Glenn Parker, chief executive officer, Photolibrary was in India recently, conducting a meeting with the different country heads of the stock image company. afaqs! caught up with Parker and Deepak Malhotra, chief executive officer, SAARC, Photolibrary, as they spoke about the company's history, piracy troubles and plans ahead. Excerpts from the interview:
afaqs!: Tell us about Photolibrary.
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Malhotra: Basically, we got all the eyes before we set up so that there is no confusion in any country and there is no breaking of any taxation or any other laws. The philosophy here is that when you set up a new office in a new country, you make sure that you know all the laws to facilitate a smooth transition.
Parker: We set up in England in 2002. We bought three other libraries in the UK. In 2004, we set up in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. From that central base, we set up in Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and now, Hong Kong. In 2006, we set up in India, Dubai and the US and in 2008, we set up in France, Italy and Germany.
The offices in every country are our own. They are not agents or master delegates. With a master delegate, you lose local knowledge and there is no incentive to invest in the business going forward. Each country head is allowed to run the business as he deems fit with a local flavour and make it grow the way he wants it to, keeping the philosophy of Photolibrary in mind.
afaqs!: What are your thoughts on the prospects of stock photography in India?
Malhotra: It is still very nascent actually and it is growing by leaps and bounds. The market has potential to grow because more and more people are opting for stock images. Also deadlines have become smaller and if a client needs to release an ad - they don't have time to go do a shoot and so take a stock image.
Today, when a client wants an ad released, the art director at the agency does the layout, he chooses an image from an image library, shows it to the client, the client approves it, the copyrights are bought and the ad is released, unlike in the earlier times when an image from a library was chosen and recreated by the agency after it was approved by the client.
Parker: We have eight people in our team here in India. We are very focused on local content.
Malhotra: We are increasing our local content on a quarterly basis. In fact, in another six months, we will have a huge chunk of more Indian images. It will take us a little while as we make sure that they are of our set standards before we upload it on the website. We believe in giving good hi-res quality images to our clients. To keep that standard high, we have a good IT backend in Sydney.
Right now, we service the whole of India from Mumbai. I have an account manager who travels extensively across the country, meeting clients on a regular basis not just to sell but understand the client's needs. We believe in building relationships. We work with our clients to give them what they want so that they keep coming back to us.
There are plans to open offices in all the metros shortly.
We work within Indian budgets and that is where my 30 years of advertising experience helps. It is also helps when we deal with clients because most of my team members are ex-agency people. They are all creative guys and not sales representatives, although they market the images. So, when a creative guy speaks to another, the comfort level automatically creeps in. I think that is important because they understand the jargon and language better.
afaqs!: You are also into stock footages.
Parker: As time has progressed, we have moved away from just providing images. We now also have footage. We have about 2,50,000 hours of footage. Stock footage is even further down the knowledge level of advertising agencies because when it comes to commercials, agencies do like to shoot their own footage but stock footage does have takers.
Malhotra: We specialise in slow motion shots. Oxford Scientific, the company Photolibrary bought in the UK, specialises in high speed cinematography.
Parker: We also do stock music. It is not just jingles but full compositions with lyrics. They are complete songs.
Malhotra: As and when required, we have musicians working with us. We have the tracks. The client can buy it with or without the lyrics. We provide the copyright to the buyer to use the music. It is something we are going to promote in a big way. I still do not know how big the market is for this because I am still researching.
afaqs!: How do you differentiate yourself from competition?
Malhotra: We have the same products on a platform as the competition. At the end of the day, it is about whether you market yourself as a sales company or a creative associate to the client.
There are two ways to deal with a client. You pull out a laptop and make a presentation or talk to the client and understand his requirements. In the latter case, the comfort level changes in less than a minute.
None of the pictures on Photolibrary is posed. They are natural. It is one way of differentiating us from everyone else. That really works with a lot of clients in India. The creative is also getting more and more skewed towards natural images.
Parker: A classic stock shot would be a group of six people around a table. It is a dinner shot. There is nothing on their plates. The knives and forks are there and someone with a wine glass smiling into the camera. That is a classic cheesy stock shot. We would not take that. We want a little bit of mess on the table.
afaqs!: Tell us about your various arms.
Parker: The production teams are in a company called Oxford Scientific Films, based in London. Oxford Scientific also specialises in unique animal photography. The other one is Garden Picture Library that is into botanical material. We have Fresh Food Images specialising in food imagery.
