images

3) The photo editor/art buyer is your champion: search tools and good websites are important, but ultimately people make the decisions to buy pictures. Help them sell your photos by providing great service, accurate meta data and be responsive when they need you.

Full transcript below:

Art Buyer’s Panel – PACA
New York City, NY
Saturday, October 25, 2008

Q: How do you start looking for images?

Brian Bobinsky: Unless I have just received an email that features an image I really like and have a project I can use it for, I usually start with searches online. I prefer to do my own searches.

Mark Sirinsky: If the project calls for stock, I start online. Looks for new images, new photographers. Will reference in-house database of images. If title has used images sourced internally, typically I will select images from internal DB as the brand has been established.

Jennifer Lim: We start searches online for book publishing clients (textbook). Will search mostly Rights Managed for very specific subjects but increasingly using microstock.

Darrell Perry: Started using 40 – 50 images per day. Hard news wire services 50%; 50% stock. Now we are using 200-300 images per day. Result: we are using more and paying less per image. We are assigning as much as 30%. Subscriptions with hard news vendors (“all you can eat”) takes up 60-70% of pages with stock taking up 10 - 20%. Exceptions are Personal Journal, Health, Home, Weekend Journal that do use more single image stock. Online uses more stock. Online uses a higher % of single image stock – must be clean, iconic. Micro has limited use because of limited meta data and requirement for more breaking news.

Q: When do you turn a project over to a photo researcher at an agency?

MS: Do my own search, but if I have a large set of specs I do reach out to vendors I trust.

BB: Since I align myself so closely to the creative team, I take the specs and send the emails to the contacts I have developed a relationships at the photo agencies we work with. If I do kW searches, typically they return too many images and I trust my vendors to sort the best images and only forward those most relevant to me.

JL: Unless the image request is so obscure or esoteric, we usually do our own research in-house. Typically fulfilling 1000’s of specs per week. We do use Photographer’s Direct and AGpix to source images directly from photographers.

DP: We have specialized email lists (Research Medical, Research Travel) that go to specific vendors, but due to time constraints, unless the return lightboxes immediately, we don’t use them. We’ve added more researchers internally so we do more research ourselves again with the exceptions for Medical, Health and other specialty subjects.

Q: Could stock agencies make this service easier for you?

BB: There are times that I will reach my top 10 sources and ask them to be thinking about themes subjects I anticipate I will need. But most projects, I will be looking and needing things immediately. Reps will be proactive asking about the projects that we did last year and asking whether or not we’ll be re-licensing images (esp for retailers that we do a lot of work for). That is helpful, but for ad agency clients the needs are constantly changing that we can’t anticipate.

MS: Whenever I get a proactive lightbox that is tailored to our “typical” requirements I will definitely review those. Sometimes we see things we really like and buy. Some reps do this routinely and that is helpful. A model agency did the same thing, and we did wind up using not one they sent, but I called and asked to see more talent that we did hire.

JL: At BSS we import meta data of images we license and we search the internal DB to locate images that we may re-use. Metadata searching could be interested. RSS image feeds are helpful.

DP: Every image should be downloaded with meta data. We asked Corbis to do it and they did it. We went to Granger and searched for historical images of the 1929 market crash and a few days later someone emailed me and said “we saw you were searching for images of the crash” and they sent me a lightbox of relevant images that I had not seen. I was impressed as hell and sure enough called them back to use some images.

Q: Have you licensed Creative Common images? What are the advantages? Disadvantages?

DP: Yes, in the past we have found images from Wikipedia. However, because of our authentic news requirements, we have a policy not to do it.

JL: It’s in our best interest to support photographers and agencies. We don’t use CC.

BB: We need to work with reputable suppliers. When it comes to general market advertising, the clients simply cannot take the risk and need to be able to contact the copyright holder and hold them accountable if there is a question or issue arises.

Q: What % of images do you use online v print?

DP: We use 50% more images online than in print

BB: Every license we purchase covers print and online.

JL: (Gave demo of in-house system used at BSG to capture image meta data, track images, vendor type (esp those with preferred rate plans), gender type, project status. This information is available to clients to review and generate reports: Photo credit reports, licensing, budget/cost per project, and more. Has web interface for internal/external users to access. Certain publishers have quotas to achieve: volume, micro, gender and the system automates all of the reporting. Having accurate meta data live with the image is vital to making this system work and remain automated.

Q: How fresh do images need to be? When is an image to old to be used?

BB: I am typically looking for current/contemporary images (esp with people), probably 18 months is about the life of an image.

JL: If historical we can use anything. If the images include children

MS: For sports and fitness, about a year is average life we would see. For garden/house titles, life-span can be longer, but on average one to two years.

DP: We get in trouble from our readers if we publish image that are dated. Usually we have a two year window but try and buy pictures shot in the last 6 months.

Q: Do you use preferred vendors?

DP: We use our contract vendors first (top 5 or 6)

BB: No preference. Our criteria is to find images that are current relevant. I use the top 5 but then I’ll also send specs to off the wall sources to find things that are fresh.

