Some photo agencies won´t like this... . It is the old story of "turn the industry on its head by taking control from the big guys and putting it back onto the hands of the photographers“, the unforgotten sentence once stated by the CEO of Exactlyphoto in SF in 1999, the company that burned $11 million Venture Capital (Link 1 +2). But, this seems to be an example of a press release (and more, a presentation of an idea and a company) that is worth to be reprinted word by word (full text here):
Digital Railroad Inc. today launched the first online archive system that gives the power of a large photo agency to individual photographers.
Digital Railroad's Web-based application services transform the individual photographer’s business. Digital Railroad, www.digitalrailroad.net, automates repetitive workflow tasks, as well as streamlines delivery of images and communications with clients—providing photographers an online searchable archive that unlocks potential image revenue.
Photography legends and previous White House photographers Dirck Halstead and David Hume Kennerly, who have tested the system, believe it is a watershed product that will change the way business is done in the professional photography industry.
"Digital Railroad eliminates the daily technology hurdles photographers struggle with; finally photographers can have access to efficient tools for editing, archiving and simultaneously distributing their work," said Halstead, award-winning photojournalist and publisher of Digital Journalist.
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly says Digital Railroad has proven to be the answer for many of his production workflow problems and enables him to interact more easily with his editors.
"I like the real-time collaboration with editors using the digital lightbox features—I can be online in Bangkok, and making selections with an editor in New York. Digital Railroad is the answer for those of us who want total control over our own marketing and distribution,” says Kennerly.
"With Digital Railroad, photographers can finally take control of their creative businesses," said company founder and chief executive officer Evan Nisselson. "We've created an affordable, automated system as powerful as any of the proprietary major agency systems. We free photographers from managing technology and allow them to concentrate on what they love—being creative."
A core value of Digital Railroad lies in its unique marketing features. Typical photographer Web sites without archives provide no value to buyers as they have no search, download or interactive sharing features. Digital Railroad provides the all-in-one solution so member photographers can have personally branded archives that better market their images, publicly or privately, to buyers around the world—all for a low monthly fee.
Photographers share a lightbox with buyers via a unique link in an email, which opens a Web browser displaying selected images within their archive. Buyers can choose the images they want from the lightbox, share those with their editorial staff, or even search the photographer's entire public online archive. Buyers negotiate and finalize pricing with the photographer, who then makes the purchased selections active for download.
Looking back: since 1998 (in some countries it goes back to 1996), the question for the professional photographer with a certain level of success has always been: how do I sell my work in the digital age? Should I sell my work via a photo agency? Should I sell my work via a photo portal? Should I set up or buy my own web-based image archive for my images? Should I work non-exclusive with two or three agencies and portals and additionally build my own website? What about pricing? What about the conditions? What about the split? What about negotiating? If the photo agency or photo portal promises to pay 70% or more, will they finally retain enough money for marketing? What about the photo buyers, how do they get to know that this portal or my website exists? If I´m (for example) a food photographer, should my work become a part of a big agency or should I talk to some other food photographers to found and build "the one and only" food photography portal? Who is doing all the technical stuff (maintenance, security, back up, etc.)? What about the future? Should I wait with all that digital internet crap until a respected photographer community or association builds a serious photo portal? Will small portals, founded by former photographers, survive in a world of giant portals with million of images? What about the advantages of models that are "monthly-fee-driven" instead of "percentage-driven"?
In this field of new photo agencies and photo portals we all have seen a lot of companies appearing and disappearing. And a lot of companies who quickly changed their business model from a "photographer-concentrated" way to a "Wal Mart" model. No names here, and no hard feelings. A short history of those old days can be found here (1; 2). A wise man (we all know him) once wrote about his own internet adventure: "The ... is another of those Internet Businesses that failed to achieve the critical mass necessary to make it useful... . As a result the site has continually disappointed those who use it". In those old days, that simply could happen.
So now, there is another newcomer: Digital Railroad. The core sentences describing the activity are:
Digital Railroad gives you the tools to easily manage, market and sell your digital images online. With Digital Railroad, you’ll have a personalized online archive system as powerful as that of a large agency for a low monthly fee. Focus on making great pictures rather than worrying about managing your technology.Digital Railroad works with the "One-time Setup" ($195 waived) and "Subscription"-fee model ($49.95/month; Link for the pricing), so no need to concern about a 70/30, a 80/20 split and possible unpleasant future developments of this split. Additionally, "Upload data traffic (uploading images to your archive) is free and is not deducted from your monthly bandwidth allowance".
You control how, where, and when to share or sell your images. Members can use the system purely to minimize their workflow and syndicate to agencies. Others may choose to leverage the system to sell their images directly to buyers. Some may do both.
For the specialists among us there is a small hint that Digial Railraod may be powered by Venture Capital:
All your images are stored on our highly secure SQL database and Linux storage systems which are located in a first class co-location facility with an OC-48 speed IP backbone, redundant power feeds, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, backup diesel generator power, 24 x 7 monitored security, fire-suppression systems, as well as 24 x 7 system administrators on-site to monitor and maintain the data center infrastructure and client equipment.This is usually a clear sign of a greater amount of money in the background, and also "We provided extensive online help and tips throughout the system. Our veteran team of engineers, editors and photographers are available to you via online support", but so far we have no real evidence (comments are welcome!). The company was founded by Evan Nisselson (Founder and CEO, who worked -- among other jobs -- as photo editor at SABA Press Photos; here is the link to the management team). Peter Nisselson is on the board of directors ("He is an investor...Chairman of Star Struck, Ltd., a public company. Since 1982, he has been investing in small companies), this might be a sign of a family Angel Investor. Link to the impressive "Board of Advisors", too many people, too many careers to name them all here.
