FOCUS: PHOTO LIBRARIES - The cost of being in the picture/If a picture paints a thousand words, then the delivery of that image can be make or break a story. As the press demands more and better pictures the trend to charge for them is growing. Peter Robi

The photo library was often a backwater of the in-house PR department, its dog-eared manila folders containing an ill-filed, barely used set of out-of-date images.

The photo library was often a backwater of the in-house PR

department, its dog-eared manila folders containing an ill-filed, barely

used set of out-of-date images.

But with improved digital storage and delivery methods and the voracious

appetite of the press, the photo library has become a central PR

resource and, in some cases, a nice little earner. The demand for

pictures and the growth of technology-based systems has inevitably meant

that photo libraries have become expensive to run. Organisations have to

decide whether they have the resources to modernise or whether to call

in outside help.

The picture library at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,

for example, was itself in danger of becoming an endangered species and

last year the RSPB had to make the sort of decisions facing many charity

and cash-strapped organisations. Production manager Tim Norman explains:

’We had 60,000 pictures but only two per cent were being used. An

unacceptable number of pictures were being sourced from other libraries

and, since we charge for our service, this was coming straight off our

bottom line.’

The library found that it did not have the resources to promote itself

and, with competitors digitising and taking advantage of fast delivery

methods, the RSPB could see itself being wiped out of the external


But as Norman says: ’These days it’s impossible to employ more staff

just on the strength of a marketing forecast.’

Outsourcing proved the answer. A joint venture with Interface Digital

Library in January provided an on-line service. The RSPB now offers ISDN

to transmit digital images, although not everything is digitised. Norman

points out that much of the press, particularly magazines, still depend

on processing physical images.

But it’s not just cash-strapped, low-tech organisations which see

outsourcing as the solution. BT has outsourced its ISDN on-line picture

library to ND Comtec.

BT’s visual systems manager Veronica Squires says: ’Outsourcing is

ultimately cheaper. Even if you have the technology in-house you need

the structure for it. Scanning, captioning and indexing are all labour


Squires emphasises that this is not a commercial venture, with charges

only levied for advertising and special usage. ’We ask journalists to

give us a credit and that in effect gives us a return,’ she says.

ND Comtec’s marketing manager, Kay Binns says: ’It’s an invaluable aid

to be able to hand over your picture library and have it captioned,

catalogued, digitised, stored, and transmitted for you. It’s quite a

task and makes it flexible for the press to get their pictures.’

Hi-tech outsourcing can also be useful for clients’ consultancies. For

instance, Louise Hurren, press officer at Hill and Knowlton for the BT

Global Challenge round the world yacht race, has found working with ND

Comtec invaluable in transmitting up-to-the-minute digital images of the

race to the press.

But can outsourcing result in the client losing control of its


At Greenpeace, campaigns director, John Sauven says: ’We did think of

outsourcing our stills and have already outsourced video. But we didn’t

because we have a huge internal demand for the library and it would be

complicated if it was somewhere else.’

Greenpeace runs its library with relatively low overheads, staffed by

just one part-timer. Sauven explains: ’It’s low cost, and mainly used as

a Greenpeace campaigning tool so it serves our internal needs. It could

be flogged more as a commercial venture but that’s not its main


But, like the RSPB, he believes charities should be hardheaded about

charging, ’Everybody wants everything for nothing and the press will

play every trick in the book. We make a judgment on charging. We do have

standard rates but also consider whether a particular article is

important to us or not.’

As a general rule, Greenpeace charges commercial organisations. News

images are free to the press, but subsequent pictures for features would

be charged.

While budget restricted organisations such as local authorities appear

to be slow in modernising their photo libraries, large corporate

organisations are reviewing their technological options. ICI’s senior

press officer, Geoff Paddock says, ’We are not considering outsourcing,

but we are looking at streamlining our photo library, bringing it into

the electronic age and digitising images. We are looking to get advice

from outside.

’We considered CD-ROM but are more likely to take the on-line route.

Our Internet site is being redesigned, and could be used for


We have fairly split businesses at ICI so we have to allow all our

companies, including those overseas, to access our images.’

Journalists are not charged for images and, in common with most

corporate organisations, ICI does not see that changing. At BP, press

officer, David Nicholas agrees. ’It’s part of PR. So it’s not in our

interest to charge, except when it’s used for advertising or commercial

gain. We look at everything on a case-by-case basis,’ he says.

At present, corporate organisations appear to favour using PR

consultancies to run their photo libraries rather than outsourcing. For

the consultancy, managing a client’s photo library can take many forms.

According to Jonathan Hemus, director of business-to-business

specialists The Reputation Managers, this usually falls into one of

three categories. It can involve just a section of the client’s library,

a complete duplicate library or the whole operation being run

exclusively by the consultancy.

Hemus says: ’It’s best if we manage it all ourselves, looking after it

here, and up-dating regularly. None of our clients outsource any of

their work to other third parties and that applies to large clients,

such as Royal Mail.’

This gives the consultancy complete control, integrating the photo

library into the whole PR package. ’This is especially important from a

timing point of view when working with journalists,’ says Hemus.

’Historically, the trade and specialist press has been content to use

brochure shots.

