“I eat, breath, think and sleep photography all the time”

“I eat, breath, think and sleep photography all the time”

Mit mehr als 20 Jahren Berufserfahrung in der Fotoindustrie ist Paul Melcher der ideale Ansprechpartner, wenn man Fragen zum Business hat. Dennoch ist Fotografie für den, in Paris studierten Ökonom, nicht nur ein trockenes Geschäftsfeld, sondern auch eine Passion, wie sein Engament in diversen Blogs und Publikationen zum Thema beweist.

In unserem Interview überraschte er uns daher mit seiner Aussage, er selbst habe kein Talent zum Fotografieren. Und das obwohl schon sein Vater Fotograf war.


As a start, it would be great if you could introduce yourself to our readers.


Hi, I am currently Vice President, Images at Stipple, a fantastic photo tech company  as well as a writer for Thoughts of a Bohemian, a blog about the photo industry. I have also recently launched a publication, The Photo/Tech cafe, aimed at reporting on the fast evolving aspects of photography and start up world.

I have held key executive roles in various photo agencies and photo tech companies in the last twenty years, selling a couple and closing others. I was born in the photography world, my dad is a retired photographer and ex director of Magnum and I eat, breath, think and sleep photography all the time.

Your article on Getty’s new embed tool turned out to be very well balanced which I would not have expected from a “Bohemian” calling for a photographer revolution. I guess it was Paul Melcher the entrepreneur seeing Getty’s move as the logical step in the changing microstock business?

Being a bohemian in this business is not about negatively criticizing everything new. Rather, it is about analyzing without solely using an excel spreadsheet. While numbers can give you a lot of information – if properly read – they never give you a full picture. You have to add the human element. My blog is not about giving boxed answers but provoking readers to ask the right questions. In philosophy, like in science, asking the right question is 90% of the answer.

Getty is not responding to the microstock business by offering free embed images and they are not trying to take away revenue from their contributors. Instead, they are taking the most obvious step in online licensing of images, something that the whole industry should have applied since the beginning and that I first wrote about many years ago.


Embedded image technology goes far beyond protecting images


Prices for images are plummeting. There are many reasons for this development though it seems as if Getty Images is passing the buck to internet users who do use images without permission. Which – by the way – is a bit ironical thinking about how Getty handled the Daniel Morel case

By delivering files to clients, photographers have allowed the whole sharing, reposting, stealing culture that now exist to thrive and plagues their existence. They have dumped millions upon millions of valuable photographs online with absolutely no protection and no control. Instead, if they had offered embeddables only, they would now be one of the richest and most powerful players on the web. Getty understands that and because of their size and influence, is setting the ground work to make the transition possible for everyone else.  Will it work? Only time will tell. But if it does, this will allow everyone in the photo licensing space to offer much more services, more accurately, to many more clients while getting much higher revenues. And, in the process, diminish the amount of images used without permission.

Embedded image technology goes far beyond protecting images. It opens the door to many various ways to generate revenue. For instance, you can price images by exact traffic instead of applying the same price for everyone. You can also add premium information directly on the image. Similar to what we do at Stipple, you could serve embedded images with additional information. A photo of a sports athlete could reveal its latest stats updated real time as well as a video of his latest success. That information can be monetized by third party companies.

As well, the data Getty will receive on how people interact with images is invaluable. Because of it, they will be able to tell in advance which type of images, of what topic, in what geography works better than others and offer that information to publishers and brands always eager to increase their engagement rates.

So yes, at first look it might seem that Getty is throwing millions of very valuable photos on the market for free in a desperate attempt to curve copyright infringement. But there is nothing further from the truth. Getty is finally coming to terms with what photography online should always have been.


I see no end to photography. It is here to stay.


For years now you have observed the photo business from the frontline. If you had to write a story about it, where would be the climax, the turning point and how will it end?