Monsoon Images is for the more artistic photographers. In India, the high-end designers use those images. They are not the standard images you would find with us otherwise. These are images that are a little more creative and out of the box. It is more stylised content.
We also have Peter Arnold, based in New York. It has a lot of underwater images and medical and science pictures.
And then, there is Ticket that specialises in travel photography.
We are looking to move to things where we are still a small player. We also plan to launch an editorial product soon.
Malhotra: We are a little weak in the editorial content right now but it is going to be taken care of in this quarter. There will be a lot of new editorial content. A new tab on the web site will be added, which will dedicated to the same. We have a lot of editorial clients even now but they use what we have on the web site. But the images we have in mind will be purely editorial that will be updated regularly.
afaqs!: What about the other countries that you are looking at?
Parker: Europe is more or less done. So is Asia as far as I am concerned. We are now looking at South America. Brazil is the next target. We obviously have Dubai already, which has some potential.
Malhotra: I look after Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, besides India. However, they are still very small. They do buy images but the percentage is very low. It has also to do with the fact that they approach us with the international part of their multinational campaigns. If it is a local campaign, they find it more viable to use a local photographer. The three countries are also very turbulent.
Parker: One country we are not looking at is China. Like India, China has a lot of copyright issues. We do deal with the Chinese out of Hong Kong but I am not convinced about setting up an office in China.
Malhotra: China does not have any copyright law. So, people just rip off images, burn them on a CD and sell them locally. Then the people who buy those CDs and use those images get into trouble because if you have an image, you must have a license to use it. Most agencies and corporate houses are aware but there is still some awareness that has to be created.
We have targeted a few piracy cases where we have found our images being used without procuring copyright license from us. We have busted a couple of cases and clients have become a lot wary. The problem has become a lot less than what it used to be a few years ago.
afaqs!: How big is the piracy problem and how are you tackling it?
Malhotra: Piracy was a serious issue till a year back. As we made more and more clients aware that we are monitoring what they are doing, it has come down. I do not know about the rest of the world but in India, it definitely has come down.
I get a report every morning telling me who has downloaded how many images from the web site in India. I go through the names and if they are all agencies, I do not worry about it because they are all my clients. I know when you are doing a pitch you download up to 400 images before you get what you want.
If I see a Yahoo, Gmail or a Hotmail, we call the client immediately. Sometimes, it is an art director working with a senior agency registered with a personal e-mail id. So we always call up the client and if it seems spurious, we send a representative to tackle it.
The representative meets the client, asks why the images have been downloaded and checks the system in office. It is all done with legal counsel on board. If found guilty, a legal notice is sent and the person in question is deleted from our system.
If it goes to court, the guy knows he will get into serious copyright trouble. Normally, they shy away from the court and pay us the license fee and also get educated and we close the chapter.
afaqs!: Tell us a bit about your photographers.
Malhotra: There are two ways Photolibrary deals with photographers. One, we buy the images outright and the photographer has nothing to do with the images anymore. The other way is we share the revenue with them. So, every time the picture is sold, the photographer gets a sales commission.
We tend to shy away from amateur photographers. We do not have photographers on board in India but we have a lot in the US and the UK. They come to India to shoot. We have one in Singapore as well, who also shoots a lot in India.
Maybe in a year, we may look at bringing photographers on board in India.
afaqs!: This meeting of all country heads - does it have any particular agenda?
Parker: We run this place as a collective unit. We meet at frequent intervals and pick a different country every time. There is a fairly standard list of sub-topics that we go through. There are sales, marketing and new plans for markets.
We redesign our site every 18 months. So, this is also the site redesign time.
Malhotra: We all have a say in every major decision that will enhance the company. We work individually in our markets but collectively, we are all involved. That is what this meeting is all about. Also, to share thoughts and views on what went wrong or right.
afaqs!: How do you promote Photolibrary in India?
Malhotra: We do online banner advertising. Other than that, we meet a lot of people. I do not believe in doing an ad but we do some innovative stuff. In our first year, we put up a huge billboard at Haji Ali, saying 'Season's Greetings from Photolibrary' for a month during Diwali.
Of course, we have clients coming to us directly from our web page. Online advertising helps our penetration a lot more and reach out to more people than we have on our database. We also have clients who promote us as they are happy with the way we do our business!
To sum it, we are not vendors to clients but creative associates and we work with our clients and their budgets!