That’s no longer true.’

Devolving complete control of the photo library can be particularly

useful for overseas clients. Burson-Marsteller looks after the picture

library of petrochemical producer Saudi Basic Industries Corporation.

Alison Meeson, senior account director, explains: ’Access to Saudi

Arabia is limited.

So we make regular updates of our photo library for journalists not able

to go there.’

Similarly, Mulcaster Public Relations and Marketing runs a picture

library of 4,000 slides for its client, German Wines. ’We have to

respond quickly to requests and try and give everyone original slides.

This involves regularly updating pictures of all the wine estates,

getting good photographers and briefing them,’ says managing director

Tan Harrington. ’In fact, one of our biggest problems is that

journalists do not return the slides.’

As she points out the fact that they do not charge means that magazines

are keen to use this service rather than commercial libraries.

But it’s not just pictures that consultancies need to look after in the

photo library. Graphics and logos are increasingly important too as

Steve Gebbett, director of marketing at Charles Barker, stresses: ’It’s

important to maintain up-to-the-minute changes in brand packaging and

corporate identity in the photo library. You often see old company logos

being used in the press. Continuity of all images must be assured.’


’Well over 50 per cent of magazines we deal with ask for colour

separation charges and it seems too late to turn back the tide,’ says

Jonathan Hemus, director of The Reputation Managers, voicing a common

concern of many other consultancies.

Hemus says: ’We don’t like it, but it’s becoming a fact of life. We are

frequently told, unless you pay there will be no coverage.’

Small consultancies are particularly under pressure to pay up and

reluctant to go on the record for fear of offending magazines. One

managing director said: ’The decision over whether something goes in is

based more on financial considerations than editorial ones. I’m an

ex-editor and totally against that, but what else can I do?’

He believes that colour separation charges amount to paid advertising

and that magazines should at least state that the material is paid


The National Committee on Editorial Independence, backed by the IPR,

PRCA, NUJ and Chartered Institute of Journalists is trying to channel

this growing concern. Co-ordinator John Rose, estimates that the annual

market for colour separation charges is worth pounds 60-pounds 100

million. The Committee is collecting evidence and complaints with a view

to putting pressure on publishers.

Rose says: ’These charges are unethical and not related to the costs of

the process. It’s being hyped by up to 3,000 per cent. It’s a hidden

form of revenue, meaning that editorial is not distanced from


International Building Press, which represents journalists, PR people

and consultants in the property and building industry recently held a

seminar on the subject. Brian Corthine, director of consultancy Taylor

Alden told delegates that 25 of his clients pay out a total of pounds

200,000 a year in colour separation charges.

’The money is now taken straight out of advertising budgets. I don’t

think the National Committee will get anywhere and once a source of

income like this opens up it’s unlikely to stop,’ he says.

Peter Hancocks, editor of Contract Flooring Journal, unrepentantly

levies the charge and frankly admits: ’It’s not correct to call it a

colour separation charge since that cost usually amounts to just pounds

12 to pounds 15 and we charge about pounds 90. Some publishers say they

will not use a piece if you don’t pay but I’m against that. I use any

money from it to create extra pages in the journal.’

Hancocks charges pounds 500 for a front cover product picture but does

not regard this as advertising. Brian Corthine is in no doubt. ’As far

as I’m concerned anything over pounds 100 is an ad,’ he says.


Photo library browser sites are spreading on the Web but libraries have

yet to exploit its direct delivery capabilities.

Pictor International site is typical of many browser sites in offering a

limited selection of low resolution images. Visitors can e-mail requests

for images and catalogues.

’The Web serves as a taster rather than access to our whole library of

over three million images,’ explains sales and marketing coordinator

Julie Wicks. ’Increasingly it’s proving a way of putting us in touch

with new clients.’

Image Bank is pushing the boundaries further according to managing

director, Mark Cass. ’We see the Internet as a delivery method for high

resolution images,’ he says. ’In the second quarter of this year we’ll

be allowing some of our larger clients to pull down high resolution

images from our Web site.’

Tony Stone Images is now on-line and Images Colour Library and Robert

Harding are finalising their Web sites. Diana Leppard of Images Colour

Library says that in the UK digital delivery methods like ISDN and the

Web are not much in demand. ’We feel that the UK market is not ready and

does not have the access points. The market here is still

catalogue-dominated,’ she says.

While CDs are supplementing catalogues, both methods can be out of date

almost as soon as they are published while Internet sites can be

instantly updated.

But competition is coming from other technologies, too. For example, at

the end of last year the Press Association launched PixElect. Head of

Syndication, Bridget Coker explains, ’Clients who are not electronic can

put their pictures on to our own digital delivery system and we can

provide their pictures to all nationals and broadcasters.’ The service

may move on to encouraging PR consultancies to put their clients images

onto the system.

The specialist libraries are also gradually moving on to the Web. The

RSPB opened up for business last month with a browser site, while

another specialist, the Bridgeman Art Library, which provides fine art

images on behalf of museums, galleries and artists is considering

expanding its Web site.

It is receiving EU support for a new project, Image-In, which involves

working with partners in four other countries to evaluate delivering

on-line fine art images from the Web and by ISDN.

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