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Amanda Lake looks at how changes in technology have increased the options for photo libraries, and gets the perspective from four designers.

Choice is the keyword for photo libraries. The larger the collection, the more choice is available, and the more marketable the company becomes. The way to develop, therefore, is to join forces. And that’s exactly what has been happening. This year alone has seen The Stock Market take over Zefa Pictures, and PhotoDisc merge with Getty Images. The latter now encompasses Tony Stone, PhotoDisc, Hulton Getty, The Liaison Agency and Energy film library; and Image Bank has acquired Ripleys and Swanstock.

Nick Harris, sales and marketing manager of The Stock Market UK, thinks there is a need for big players in the industry. “It’s like what’s happening on the high street with the supermarkets, grocers and the delicatessens. With the photo library, we need big players to invest in digital developments, to improve the quality of images, products and services for both the client and technological demand,” he says.

Sue Dotterweich, European marketing director of PhotoDisc, agrees: “The consolidation of larger players is very logical. Design areas are continuing to change, especially with the development of new media, and there is now a need for imagery on websites and CD-ROMs. The appetite for pictures is greater; there is a hunger, and we have to feed that hunger. We have to keep one step ahead of the customer.”

But what of the specialist libraries? Are they going to fall by the wayside? Kim Hern, head of Quadrant, a specialist transport picture library, is undaunted. “I’m not worried about the development of the larger libraries. We cannot compete anyway. Our problem is when another specialist library opens in a similar area,” she says.

Whether the photo library is general, archival or specialist, the fight is on to show as many images as possible. The main marketing tool for all the photo libraries is still the traditional brochure. The role of the brochure has changed over the years. Instead of pure general catalogues there is an influx of specialist image brochures.

The number of libraries promoting imagery through CD-ROMs and websites has gone up dramatically. But these are not new ideas. Websites and CD-ROMs have been around for years, and many libraries have been using them from the outset. But these are areas which have to be continually updated to attract clients. Most CD-ROMs are made up of low resolution scans and are only good enough for layouts and viewing on-screen. Keyword CD-ROMs are the easiest to scroll through and the most user-friendly. “It takes a lot of manpower to create these systems, though. Every possible connection has to be made for one keyword from all our resources,” says Harris.

Image Bank managing director Mark Cass adds that CD-ROMs and websites back up the brochures with a larger source of images. Feedback is positive, but sales in these areas only account for about 5 per cent.

Hern, however, disagrees. “From our research we have found that designers don’t have time to scroll down pages of CD-ROMs and prefer us to search for them,” she says. Needless to say, Quadrant has no CD-ROM or Internet site. Though Dotterweich also feels that there is a lot of positive response to CD-ROMs. PhotoDisc – which only sells through CD-ROMs and its website – on average sends out five discs per month. “In the early days people were hesitant about using CD-ROMs, we had to act like evangelists and show people how to use them. We don’t have to any longer,” she says. Royalty-free and high resolution images are becoming more attractive choices for the designer.

Hulton Getty has recently opened a gallery, so the public can look at stock images and have the opportunity to buy them. The buck no longer stops at businesses, boundaries are becoming blurred. Other marketing devices and incentives include free eyeglasses, free searches, free T-shirts, “aromatherapy cream for creatives”, free jelly babies, competitions and notebooks.

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