Technology & Stock Photos with Dreamstime’s Serban Enache

I thought I’d posted this interview earlier, so aplogies to picNiche readers and to Serban for not posting this sooner. An interesting interview by Dreamstime’s Serban Enache on technology and developments in the stock photography industry from Dreamstime’s perspective:


Bob:Hi Serban. Please introduce yourself for those readers who may not know who you are.

Serban:

I’m one of the founders of Dreamstime and its CEO. Initially trained as an architect, I have a significant background in graphic and webdesign.

Bob:You’ve made some excellent tools to reach more customers through social media over the last year or so, partly by leveraging contributors eagerness to share their own portfolio updates and improve their sales. You also have a blogging platform and have built a solid community. Have these tools provided real value to the business and do you see projects in this space continuing to develop over the long term?

Serban:Yes, social platforms are very important for us as they are for our community. Naturally, we plan to continue to address this area. It’s a vital need for our members and we will do our best to fulfill it. I don’t believe in corporate boundaries between our community’s users or between Dreamstime and other sites. Whenever synergies are to be identified, opportunities will not be missed.

Bob:Most of your stock photography sales and customer relations take place online, in contrast to traditional agencies who often have closer ties to individual clients. How has this affected the ways you find and retain customers on such a large scale?

Serban:We’re very close to our clients, much closer than one would think. Even if we’re not in face-to-face meetings or are more discreete, we know what our clients need and we’re in permanent connection with them.

Bob:You store and maintain millions of images, often in multiple formats. For most traditional agencies this would be a massive undertaking, what have you found to be the major technical challenges when dealing with such a large library of always-accessible, multi-language content?

Serban:

Our site evolved from a few thousands images into the huge database we have right now, with various sizes and extensions for each file , in 7 languages for each. We’re not just marketing& hosting images, we have a sophisticated platform so there are various other sections that empower Dreamstime. This was done gradually and with maximum care towards customer experience. A huge website will not help anyone if it’s unstable, slow or information is difficult to find.

The amount of information, features, etc. vs. accessibility and speed was probably the biggest technical challenge we faced, although the last 6 years were quite a ride.

Bob:Most stock imagery is independent of spoken language, but is instead applicable based more on culture. Do you find that trading globally you have to face this issue, and with significantly different cultures coming online (africa, parts of asia and south america) more over the next few years, how (if at all) will geolocation technologies affect the imagery you provide for customers from different cultures?

Serban:

Geolocation will be more important it the future and already has immediate use. Unfortunately, there are still many cameras without such capabilities or information getting lost in post processing or ignored.

It’s definitely something we plan to involve on a long term basis, especially as we have users in every country of the world (literally).

Bob:Crowd-sourcing relies on the power of the internet to find, manage, and support content producers and the images they produce, whereas traditional agencies can often create create closer links with a smaller number of artists. How does operating on a large scale affect your relationship with contributing artists?

Serban:Crowdsourcing unleashed the power of so many tallented photographers who weren’t able to or participate before, or new photographers were brought into the market. We have a great relationship with our contributors. Good is never too much, so we’re doing our best to keep improving it. There are obvious limitations in having to work from a distance, but we’re all doing our best to overcome them.

Bob:Established microstock agencies are often criticised by contributors as having lengthy submission processes (some better than others), especially given that content-producers are increasingly providing a greater volume of images as their business develops. Is your agency hearing this directly, and if so how are you using technology to address these issues?

Serban:

Our current submission process was launched a year ago and it was one of the many we did since inception, 2004. Several new features were added in the last months, allowing contributors to upload model releases and vector formats more easily. Furthermore, we’re now addressing the resubmission process.

Contributors have different ways of uploading content. They use various computer configurations, others upload hundreds of files while some only upload a few. We need to provide alternative means to each of them, but they also need to evaluate them and criticise after using each of them. You can’t criticise the basic upload for not being advanced enough, without even checking the advanced upload.

The flexibility of FTP can’t apply to a browser upload window, that’s why FTP was invented after all. Because it’s a much better protocol. One can’t expect to have the same flexibility and ease of use, no matter the images uploaded. Just as one can’t expect an agency that has 10M of files to be as permisive as one with 1M files.

Bob:Image-theft (both intentional and through ignorance) is rife at present, with search engines making it so easy find images, but with very little information about what rights people have to use the images they find. How do you see technology to educate image-users about image rights developing, and what technologies do you see most useful in converting stolen images into legitimate sales in future?

