Home Creative Arts Agency Interview With Rick Becker-Leckrone, CEO of BlendImages Stock Agency

Interview With Rick Becker-Leckrone, CEO of BlendImages Stock Agency

Creative Arts Agency 6
Creative Arts Agency 6

John: Rick, I know you as the CEO, principle founder and chief architect of Blend Photos, a young and extremely profitable stock agency owned and run by photographers. You have a lengthy history in stock as a shooter, an entrepreneur and in management. Can you fill in the particulars on your encounter in stock?

Rick: I graduated from Rochester Institute of Technologies in 1990 with a BFA in Photography and headed west with my then girlfriend, Megan, who was to be a PhD student at UC Irvine in California. I was intrigued by stock photography in the late 80's when I stumbled upon 1 of Westlight's early catalogs. Naturally, I contacted Westlight when I landed on the west coast and ended up taking a job inside months of obtaining settled in Irvine. At Westlight, I began on the light-table carrying out study – pulling transparencies from the filing cabinets for client requests. I then moved on to be an Account Executive and ultimately a Photo Editor functioning straight with photographers. I, also, started shooting some stock but it was a bit intimidating as I edited operate by some of the world's prime editorial and industrial photographers like Craig Aurness and Chuck O'Rear.

Soon after a fairly quick time at Westlight, I was hired as a Director of a smaller classic photo agency in Orange County, CA referred to as PhotoBank. Whilst a considerably smaller sized operation, I enjoyed the chance to operate in a collaborative atmosphere and to have the flexibility to operate each with photographers creatively and in digital systems improvement each on the imaging side and on the small business systems side.

Possessing been a personal computer geek because my father bought me 1 of the initially Apple II in about 1979 although I was in Junior Higher, I have often enjoyed programming and nevertheless “get beneath the hood” just about every now and then. Following Photobank, a close buddy of mine bought a application firm which made applications for Mac customers in Genuine Estate. He asked me to come on board as President and oversee improvement of the goods.

As I had begun to commit a lot of my time shooting stock, and I was extremely interested in early digital image databases – like these beginning to come on board for MLS solutions and Kodak's new stock on-line service primarily based on PhotoCD, I believed operating a application firm would be a enjoyable adjust of pace. BusinessEdge ran for about three years and we ended up moving to Santa Barbara and becoming an ISP and a net-style firm emphasizing database solutions.

Our initially client was DigitalStock, 1 of the initially Royalty Absolutely free agencies, situated in San Diego. Coincidentally, I had been making stock content material for 1 of the owners of Digital Stock, at the exact same time the other owner made use of BusinessEdge application to run his actual estate firm and had contracted with me to create their initially net-web page. 1 factor lead to an additional and I decided to come on board to operate with the owners in building Digital Stock from each a technical and inventive viewpoint.

We ended up promoting Digital Stock to Corbis, and I joined Corbis as Co-Director for Industrial Content material Worldwide. I definitely enjoyed my time at Corbis and met some fantastic photographers and developed a lot of amazing content material. Due to an integration of RF into the bigger RM tactic at Corbis, I was laid off in 2001. Frequently chance comes from what 1 may possibly perceive as a challenging scenario. Possessing the no cost time to basically shoot stock was a actual blessing.

I signed with a couple of agencies, and did some custom operate for Corbis and was getting a fantastic time getting a complete time stock photographer for the initially time in my life. My wife had moved to Las Vegas as she took a job as Professor in the English division. So, I moved from Los Angeles to Vegas (we had been a commuting couple for numerous years), and shot a lot of stock images for all the usual agencies.

Soon after about three years of shooting, I got wanderlust once more and missed the firm of functioning with other individuals and the entrepreneurial power of the 'start-up.' All through my complete profession in stock there was often 1 unresolved continuous – a dearth of higher-good quality, non-stereotypical, multi-ethnic small business and life-style content material.

As a photo editor at Westlight, Digital Stock and Corbis, it was all I could do to get photographers to seriously concentrate on creating these considerably required photos. And as the planet about me seemed to be continuing to turn into additional and additional diverse, it seemed to me the time was now to “to it appropriate” – not just shoot a couple of African-American photos, but to seriously place with each other a collection with breadth and depth and with a actual mission to produce content material that assists every person communicate respectfully with 1 an additional via advertising and marketing and marketing messaging.

