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Alamy picture library
8:10am Thursday 17th February 2011 in Innovation
Our industry is a relatively obscure one, but our product is everywhere. The photography and illustrations you see around you — on the sides of buses, billboards, in newspapers, marketing brochures, corporate websites, Government literature and book covers — most of it comes from picture libraries.
If you need a picture in a hurry, or if you can’t afford to commission a photographer, then it’s highly likely you will use a picture library to buy that image ‘off the shelf’.
Alamy started up at Oxford Innovation in 1999, and we are now have our headquarters at Milton Park, with offices in the US and India.
Our mission was to harness the emerging powers of digital photography and the Internet to build the largest collection of photography in the world — something which we have successfully achieved with our collection currently standing at 22 million photos and illustrations.
Today Alamy is the largest and most diverse online collection of professional photography on the web.
Our pictures have appeared on the front covers of newspapers and magazines around the world and our network of contributors includes professional photographers, picture agencies, hobbyists, museums and newspaper archives.
We wanted to open up our industry to all photographers, removing the many barriers that stood between them and the market.
We reward our photographers a bigger royalty share than anyone else in the industry, with more than £50m in royalties paid out over the past ten years.
Paying our photographers more than we pay ourselves is a key part of our strategy.
It’s popular with our photographers, which helps us maintain a healthy supply of images and stay competitive, and it’s very painful for our competitors to copy!
Innovation has been vital to our success. We started with a simple but revolutionary concept — that anyone with pictures to sell should be able to sell them.
We were the first open marketplace for photography in an industry that was mainly selling pictures from printed catalogues. We combined this simple idea with a passion for delivering fast and easy to use online services.
A photographer could sign a contract online, send in some pictures, check their sales history online, and get paid, all without having met or spoken to us.
We take this sort of thing for granted today but at the time we were the first to offer such a service in the photography industry.
Over the years we have refined our tools for photographers to include all sorts of useful stuff, like seeing the search behaviour of customers.
This means a photographer can check the popularity of a particular subject before they decide to commit time and effort to photographing it. Arming our suppliers with market information improves the quality of our product.
We also have a proud tradition of accepting everyday images that are not posed or contrived. Some of our most spectacular sales are of images that traditionally were not considered suitable for picture library archives.
When you have a worldwide network of picture suppliers the numbers get very big, very quickly. We receive more than a quarter of a million new pictures every month.
It requires a lot of careful thought and planning to handle this volume cost-effectively without compromising the quality of service.
Many of our customers work to tight deadlines across multiple time zones, so we have data centres in New York, South India, London, Reading and Oxford. This requires large and complex systems that need continuous maintenance and expansion.
We are obsessed with the speed of our website. Every time we change something on our site, we measure it for size and speed.
When we’re not working on new products, we are constantly testing the performance of our existing ones — such as how many milliseconds (thousandths of a second) it takes to move from one part of the site to another. I sit with our engineers once a month to review all instances where a part of the site took longer than our maximum desired response time for a particular function.
Internet businesses are both brutal and exciting. It’s brutal because there’s no such thing as ‘business as usual’ — you have to constantly adapt your products and services to survive.
The excitement comes from overcoming challenges and developing new products and services.
* Contact: Alamy, 01235 844608.