Archive for March, 2008

Further thoughts on the rights grab by Adobe

Monday, March 31st, 2008

There is quite an uproar in the blogosphere about the recent “accident” with Adobe’s Photoshop Express beta Terms of Use (ToU).

One of my favorite photographers and bloggers, Jim Goldstein, asked four questions on this:

1. What the hell is Adobe thinking?
2. Are corporate lawyers really this out to lunch?
3. Why wasn’t greater thought put into supporting the rights of their users and managing the trust behind the Adobe brand?
4. Why would Adobe bury the meat of the Terms of Use as they’ve done?

Very valid questions indeed. Especially the questions of the “Why?” and “How?” are worth further analysis.

Having worked for large corporations in the past, I know that legal departments do not come up with terms and conditions just “out of the blue”. They are usually reactive, drafting legal clauses from the input provided by (and often in close cooperation with) the product teams. I.e., Adobe’s legal team did probably NOT say, “hey, why don’t we just grab for the rights of the images that people upload to the site? This way we could earn an extra buck or two at a later point in time.” – No. A legal team typically listens to the input by the product team and then comes back with an appropriate legal wording. It might well be that the product team in this case wanted or needed to grab for the rights for business reasons and asked the legal team to hide the fact as good as possible. The legal team replied by burying the terms somewhere in the general T&C. So I strongly believe that the product team thought they could get away with this.

It’s worth noting that at least the Adobe PR folks got their act together. They did an excellent job in telling the world that the legal team did a mistake (it’s always easy to blame the lawyers, as everyone seems to be happy with that). Just read this comment by Adobe’s John Nack responding to this blog post, and the inspiring discussion:

No, it was *not* anyone’s intention to “rip off” customers. The people who wrote the legalese overshot the mark, that’s all. It’s not some nefarious scheme.

In my opinion, this is at best only one half of the story. The other half is with the product manager, who most likely initiated this fiasco and should have stopped it. The fact that the ToU were published like this leaves several serious questions open. Most of them concerning the product team who let this mess happen.

Anyway, in the future, we will need to review the terms and conditions much closer, not just for Adobe’s services.

SPAMfighter performance review

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Last year I started to use SPAMfighter to get rid of the growing amount of unwanted mails (read more). After an update that went wrong all the stats had been deleted, and I started from scratch. Now, almost five months later, I would like to share my experience with the service with you.

SPAMfighter statistics

The first thing that springs to mind is the fact that I have “just” about 60% spam. I have seen reports that about 80% of all emails on the Internet are spam. Not so for me (which is nice)!

Not so nice is the fact that SPAMfighter catches only 57% of the spam that hits me (i.e. 35% of all mails), and that I still have to see and block the remaining 43%. Which surprises me a bit. After all, SPAMfighter could increase their member base from 3.6 million in July 2007 to almost 4.7 million in March 2008. This bigger community should be able to catch spam better.

I guess most of the community members are consumers who do not bother to report incoming spam. One of the main problems is that there is no incentive for anyone to actively block spam, except for the somewhat cloudy, intangible benefits for the whole community. There is no “top SPAMfighter” award, no top lists on their web site, no feedback loop, no “Thank You!” mails. So, members might wonder why they should block spam at all? Where is the benefit for them? The service seems to be able to catch spam even without their help, so why bother?

Also, I am quite surprised that I still receive a lot of mails that are obvious spam (e.g. carrying certain adult keywords in the subject line). This spam could and should be easily detected by the systems, but apparently goes through undetected. I just wonder why? I would strongly suggest to SPAMfighter to also introduce keyword based filters that can be populated by the user individually, or -if the user is too lazy- by optionally using default lists provided by the community. The knowledge on the keywords has to be somewhere in the SPAMfighter systems; it’s just a matter of applying this knowledge to create more powerful filters.

To frame or not to frame?

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

I had always been under the impression that a photo should stand out for itself, so I avoided any artificial additions. A photo should “work” on its own, getting the topic or its beauty across to the viewer. All that I would accept is adding a copyright line, which is still an absolute must, given the many hotlinkers and freeloaders around. This photo of Canada’s Morraine Lake would be the perfect example for such a photo:

Morrain Lake, Alberta, Canada

But recently, especially after becoming a regular reader to Jim Goldstein’s blog, I thought that my approach might be too simple. After all, competition is increasing not only on the agency market, but also online. Visitors to a website (and even more so visitors to a photographic website) might expect more. So I thought I give it a try and check whether frames could work on my shots as well:

Morraine Lake, Alberta, Canada

I think the benefits are obvious – first of all, there’s always a clear caption associated to the photo, so that a photo can be easily identified even when downloaded to another computer. The Copperplate font makes the caption easy to read while providing a classy look. But also the image seems to gain strength. The black frame makes the photo stand out; the colors appear to be more intense. Yet, I feel that all the text, and the high contrast between the fine white border and the black frame, somehow clutter the image. These features distract from the main image and message.