So, I knew what I wanted to do, and tossed the notion about with my buddy Jack Hollingsworth, and we got with each other a list of photographers we believed may possibly be intrigued with the notion. I stated, “come to Las Vegas and bring your checkbook, I've got a believed.” They all did, they all wrote checks and committed to shoot, and Blend was born. We began with no photos and of course, no income. About four ½ years in we have about 80,000 photos, more than 70 photographers and sales just more than 6M a year. It really is been a fantastic ride so far.

John: Blend Photos is about 4 years old now. From just an notion, to a complete service agency with $six,000,000.00 in sales, an revolutionary and rapidly increasing net web page, an ownership position in a bigger agency, and a roster of some of the greatest names in stock, Blend has been a outstanding achievement. Can you share with us some of the components that have created Blend so profitable?

Rick: 3 items created Blend profitable

1. Our photographers and their photographs. We only brought in prime promoting stock shooters to commence Blend, and we're seriously choosy with whom we offer you contracts to shoot for Blend. We have a smaller employees and we basically do not have the potential to 'hand-hold' shooters who are just obtaining began (but often content to support photographers come across a superior property for their operate.) I think in encounter when it comes to stock. We have 23 owners / investors who founded Blend. There is only 1 of these investors younger than me (I am 40). Why? Expertise counts. I am all for new blood, new tactics, hep, cool, pix. But understanding the ideas that sell and these who have survived, and certainly thrived all through the ups and downs and adjustments in the stock planet are people I want on my group. We had such a robust roster coming out of the gate, that we signed several of our distributors without having displaying them a single photo. They got it. And they wanted to be a portion of it.

two. Our employees. We have a smaller employees only about 9 complete-time staff. But every single, in their personal appropriate, is an entrepreneur. They all have the potential to do jobs outdoors of their primary discipline. In reality, we just hired a new employee to deal with our royalty accounting. But, correct to type, she was 1 of the initially staff at Photodisc and has accomplished almost everything from inventive to sales. Coaching took about three hours. She's up and operating. We all take the trash out, we all do windows. I only employ persons who have their personal 'deep bench' in terms of abilities.

three. Timing. We got fortunate to commence the firm when we did. Every little thing came with each other at the appropriate time.

John: You have twenty-4 founding photographers. There are several who have stated that it would be not possible to get so several photographers to operate with each other effectively. Has that been challenging?

Rick: Yeah, I feel it was Jonathan Klein, CEO of Getty Photos who gave me a friendly reminder that “co-ops” are really hard to run. Or perhaps he stated “you happen to be f'ing crazy” – one thing like that. Truth is – they are. Photographers are passionate persons and they all have relevant small business encounter. So there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen from time to time. It really is to be anticipated. But we're seriously blessed to have just the appropriate quantity of sugar and spice. We do an annual owner's meeting in NYC just about every year exactly where we can all speak about the small business – what is functioning, what is not.

But in the end the important to our achievement so far with regard to corporate governance is that we instantly set up a management structure which makes it possible for me to operate the small business unencumbered day to day. Of the 24 owners, we pick four to handle our LLC, and the CEO also sits on this Board of Managers. This group hires the CEO, and the CEO is tasked with all of the day-to-day operations. The CEO then reports month-to-month – monetary / operational reports to the Board of Managers and we in turn report to all the owners quarterly with updates. It operates out fairly effectively. Of course, some of us 'get into it' now and then, but it is like a loved ones. It takes place. But we've been fortunate to operate via person issues in a respectful and constructive manner.

John: What can you share with us about your vision for Blend's future?

Rick: Blend Photos will be the “go to” service for licensing ethnically diverse media for advertising and marketing and marketing. We have space to develop each vertically and horizontally via our brand. Apparent extensions are motion content material, audio content material, and editorial content material. We may possibly have a decrease-priced RF collection as effectively. To develop the small business additional we will, of course, want to shoot the finest photos we can. But also, we want to continue creating out our technologies base to create a “closed-loop” in between photographer, agent and client.

