I talked about artists first (we always try to put artists first at my company, Index Stock), and argued that they benefit from the swing to digital (Analysis 9). I next looked at stock agencies (Analysis 10) and showed that digital work flow has helped their bottom line, but will not by itself, change their longer-term situation. What has the advent of digital images and fully digital processing done for customers?
Not much. It is sad but true, that most users of images remain firmly in the “dark ages” of image processing. It is embarrassing to report that we often entertain questions such as:
ð “Can you please turn the 30MB image you gave me into an 8MB image?” (Don’t they know how to resize an image?)
ð “I can’t find the image I downloaded. Where is it on my hard drive?” (We don’t know. We didn’t put it on your hard drive, and if we had, we would have put it someplace sensible!)
ð “We want a bluer sky. Can you fix it for me?” (No, we can’t fix it for you. However, first try calibrating your monitor, as that may make the sky look better.)
ð “We have this image we got from somewhere, but we don’t know where. Is it from you? If so, is it royalty-free or do we have to pay to use it again?” (It is always soooo tempting to say, “Yes, it is ours and you’ll have to license it again.” Such as shame that mom taught us to tell the truth!)
Clients buy thousands of images each day. They then process them badly, lose them, use them in ways not allowed by their license, and then blame their problems on either their stock agency or the agency’s artists! I know the customer is always right, but this might be a case where they are less right, than usual.
What stock image customers need to do is to install and use some kind of digital asset management (DAM) system. Unfortunately, the marketplace for DAM software remains both confusing and expensive. Furthermore, responsibility for bringing in DAM is generally split between image using areas such as marketing, investor relations, and sales and the IT or development departments. Many large companies have now seen several attempts at establishing a working DAM system come and go.
A few stock agents are trying to help with this problem. For instance, Index set up an Image Management and Licensing Service (IMLS) more than two years ago, to help its large customers manage their images. Index absorbs images from its IMLS customers into its database and allows their staff to view and download their own images. This immediately saves money for Index’s IMLS customers. Index is able to process (keyword, rights manage, color adjust, etc.) images for much less than the IMLS customer would have to pay. Index is also able to market the IMLS customer’s images through its worldwide distribution network. IMLS customers generally can make enough money from image marketing to cover their image processing costs and more. The result is that they have no net costs to use the program and save a lot of money. Index has shown a 500% rate of return per year, for several customers.
Will customers benefit from the shift to digital? The high rate of return shown above says that the answer is “yes,” if they do it right. Here are some suggested guidelines for customers who are approaching DAM:
- Put all your images into the system. Customers should load in images generated by their internal resources like company picnic pictures, newsletter photos, and ribbon cutting. Getting everything into the DAM makes it much easier to enforce a rule that everything must come OUT of the DAM.
- Give the system to everyone in the organization. The more people who use the system, the more images will flow in and the more support the system will get from the organization. CFOs are always looking for programs to cut. Make sure that the DAM is not one of them.
- Use industry-standard metadata fields. The easiest choice is to adopt the standards promulgated by the IPTC. While the data is news-oriented, there are fields for anything that an advertising-related entity might want to use. Don’t mess with the fields or modify them. Staying within the boundaries will give you the ability to pull in new tools and systems, as they become available. Also consider the schemas suggested by DISC and PLUS.
- Make sure that you have a great search engine. Stock agents like Index have spent decades refining their search engines. It will be hard to replicate their expertise, with something you build yourself or buy from a text search source such as Google or Verity. Still, there is no point to spend time and money putting images into a DAM, if you can’t find them when you need them.
- Educate the people who contribute images, about rights management issues. If an image is licensed “royalty free,” the person who puts it into the DAM needs to include the relevant license information. Similarly, any in-house created images, need to include information about model or property releases—or the fact that none exist. It is hard to recreate this rights information one or two years, after the image has been placed in the system.
- Educate the people who take images out of the DAM, about rights management issues. Each use from the DAM needs to be tracked, so that the licensing history of each image stays intact and is respected.
- Track your costs and your benefits. A good DAM implementation should save enough money to make someone a hero or heroine. Tracking the progress will make sure that the system survives and prospers.
Customers haven’t benefited much yet from the shift to digital image generation by artists or from stock agency’s adoption of fully-digital processing. However, the benefits are clear and it is probably just a matter of time, before they do. When they finally are ready, I hope that artists and agencies have further improved and integrated their systems. I’ll talk in a later blog about what some of these next steps might look like.