For this photo though, I came to the conclusion that the frame works very well. And so I am still undecided whether I should use frames or not.

Why has the photo market changed?

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Pino Granata has an interesting (even if depressing) article on the problems of the stock photo market. He notes that ten years ago, when printed catalogues were still the standard way to sell images, things were better and wonders why…

How come that everybody at that time was doing very good while today we need to fight to stay alive? [...] I’m not saying we should go back in printing catalogues again, but the fact remains that until 10 years ago things were OK and now it’s NOT OK anymore.

I am well aware of Pino’s decades of experience in the photo business, so I think it is just a rhetorical question from him. Still, here’s my opinion: it’s just a matter of supply and demand.

Grand Canyon at Sunset ©2003 by Mark Zanzig/zettpress
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Supply has increased massively by the introduction of high-quality digital photography to the mass market.

Ten years ago, you needed a skilled photographer with expensive equipment and experience to shoot a technically OK photo. Only few consumers could afford to become professionals – the learning process simply took too long, and it was way too expensive. Just think about a superb sunset at the Grand Canyon. It was virtually impossible for the average Joe to create decent shots in commercial quality. Usually their shots were flawed, hampered by bad lenses, insufficient exposures, grainy consumer grade film material, or mediocre prints.

Heck, only a small fraction of photographers used slide films, the defacto standard for professional photos at that time. Even fewer used high-end slide films, and only a very small portion had access to slide scanners that could reproduce their slides in high quality (which was done by the photo agencies anyway). At that time, the market was clearly separated into amateurs/consumers and semi-professionals/professionals, and the role of the photographer was to take a good photo, not to worry about its distribution. If an amateur wanted to cross the border and join the professionals, it meant a substantial investment into equipment and film material, before even coming close to professional results.

Fast forward to 2008: today, the typical digital point-and-shoot camera has 7 million pixels or more, i.e. almost the data you would get from a 100 ASA slide film. That P&S camera also comes with an image stabilizer and a bright display allowing immediate review. The camera costs about US$140. Throw in a 2 GB memory card for hundreds of images, and you end up with a total cost of $150. This camera will be able to do shots that are technically good enough for most newspapers and entry-level magazines. (Mind you, I’m not talking about the ablity of the camera to help the photographer in bringing home the shots of, say, a stressful press conference. I am just talking about the technical basics here.)

If you want substantially better quality, you may go for Canon’s brand new Digital Rebel XSi, a 12MP SLR camera, which can produce images that are technically suitable for magazines. This will set you back just US$900 with a kit lens.

Grand Canyon at Sunset ©2003 by Mark Zanzig/zettpress
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

In former times, consumers would just use their cameras to take nice photos for their photo albums. Today they share their photos on the Internet in global communities, for example on Flickr. Because sharing is such a joy for them, they often assign free or cheap licences to the photos, basically giving away their photos for free. And they enjoy it very much when a newspaper or a magazine asks to publish their photos.

At the time of writing, a search on Flickr for sunset grand canyon yields roughly 9,500 photos, of which 180 carry a CC BY licence that allows the user to freely use the photo for any kind of publication as long as attribution is given. Some of these photos are surprisingly good, some of them even exceptional. The border between amateurs and professionals is blurring, if not disappearing.

In short: the supply of good images has skyrocketed over the past few years, and this has significantly reduced the overall price.

Demand for high-quality photos has silently decreased at the same time. As Internet analyst Henry Blodget points out, newspapers and magazines are bound for extinction. Unfortunately, these media were the typical buyers of expensive high-end photos.

Not so any more! Traditional media react to their changing business with a (desperate) struggle to decrease their cost, for example by using free or cheap images from the Internet, or by using photos submitted by their readers.

It’s just logical – why would publishers spend money to licence high-end pictures from traditional stock photo agencies, when they can get the same (or similar) quality from cheaper sources? Publishers need to generate profit in the first place. They run businesses.

The dry language of a 10-K form puts it like this:

In 2007, we saw continued change in the competitive dynamics in the stock photography market. Our customers have increasing access to, and awareness of, a variety of imagery sources on the Internet.

Yep, that’s Getty Images’ 10-K form, and probably they wanted to say “a variety of cheaper imagery sources on the Internet”. After all, Getty Images still has some of the finest photos around (and people would surely use their images if only they were cheaper). Getty Images could not control such massive market dynamics, and so they were finally sold for $2.1B (which is still a good price for the seller).

An increased supply faces a reduced demand. This translates to “dropping prices” in any market, and the photo market is not different. The photographic ecosystem has been thrown out of whack by digitalization, globalization, and the Internet. In addition, the pressure on traditional publishers to keep their profit margin has reduced the demand for expensive images. The former balance of supply and demand (on a high price level) is quickly seeking a new balance (on a much lower price level).

And that’s just the beginning. Be prepared for more changes. The next battlefield will be the fight between video and photo. Or why do you think that Canon is so keen on getting the Live View function into their professional line, e.g. into the EOS 1D mark III?