We want photographers to be capable to recognize what our clientele are searching for and be capable to respond swiftly. Our new back-finish technique for photographers we contact “Loupe” makes it possible for our shooters to track their sales in actual-time, download their royalty reports, and evaluation their sales history all the way back to day 1 of Blend. In the future, photographers will be capable to analyze all elements of our sales information.

What is are the finest promoting Latino subjects in the UK? Do African-American loved ones dining shots sell superior than African-American loved ones Television watching shots? Craig Aurness, founder of Westlight, was a master of information mining. I discovered a lot from him and want to give our photographers as considerably data as probable. Agencies hold this type of information also close to the chest in my opinion.

Micro agencies have been profitable for a quantity of motives – price tag not getting the prime purpose in my opinion. Transparency, neighborhood and ease of use are prime drivers of micro's recognition. Blend has discovered from micro's achievement and although we'll by no means be a micro agency, we do want our photographers and our inventive group to recognize, as considerably as probable, objectively what is functioning and what is not.

John: Blend has expanded beyond the original founding photographers and now contains contributing photographers as effectively. Is Blend continuing to take on new contributors?

Rick: What do you appear for in contributing photographers?

We've been blessed to have so several fantastic photographers want to be a portion of Blend. And yes, we're often searching for new contributors. Blend is additional than just a photo agency – we definitely are a neighborhood. Blend photographers are automatically added to our Stockpros forum exactly where prime finish industrial shooters share data, offer you help, and occasionally just let off steam. Are you searching for a modeling agency to operate with in San Diego? 1 post to the Stockpros list and you'd most likely have it solved.

We also supply our photographers with additional inventive study and feedback than any other agency that I am conscious of. It really is understandable that bigger agencies cannot offer you 1 on 1 service as considerably as they made use of to — just also several photographers and also several photos. Blend can nevertheless supply the 1 on 1. We certainly recognize that our shooters make photos for several distinctive agencies. Heck, I do.

I would not recommend to everyone to place all your eggs in 1 basket. What we aim to offer you our shooters is, of course, to make a decent return on your shoots for Blend, but as significant to open doors to a neighborhood of the finest of the finest stock shooters. When you happen to be a Blend photographer our concern is that you do effectively in stock – all of it – not just at Blend.

We all celebrate a shooter getting a fantastic year at Getty or Superstock or Veer. Our feeling is with each other we'll all do superior — it can be lonely out there! Of course everyone interested in studying additional about our agency, just e-mail Sarah Repair, our Inventive Director at [email protected], or you can even e-mail or contact me straight. We're casual.

John: We are in a extremely difficult time for stock photography. Microstock has burst on the scene and is sorting itself out, RF appears to be drowning in its personal weight and the economy is setting the incorrect type of records. Can you give your viewpoint on Microstock, the oversupply of Royalty Absolutely free, and how the economy is going to be impacting stock?

Rick: The economy is in shambles. Marketing and advertising and marketing budgets are some of the initially to go. It will get superior in time, but seriously – it is a mess out there. 2009 is going to be extremely really hard for the industrial inventive arts. It really is not a Microstock factor (totally). It really is not an oversupply factor (totally). It really is mainly a 'the entire planet is broke' factor. But nevertheless – even if there is a 50% reduce in stock sales, we're nevertheless speaking about, what? 700M in sales out there.

1 factor is in particular significant to retain in thoughts – now is not the time for a shotgun strategy to production. The final decade was about developing enormous amounts of RF imagery. Now there is also considerably comparable content material. RM has been undeserved with new imagery, but it is a fairly smaller industry. Micro is fascinating, but a lot of really hard operate and not totally clear 1 can create the exact same returns as in classic stock. (Yes, some do, but extremely couple of.) Chill out in 2009. Figure out what you happen to be definitely superior at shooting, figure out what the industry is missing and make fewer, but superior targeted content material. Never count the achievement of your 2009 in the quantity of photos you make.

John: Blend is pioneering a new model Non exclusive distribution of RM stock. How does that operate, and how is it functioning?

