Bob Davies: The Hidden Treasure of Microstock’s Techie Side

March 15, 2011, Author: Vitezslav Valka, Categories: Interview, Showcase

Robert is a very smart guy I must say. I’ve met him briefly in Dublin at CEPIC 2010 and it was a nice and inspiring chat. Many times I’ve been thinking about how we can do something together with Pixmac as the power of Bob’s brain should be fully unleashed! I wish teleportation was  invented and we could work in one office with no hassle.

When did you start with stock photography? Why?

I first spotted microstock in 2005 when I signed up with FT, though didn’t really get into it until 2007/8 when I quit my corporate job and set out to make a living myself. Microstock was a perfect fit for me, because the developing marketplace gave a lot of new things to learn and brought a load of opportunities to get a quick income which would continue to grow.

I joined the major agencies and then started picNiche to try and identify images which were not oversupplied. By 2008 microstock was well developed and wasn’t as easy to make a living from as I thought, so really getting into the analysis side suited my personality well and building the software tools I’m best-known for was the logical step in helping myself and other contributors improve workflow and sell more photos.

You’re Welsh, right? Are there any famous local photographers around?

I’m originally from Wales, though I live in Manchester (in England) now, only about 60 miles from where I grew up. Both Wales and Manchester have vibrant creative communities and are great places for photographers.

Wales has a particularly beautiful landscape and is a pretty popular place for landscape photographers, though it’s not really a place which focuses on business so has a lot more ‘hippy creatives’. Manchester on the other hand is very popular with the young’n’trendy bohemian crowd (probably more-so than anywhere else in the UK). It’s a great community for photographers and artists and there are always events around town for new and established photography professionals.

What are the projects you’re working on?

That’s a massive question, I’ll try and be brief :) I tend to work on a lot of projects at once, some small, some not-so small. My main site at the moment is picWorkflow providing workflow tools, keywording, image distribution, tracking and promotion for microstock photographers. It’s a huge project and I’m making pretty good progress so far (Lots of good feedback from photographers) so I’m pleased with how it’s going.

The picNiche search/analysis engine is also coming along quite nicely, I’m also planning a complete revamp of the picNiche toolbars for firefox to bring it upto speed with how the firefox is developing. I’ll also be adding versions for Chrome. I’ve also been adding lots of information for microstock photographers to the blog, from the top 1000 search terms I’ve received on various tools I have for stock-photo buyers, tips for newcomers and interviews with prominent stock photography agencies and commentators on the future of stock - Yourself included Vita.

I’ve had a few smaller stock-photo-related projects over the last couple of years which are running along quite nicely, the url-shortener and StockPhotoFeeds which can turn any image-search into an RSS feed so image-buyers can easily keep track of new images in topics which interest them. I’ve also had a few projects not go particularly well, the APIKit for stock agencies got some initial interest but nothing solid seems to have developed, and the ImageDeck (like a DeepMeta for multiple microstock agencies) was just too messy to really work on it’s own so I ported much of the good part of it into picWorkflow (and have learned a lot about how to do it correctly the second time around :)

How many agencies have you contacted with your technology?

I’ve spoken at some point to pretty much every agency out there, and many have been very open and responsive. DT in particular were open about where they wanted to get involved and where they didn’t, though I have also had some helpful feedback and ongoing contact with FT, SS, Veer, Cutcaster and Pixmac of course :)

The APIKit had quite a lot of interest from agencies on initial release, but not a lot of follow-up from agencies not really willing to ‘help’ their contributors get an easier workflow. The main reason cited for this is that they don’t want to ‘encourage’ photographers to sell elsewhere. It’s understandable from their business perspective, but as a photographer myself, and a supporter of photographer’s rights across the industry I think it’s a little short-sighted. Generally, the bigger the agency, the less willing they are to even talk at all.
I’ve also been getting a lot of contact from not only the biggest microstock photographers/producers but also the developing amateurs and experienced microstocks who I like to get input from on how they want to see picNiche and picWorkflow develop in future. Having these sorts of links to the people who use my tools (and using them as a photographer and illustrator myself) is really critical to building a good platform. It’s good to see an agency like Pixmac paying attention to contributors and what they need to make the business effective in the long-term.

Have you invented something great that’s not yet published?

TONS of things, though nothing I can really share yet as I tend not to lift the curtain until things are actually close to complete. I can give you a hint at my long-term project though… it’s called “Project Backbone”, but I’m not saying anymore than that for at least 6 months ;)

How do you see your future in microstock from the tech side?

I’ve been really shocked and disappointed at the use of technology in the stock photography industry, most agencies are already running 5-10 years behind what web technologies are really capable of, and very few are making a real effort to fix that (you guys are a refreshing exception).

I’ve already tried the direct routes to agencies to get them up-to-speed, with little success (although I have seen some), over the next few months I am bringing a few packages to help get agencies onboard with new technologies and a little guidance of what they should be doing right. I’m sure that over the next 2-3 years when the big guys start seeing the little-fish take over the pond they’ll start to see the light and decide to make an effort to catch up :) There are so many revolutions taking place at the moment in web-tech and image-processing that the marketplace can only get more interesting.

How’s the progress with the PicNiche Analytics?

picNiche analytics are (and always have been) a pretty limited tool on their own, but I plan to integrate some of the data which has been gathered into picWorkflow full-featured research tools to help bring a broader view and really help photographers combine the basic data into usable information to develop their business. There are a lot more ‘serious’ photographers around now than there were just a couple of years ago, and research is becoming more important than ever before.

What are the most important features of an agency for you?

I like to see an image-licensing agency do two main things: 1) Target and attract buyers relevant to their market. And 2) Sell contributor’s images to them at a fair price. Any agency which can do these two things effectively is a runaway success in my eyes. For those established agencies, they seem to be doing only 1 of these at any one time. Pixmac, Veer and PantherMedia are I think a few of the agencies doing a pretty good job on both. All 3 understand their buyer-market and what their contributors are capable of doing for them, so they’re giving photographers all the opportunities they can to sell more images.

What should we change/improve at Pixmac for you?

So far, you’re doing a great job, you have an excellent understanding of technology and of what it takes to sell photos. Generally I’d like to see more from you that I’d also like from most other agencies.

On the contributor side I’d like to see you guys sharing information (or even raw data) about what image-buyers are searching for, and what they are and are-not finding on your site, and I’d love to see a contributor API to really empower photographers to produce and supply more relevant content for your market.

On the image-buyer side, just keep on doing more of what you’re already doing, it seems to be working.

Vita: Thanks Bob! We’re still focusing mainly on selling, so the backend functionality for photographers is dated a bit. But I already have a list of features to implement into the uploading process to make it simple but powerful.

What do you do when you’re not coding microstock stuff?

Very little I guess, I illustrate a little (though not much since I launched picWorkflow) and occasionally head out to take some leisure-photos. I have a bunch of small blogs and I chat through Skype/MSN to a lot of photographers and designers I’ve met over the last couple of years, and I’m a bit of an avid WoW-player (BobBigMac on Darkspear-EU), though I’ve become a ‘casual’ this last year I’ve been working so much. Most of the time I’m not working is spent cooking/eating with my girlfriend, watching Star Trek, or catching up on some classics (or sci-fi pulp from the 50s) on the Kindle :)

Vita: It’s amazing to read this! You seem to be a pretty happy person. Thank you for such a nice and inspiring talk. A lot of suggestions and challenges were mentioned and I hope we’ll be able to implement most of them at Pixmac. I’ll also think about possible connections between “your and our data” to help other photographers make a better job.

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