MS: If it the right image, we’ll pay for it. We do have some preferred vendors, and we do use them more (mostly because of our previous purchase history), but we do use the niche agencies to find fresh images.

JL: It swings the other way too, we have a “do not use list’

MS: A horror story: Working with a high profile agency on an important project on deadline for exclusive images after hours. The rep complained that she was missing her yoga class and the total lack of professionalism almost caused the agency to lose the job. A reminder when we ask you to go over board for us, remember that we as photo editors are the ones going to bat and advocating for photographers and agencies. If we ask you to go the extra mile, it’s because we are too so please remember that.

Q: How important is exclusivity?

JL: We don’t need exclusives for interior textbook uses

DP: we don’t need exclusive, except if it is important to our brand then we will just shoot.

MS: For covers we will ask if an image has been used on a cover. If it has been used, we may still use it, but it’s good to know.

BB: If exclusivity is important, especially for

Q: If WSJ hires a photographer, are rights exclusive for WSJ or all NewsCorp brands?

DP: Currently when we shoot, the rights are one time non-exclusive for WSJ properties only. Not Dow Jones, not NewsCorp. In the future that may change, but when and how I’m not sure.
Q: What’s most important to you in selecting images?

BB: Believeability. I get promo cards from a medical stock house that have an over-reliance on special effects. I will never use those images. In contrast, there is a food photographer who sent me a card of a beautiful image of a pastrami sandwich and I wanted to eat the card, it looked that good. That’s the kind of images that I like. I’ll also see photographers where it was obvious that they had access to a group of models and a good location and while the overall quality is acceptable, often it looks like “stock” and I’ll be less inclined to use.

Q: From a journalistic perspective, do you have challenges using non-news images?

DP: We have come under criticism for using non-news images in our Personal Journal which is more of a magazine look and the images are used more as illustration rather than hard news. I simply can’t hire a photographer to shoot a guy with a laptop for $4000. If I did, I’d have photographers lining up around the block. I can’t do that and I won’t. I use the images I want to use from the agencies we have agreements with.

Q: Do you look at emails sent by agencies that you don’t know?

BB: Yes, I look at all emails.

MS: We have some unique email system issues, but yes, I always look at the emails I receive. If it is a photographer I know, I may not open it, but generally I will look at all talent and agencies that send me new work.

JL: If it is an agency I am aware of, honestly I don’t always look at the emails, but if it is a new agency I am more likely to open it and read.

Do you demand copyright buyouts for licenses? Do you require rights for third parties? (increasingly licenses requests and purchase orders are including this language)

BB: We’ll ask for unlimited rights not buyouts. But the clients ask for it because they don’t want the hassles and complications of re-licensing. I don’t agree with it, but the account side promises these rights to a clients and then I’m put in a compromised position because I respect the rights of photographers, but unfortunately I get put in a “take it or leave it” position. Sometimes it’s a lack of education—clients doesn’t really need buyout just unlimited usage- but will insist on it simply because they don’t want the complication of tracking rights.

DP: Some clients are willfully ignorant. They don’t want to know, they just want to use the image.

BB: A 25-minute video of the corporate history include album cover art, promo posters and other copyrighted material. I asked where the video would be used and was told it would only see limited use at a trade show. I cleared the rights with a few agencies and photographers. I left for vacation and when I returned I learned that the video was being broadcast on a jumbotron in Times Square. I contacted the SVP Account Manager and let them know of the legal risk the client was under. The response I got was until someone files a cease and desist, they were going to keep using the video. While the client did not respond to the legal risk, I was troubled by the ethical implications of using artists’ work without permission and ultimately that is what troubled me.

Q: Do you expect to pay more for print or online?

BB: I would expect to pay more for online rights. Print is limited in terms of print run of who is going to see. Web is virtually unlimited. But web is still the red-headed stepchild; even media companies don’t know how to charge for web (v. print) and measure it, so

DP: The web for us (WSJ) is working. The viewers are paying for it. However, while they are still innovating. The paper is actually a loss-leader to drive people to the web. We differentiate ourselves as an institutional investor newsletter and that’s what people are paying for.
Q: Do you read printed marketing materials from photographers/agencies?

DP: Yes, I definitely review and keep postcards. Especially locations because often I am looking for photographers in specific locations. What I don’t appreciate is random phone calls or meetings.

BB: I look at the printed material just like the electronic email receive. I don’t file it goes up on the wall. When I get an printed piece and then also receive and email, I also tells me the individual knows what they are doing.

MS: Email is a good place to start. I usually don’t respond, but that’s not that the point. It’s just to get me to look at the work. I will keep promo photo cards. For assignment photographers, I do like to look at (portfolio) books. We have 150 books we are printing each year. Looking at a portfolio really helps us to circulate the work to art directors – many of whom are old school and like looking at print. Don’t like cold calls, but I understand the need to follow-up after sending a book, but don’t pester us.

For more buyer intelligence, see my post from the Chicago ASMP Buyer Roundtable in March 2008.