Lessons from the World’s Largest Gathering of Picture Libraries

My wife, Rosanne, and I have just returned from the CEPIC Congress which was held this year in Zagreb, Croatia in May 2016. As head of Africa Media Online’s picture library that represents many collections from African photographers and African heritage institutions, Rosanne makes the trek to Europe once a year to keep in touch with our distribution partners across the World and also to keep abreast of developments in the industry. This year we decided we should both go to the Congress to get grips with the rapid changes in the industry.

Rosanne Larsen at the Africa Media Online table at the CEPIC Congress 2016 held at the Sheraton Hotel in Zagreb, Croatia. Rosanne travels to Europe most years to meet agencies from around the globe that represent Africa Media Online collections into their markets.

The picture library industry, along with other picture supply industries has come under increasing pressure as camera technology has got better and better placing the ability to produce professional quality images in the hands of amateurs. While more images are being used in the World today than ever before, the flood of amateurs entering the market has resulted in a dramatic oversupply of images pushing prices down to the point where many picture libraries and professional photographers can no longer sustain their service. This, added to the fact that the general public is uneducated about picture licensing and so a vast majority of images used, particularly on the internet, are not licensed but used illegally, has meant many leading picture libraries of the past have had to shut their doors and cease trading. So over the past couple of years the industry has been under great pressure and there has been something of a sense of doom and gloom about it.

Much of Zagreb, on the banks of the Sava River, is modern in its architecture. But there is an old town section arranged around two hills – Kaptol, which was a monastic settlement and the nearby village on Gradec hill. Divided for many centuries there were united in the city of Zagreb in the 17th Century.

This year, however, it was different. There seemed to be a lot of hope around. One reason for this is that the overabundance of imagery is now no longer a help but a hinderance to finding the right image. This means that for busy picture buyers, the cost of trawling through mountains of images to find the right one is starting to outweigh the cost of paying a higher price for an image from a carefully curated picture collection. High quality picture libraries are once again finding there is a need for their work!
Another reason for hope is that the technology for finding and charging picture thieves is getting better and better. There are now a number of companies offering services to picture libraries to track down and charge infringers. Most exciting of all is new technology that allows one to put pictures on the internet without really putting the picture on the internet. In other words, the picture appears, full screen if one wants it to, but the picture isn’t actually there in any way that it can be taken and any attempt at taking it simply results in a clear message that what is being attempted is illegal. That will be a useful education tool! It also links people to where the image can be legally licensed.

Restaurants line Kozarska Street between the two hills of Kaptol and Gradec in old town Zagreb.

So there is good reason we are coming away from CEPIC this year with a sense of hope, that the hard work we have put in over more than a decade and a half to bring valuable African collections to a global audience will be a viable undertaking. We have also come away with confirmation that our thinking about the industry and how to respond to changes in the industry is correct. Watch this space as we start to implement some of those changes in the following months!