Serban:

Microstock images are so affordable that the percentage of theft is almost 0 compared to what was in the past. There are cases where images get stolen or misused. We try to limit these with the help of proprietary technology that we developed, with our members’ help or various partners’ who developed tools. The referral program that we use to share revenue with our users, for promoting Dreamstime, helps us sponsor many projects. Users are extremely creative and either by using Dreamstime, picNiche or Google, they can help us.

There are also cases where an watermarked image gets used by accident (e.g. designer forgets to replace comp, although a license exists) or by ignorace. We do our best to educate people. So many times we find people who didn’t use stock before and had no idea what a stock image is, to use an image downloaded from us within perfect boundaries of the license. That means that our product fulfills the right needs at the right price. It’s best to limit theft or misusage by providing the right product and the right tools.

Bob:The popularity of cheap digital camera technology, easy global internet access, and photo websites such as flickr (which Getty is already making inroads to capitalise) and facebook, is leading to increased popularity of guerrilla-licensing models (creative commons, mpl/gpl, elective public domain and even WTFPL). There are millions of images (and videos) which could affect the industry, do you think this is a blip, or a long-term trend, and if the latter do you think there is anything the industry can do to mitigate any negative effect.

Serban:The stock photography industry was a very conservative one before microstock appeared. Some of the models you mentioned are already several years old. Opening the boundaries of the industry is more important than keeping the industry safe. Naturally, any downside should be monitored and limited to avoid destructive effects.

Bob:There are a lot of people concerned about the effect services like Google image-search is having on the ability to find images. Some hail them as the saviour of image sales, others as the devil incarnate. Do you see Google/Bing/Yahoo image indexing as a risk or an opportunity for your agency (or image licensing in general), and how do you intend to mitigate/capitalise on this?

Serban:Being an online platform we depend on search engines. I’ve always said that competition is good for the industry. If competition didn’t exist, contributors would still earn 20% royalties, as they did before Dreamstime was launched. Competition doesn’t make things easier for us, but better ride the wave than crash into it.

Bob:Due to the increasing popularity of the iPad and tablets like it, the rich-content magazine format is finally becoming popular, giving a potential boost to a previously bemused traditional print market. It offers a huge opportunity for digital licensing, but may be mostly in favour of traditional agencies where the print organisations already have a contact-base. Do you see it affecting your business, and if so, how?

Serban:

We see such tablets as a new add-on for the online medium. Most of our customers are in online businesses, therefore these tablets should generate a bigger demand for images. I doubt that images will be used solely for tablets, especially by such organizations.

Most probably they will be part of bigger online campaigns. Based on our exposure and market share, we’re in a great position to provide content for such needs. Contact base is not enough. 100,000 contributors providing 100,000 images per week are a huge advantage against small database, mostly because designers need fresh and authentic imagery.

Bob:What do you think will be the new big technologies coming into stock photography over the next few years, is there anything on the horizon you see as a game-changer, or has the stock-revolution ended since migrating online to a crowd-sourced model?

Serban:

Very difficult to answer what will happen in the next few years, considering the dynamics of the industry.

In the near future, I think that the social part will be more and more significant. Its power will not reside only in the social interaction, but within the capability of identifying the individual. So far companies were marketing to huge masses of people. It’s time for them to serve the needs of individuals and technology will allow them to identify the exact needs and serve them properly. Considering services will be better tailored this shouldn’t be perceived as intrusive.

Visual content will continue to play a significant role in our everyday lives. Stock photography will continue to evolve, just as the Internet evolves, from one day to the next. Ten years from now we’ll probably think of today as the old days. Let’s enjoy the ride 🙂

Profile: Dreamstime – Microstock Photography Agency

Dreamstime is a leading provider of stock photos and illustrations with a collection of over 11 million crowdsourced images. Dreamstime has a strong community focus and are highly regarded among photographers for their fair practices, helpful support, and ongoing feedback. Dreamstime are my own favourite agency and my consistent bestseller.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the interview Bob. It’s always nice to hear from the CEO’s who hold our livelihood on their hands 🙂

    • bobbigmac
      Posted May 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Cheers 🙂
      I’ve had a couple of other agency heads approach to ask if they can be included too, so some more to come 🙂

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