I’ve followed Paul Melcher’s Thoughts of a Bohemian blog for many years, because he had an insiders perspective of the stock photography industry and was a harsh critic of the old guard not keeping up with the digital age (similar to my own blogging on magazines back in the early days of APE). So, when I found out about his position at Stipple as the VP of image licensing I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the industry and this new company that looks to be very promising for photographers.
APE: Paul, give me a little background on yourself. I know you have been involved in the photography industry and particularly with stock for many years now?
Paul: Photography is in my DNA. As the son of a photographer who later became director of Magnum, I grew up surrounded by great photography and extremely talented photographers. After getting a degree in Economics and desperately trying to deny my calling by becoming a crime story journalist, I realized that images, more than text, was where I should be. My big break was when a French agency with an office in New York called upon me to manage their US office. I moved from Paris, France to Manhattan and quickly embraced the chance to redefine the way images were licensed in the US. From there, I worked at LGI, introducing the first digital news desk and making some of the first fully digital sales. The idea that an image could be taken on the West coast and sold to Newsweek on the East coast within hours was a revelation to me. I was hooked. Before, with Fed Ex or airplane cargos, it was at least a day. LGI was purchased by Corbis in the early 90’s and my hope was that with Bill Gates’ money and Microsoft’s technological knowledge, we could build the first fully digital photo agency. I was quickly disappointed and left after two painful years. It is not before 2000, with the creation of ImageDirect, the first fully 100% digital photo agency, that I could realize my dreams. At the time, magazines still wanted prints made from digital files. We simply said no. We offered CD’s or transmission but no prints. While we might have lost some sales, we were saving so much time and money by avoiding the analog pitfalls that it didn’t matter. After a year, magazines got used to it and after 3 years, Getty Images bought our company.
I then worked at various places, heading the North American bureau of Gamma Press, was VP of sales for DigitalRailroad, as well as stints at Rex Features and Abaca Press. I also consulted for various high tech companies looking to apply their advance research to the photographic world. 18 months ago, when approached by founder Rey Flemings to work at Stipple, I jumped on the chance to be part of what I see as the next revolution in photography. As you know, I also write my blog ( when I have the time ) “Thoughts of a Bohemian” and have two weekly columns in “Le Journal de La photographie”
APE: Stipple looks to me like it solves a very important problem for photographers and image buyers. Talk to me about stipple and how you see photographers using it?
Paul: Stipple solves the age old question everyone who has ever taken a picture has been asking : where are my photographs published and how many people are seeing them ? Today, when an image is published online, it is quickly replicated, blogged, re bloged, pinned, twitted, Tumblred, Facebooked. Even Google, with it’s formidable search engine, cannot keep track of the 250 million new images posted and the 150,000 new urls created each day.
With it’s free and persistent attribution tool, Stipple allows image creators to keep control of their images, wherever they might be. If this wasn’t enough, Stipple also offers powerful storytelling tools via interactive and discreet media tags. Appearing only on mouse-over, those tags can be of embedded videos, music, links, maps, wikipedia entries, Facebook, twitter updates or simple text. They offer photographers the ability to add information directly in the image. Finally Stipple introduces a new way to generate revenue that embraces and takes full advantage of the image sharing culture.
In other words, not only can photographer use Stipple to claim their images and follow their usage, but also use it as a formidable storytelling tool that enhances the way viewers experience their image. It’s the intelligent image.
APE: You’ve been a pretty harsh critic of the stock industry over on Thoughts of a Bohemian. Can you give me a very general “state of the industry” for stock?
Paul: First let me say that you are only a harsh critic of the things or people you love. The photo agency world used to be a place where photographers could freely and strongly practice their trade because they had agents that worked with them to not only create the images but sell them at the highest rates. When two experts connected, the photographer and the agent, it quickly became an incredibly productive symbiosis . Since the arrival of the corporates in the late 90’s, Getty and Corbis, this balanced environment has been destroyed and replaced by number crunchers and surveyors.
Today, everyone is trying to replicate Getty but it is not working. Getty’s model only works for Getty. Not even Corbis has been successful at replicating it, even after throwing millions, if not a billion, at the problem. The stock photo industry today is in survival mode, trying to protect their ‘sales territory’ while trying to find ways to save money. Exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. Let’s face it, the world of image licensing is exploding, or imploding, and will never be the same. Yet those poorly run companies react as this was a passing storm and all they have to do is hold on for a while. They are, and will be, more and more agencies closing in the near future with photographers suffering the most damage from it.
APE: Now what does the future hold? Obviously there’s a lot of photography out there and you’ve got a tool that can be used for licensing. Do you see potential there?
Paul: Yes, a lot. It is always in times of great turmoil that great ideas emerge. Old and antiquated ways of licensing images, like RM and RF, are completely unfit to our world. You do not pay for potatoes based on what you intend to do with them, so why should you for photographs ? Because of this old world licensing model, images are now being stolen and re used at rates never seen before . Even mainstream publishers put your properly licensed images on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest without paying you an extra dime because, well, there is just no licensing model for such usage.
Instead of going against the flow, Stipple allows photographers to embrace it. If people are going to use your photographs without your authorization, why not take advantage of it ? Your image, published a thousand times, becomes valuable real estate from which you can easily profit. With an e-commerce tag, it instantly starts generating revenue, wherever it is. No more need to spend hours tracking where your images are, sending endless take down notices, alienating potential new clients with threats. In fact, with Stipple, the more people use your images, the better it is. And with its live analytics tool, you can, at any time, see where they are published and what traffic they generate.
APE: Anything else we should know about Stipple?
Paul: Yes. It is a great marketing tool. You can immediately see what type of images are the most popular and bring you the most traffic. You can than recalibrate you work accordingly by having a better sense of the public’s reaction to your work. You can also find out what type of images work where and better understand your market.
For photojournalists, it is also a great story telling tool : instead of lengthy captions, you can add information directly in the image, allowing inquisitive viewers to immediately get more information on specific parts of your photographs.
Stipple also works great for wedding photographers, who can add videos, locations, invites, but also more information on who made that beautiful cake or those flower arrangement.
Finally, last but certainly not least, Stipple is also perfect to proactively combat orphan works. Because the photographers ID is persistent and travels with the image, it allows for anyone to trace an image back to its owner with just one click.
I could go on and on about Stipple. The best is for photographers to experience it themselves, since it is free and currently in public beta. Anyone is welcome to sign up for an invitation ( they come quickly) at www.stipple.com.