The site comes up with "real world" testimonials from Sisse Brimberg, Photographer, National Geographic; Ron Haviv, Photojournalist, VII Agency; Damon Kiesow, Senior Photo Editor, America Online; Jon Levy, Photojournalist and Founder, Foto8 and Ei8ht Magazine; Lisa Quiñones, Photojournalist, Black Star; Roger Richards, Photo Editor, Virginian-Pilot and Photographer, and a section "What professional users have to say about the Digital Railroad system".
This is the good news: well-known pros and photogs involved from the beginning. Sundance DiGiovani, Chief Creative Offficer, Temple NY Gallery: "We just can't go to thirty different photographers' websites and hope they have a searchable online archive with high resolution images. If we had a system with a consistent interface to get content from a variety of different photographers, we're going to use it because we're about speed, variety and great photos."
The technical features Digital Railroad offers (esp. the new lightbox function) are among the most sophisticated available today: ftp syndication, Captioning can be applied to whole groups or individual images ONLINE, Syndicate group, Manage permissions, Look and feel of your own website, Manage Viewer Permissions, Dashboard, Feature Images, Share Production Tasks, Search for Model Release/Property Release Y/N, etcetc.
Remember, it´s a web-based system (cataloguing, archiving etc.), and this can be a very tricky thing, to architecture something solid for the professional market (just remember the history of the two other companies who ever tried so). Maybe I´m the wrong person to judge about that with gigantic enthusiasm. Let´s instead quote Jon Levy, Founder, Publisher, Foto 8:
Digital Railroad is set to be the tool that will enable photographers to take control of their very own stock future: as easy as one two three! Cataloguing and archiving will become a pleasure rather than a chore... AND at the receiving end, the photographers' clients - we the photo editors - will get a submission of images that can be edited, shared with other photo editors and art directors, and downloaded in the blink of an eye. Get ready to throw out the old lightboxes!
I´m hungry to see the details of the "Coming soon" features: "Keyword System", "E-Commerce: Set firm pricing on your images" and NATURALLY "Digital Rights Management: Associate specific rights management for selections of photos in your archive".
However, some questions remain: an interactive query refinement (all that machine-learning and neuronal-network stuff working with Keyword-Related Image Retrieval or Content Based Image Retrieval) is, no, not is, but should be the standard for such a system (some details here). Furthermore the possibilty of a 7/24 automated pricing model without user (i.e. copyright owner) interaction (as said above, this may be a "coming soon"-feature). What about categories? And a "switch"-function: searching for a keyword in all images of all websites of all photographers, but also only at one website of one participating photographer. And: can the system suffer from the success it probably -- and hopefully -- will experience? What if there are -- one day -- 4,000 personal Digital Railroad websites of participating photographers, each one with 10,000 images: which picture researcher can handle or search efficiently 40,000,000 images if he doesn´t want to look at only one or a few of his fellow photographers? There are solutions for this problem, but I haven´t found a recommended solution for this problem written clearly in letters at the site of Digital Railroad (hint for readers: that doesn´t mean that the people at Digital Railroad haven´t already a solution for this problem...).
So far, from what we can see today in the present status quo, this is the best system ever for the single professional photographer, and we are snoopy to experience what future developments will bring.
Small hint: a real contact address (street, phone) would be great. Talk to your VC.
Another hint: Scott Braut, Director of Product and Photo Services at Digital Railroad, maintains a photography news blog at www.PictureEditor.com.
[Update August 13:
I just had to learn that Stock Index Online has published a very short "review" of Digital Railroad. Whereelse, if not in a blog, could be the place to say what you think? So be it. That is complete bullshit:
The site was disappointing in that there was apparently no way to search photographers sites [Phototalk: just enable cookies!] who had subscribed already to see how effective their system is - there have been many similar projects, each making the same claims, but the only one to really make an impact in the marketplace is www.alamy.com.Sorry: you have no clue. Si tacuisses, manuisses. What happened at Alamy in 2001/2002? Had there been a slightly change, yes or no? Do you remember Issue No.1 and No.2 of the Alamy Magazine? Had there been a special piece of software that was withdrawn, yes or no? What about the initial idea of Alamy? What do we talk about? Do you remember the 2001 Meeting in NYC, when PACA, Photo Plus Expo and Picturehouse were planning the session "The future of Stock Photography" and the "Portal Session"? Did we talk about a "Wal Mart-model" or something else? Again: What do we, what do you talk about? Obviously there is no way that a site dedicated to "Stock Photography Libraries" can appreciate the efforts of Digital Railroad. Simply ridiculous. Drop me an email and we discuss this en detail in two months at the PACA meeting. No hard feelings, you have the responsibility for your readers.
For all other readers: this site is not related to Digital Railroad in any way, nor to any company, organization, lobby etc. in terms of money, interests etc. in any way.]