Rick: Truth is there are extremely, extremely, couple of exclusive sales — a couple of % per year. So we deal with exception sales via our Seattle workplace and notify sales partners exactly where proper. The bottom line is that RM imagery basically has considerably much less exposure than RF imagery. RM shots may possibly sell a couple of occasions a year, micro shots may possibly sell hundreds of occasions a year. Most people license RM photos for the reason that, effectively, they like the image – not that it is RM. We sell RM on our web page just about every day. We sell RF on our web page each day. Frequently the price tag point is the exact same.

John: Do you see the industry for stock photography altering? If so, how?

Rick: I would concur with some of the stock smartypants people that yes, there will be much less want for higher-res content material as photos are made use of additional and additional in digital environments. But low-res does not necessarily have to imply low price. We'll have to operate out new pricing paradigms in the future. I know Jim Pickerell has offered this a lot of believed. And, no, the Micro or subscription model cannot operate for all content material — just not probable.

It really is 1 factor to license a “lengthy tail” shot for $399.00, rather an additional to license 1 for $1.00 A lot of content material will basically not make adequate dollars to justify it is production charges in a micro atmosphere. Photographers will figure that out at some point. And the rush to micro by photographers will abate. The industry will come across new equilibrium – photographers want to make a living, clientele want a superior worth, agencies want to create profit.

Suitable now in the micro planet, some photographers are generating superior dollars, I assume Getty for instance finds operating iStockphoto lucrative (and be cautious right here, getting an agency owner I assure you that not all agencies are lucrative), and clientele look to appreciate the model (some clientele of course.) But if additional and additional shooters pile in additional and additional comparable content material, every single shooter will make much less and much less and at some point, it is just not worth the work. So, then the photographer will choose to make much less fungible content material – distinctive content material – but definitely distinctive content material does not operate effectively in the micro atmosphere which demands enormous multiples of sales. That shooter moves into carrying out classic RF or RM content material naturally. The nature of photos in the classic RF and RM libraries is most likely to adjust in the future for the reason that of micro selection.

John: What tips would you give to a person just getting into the field?

Rick: Locate a veteran, and offer you to be a second shooter or assistant for a couple of years to understand the craft. Never just throw stuff up on micro websites and assume the benefits you get are indicative of our talent. Such an endeavor may possibly be indicative of your talent at making for micro – and / or your lack of understanding of important-wording, how micro agencies rank content material, and so on. but get with some people who've been carrying out it a lengthy time. Heck, come by our workplace in Seattle. Generally appreciate to meet new shooters. Generally support to point you in the appropriate path.

John: Stock photography, searching ahead…optimistic, or pessimistic?

Rick: The planet is obtaining additional visually oriented, not much less. Nonetheless photos do not call for a captive audience like motion. Nonetheless photos are transportable and can evoke emotion pretty much quickly. The planet will continue to want additional photos and as “building nations”, effectively, continue to create, modern photography will be licensed additional and additional.

There will be micro RF collections, and subscriptions and RM, and even medium and higher-priced RF. — lots and lots of choices for licensing. Database technologies will continue to boost which will support researchers target content material additional proficiently. The worth add an agency can supply to a client will be in the agencies potential to find the appropriate imagery from vast collections of content material.

The editing function / study function will turn into increasingly significant. At some point just about every agency could represent just about every image (for all intents and purposes), the important is who can drill down most effectively? There made use of to be enormous solution differentiation from 1 agency to the subsequent. Of course with the consolidation of the market at the prime there is much less and much less differentiation. At the subsequent level, although, there is becoming much less differentiation as effectively. Eventually agencies have to answer the “why shop right here?” query. This is one thing I ask myself all the time. “Wow, an additional RM sale on our net-web page!” “Why did they come to Blend?

I know our content material rocks, but there are so several locations to acquire our content material.” – in the end, for small business and life-style shots, we've got a good collection without having getting to dig via a bunch of other stuff. In other words, our collection, in and of itself presents immediate relevancy to particular clientele. Agencies that can supply the finest search and retrieval tools for their clientele are bound to do effectively.