Wow. If I knew all this already, I stop writing and would be enjoying a life of luxury on a Caribbean beach. Forecast is made on retrospect. We only know what is the climax or turning point or end, once we passed it. But let me try to answer (and probably be proven wrong in a week). The climax of photography, I would say, was its invention. It is one of the most amazing invention of the human kind and  while never getting credit for it, has greatly helped in many many fields like science, medicine, education, geography, history, as well as saved many lives, toppled governments, arrested criminals and much much more. And it will continue to do so.

The turning point would probably be the transition from film to digital. This has opened the door to the birth of the intelligent image we are witnessing today.

And finally, I see no end to photography. It is here to stay, in one form or the other, as long as human beings exist. We have, and always have, the urge to show, explain, remember and tell stories visually.

Smartphones, especially the iPhone gave rise to a new generation of photographers. Even well-known photographers discover the world of iPhoneography & Co. May I ask which cell phone you own and how often you use your device for taking pictures?

Android. I probably take on average one picture a day. But I am not a photographer. I just take really poor images of my family or things I find amusing. Very boring stuff. But in a general sense, it doesn’t matter: You will be remembered for the photos you took, not what camera you took them with.

Whose artwork in the field of photography inspires you the most?

Eugene W. Smith. His work continues to baffle me after all these years. I am in complete admiration of almost everything he has done.


I do not see photojournalism being threatened, only its inadequate business model.


These days one can not only make (with the right settings) great photos with a smartphone but also send them directly to the preferred platform. Will the demand-first market save the industry or is it another step in the demise of photojournalism?

I am not sure the industry needs saving. Between companies like Shutterstock evaluated a more than $1 billion and Instagram selling – at the time – for the same amount, I think photography is doing very very well. The old models of revenue might be taking a beating but certainly not photography. As well, I do not see photojournalism being threatened, only its inadequate business model.

The demand first market is a just a much more efficient way to license images. Instead of creating a huge database of images and wait for someone to need an image – the current model -, spinning the model around and having a large database of image buyers request images when they need them and then have them be created is much more effective. No need for massive image database with complex search algorithms where 80% of images are never sold. Instead, you allow image buyers to tap in an existing network of photographers that either already have or can quickly produce the needed images. You also greatly reduce friction and frustration in both side of the marketplace. Current technologies now allow this to be done – with smartphones or other – so that request are full filed perfectly very quickly.

Photojournalism can greatly benefit from it by allowing news outlet to directly reach photographers on site and let them know what they need. It is also a fantastic tool for long term photojournalism. I think that if photojournalists better knew what the market is looking for, there will be less wasted time on photographing subject matter no one cares about.


A photograph only has value if it matches a demand


You mentioned that money is made with usage data and not with the images themselves. Even if we see photography as a form of art which value will always be difficult to assess – declaring them as worthless in terms of money is hard to take in.

Not every image has value. That is a huge misconception. A photograph only has value if it matches a demand, even if that demand is calculated in number of visitors in a museum. Knowing what the demand is, how it evolves, how it reacts allows photographers to create valuable photograph and no longer shoot in the dark. Of course, all this data needs to be paired with human insight, otherwise it would be fruitless. There is still room for fine art and surprising artistic vision but that can also be better understood by market data. For now, we don’t have that information but companies like Instagram or Facebook are quickly understanding what makes an image popular and soon will be able to use that information very effectively.

Let’s take a look at the Manifesto for a Photographer Revolution. Why did you write it down? 

I was getting tired of people, laws and regulation telling photographers what they can shoot, when and where. I am also getting tired of hearing great photographers having a hard time meeting ends. While it is partly their fault, it is about time that we let them have not only the freedom to express themselves but also the financial stability to do it well. My hope is that it triggers so more pronounced action by the community to revolt against abuse from different parts of our society.

Do you really think the goals can be achieved?

Yes. But it will take a lot of work and time.

One last personal question: Which city is more photogenic, New York or Paris?

Paris. By far.


Mehr Infos über Paul Melcher gibt es hier:

Thoughts of a Bohemian

Photo/Tech Café

Melcher System

Photo: Paul Melcher