Newspapers Turn Pictures into Profit with Digital Image Archiving

May 17, 2011

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then that picture must also be worth some serious bucks, right? As the print media industry continues to face financial struggle, some publishers are turning to those valuable photo collections to support the news business. In an effort to produce an alternate stream of revenue, The Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune have already begun digitally archiving and selling photo collections online. More recently, The Philadelphia Tribune announced that it too is hoping to start converting pictures into profit.

In order to digitally archive the collection of more than 250,000 photos, The Philadelphia Tribune enlisted the help of Advanced Image Archiving (AIA), a digital image archiving and monetization service created as a joint venture between Image Fortress Corp. and Masterpiece Marketing, the same service that is assisting The Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune in producing digital archives. With AIA's service "whether the photo is coming off a camera or coming out of a museum...we digitally archive it no matter the source," says Bob Pokress, president of Image Fortress Corporation.

Once the photos are digitized, organizations can present the collections to the public market for purchase, jumpstarting new revenue. According to Pokress, opening up the photo collection to the public is important for an organization "not only for revenue they can generate, but the ability to build brand awareness of who they are and what they do." With AIA, newspapers and magazines can "take these photographs and bring them to market in multiple ways so that the financial value of these photographs can be realized."

AIA's service offers a variety of methods for a newspaper or magazine to begin monetizing its photo collections such as auctioning original prints online, and if the proper copyright in in place, selling reprints of photos and photo based merchandise along with licensing photos for commercial and non-commercial use. The website is used to sell the original prints, and "each paper has its own unique landing page as well that filters the photos available from that paper. The images and metadata on that site are feed by the Image Fortress infrastructure," where the photos reside, says Eric Amundson, president of Masterpiece Marketing Group. Customers can go to these websites and search or browse for the photos that interest them most. Amundson also explains that "license and reprints are handled separately from the originals. The Image Fortress infrastructure can be integrated with popular third party reprint services and licensing companies in order to feed images and metadata to their sites."

While the prospect of generating profit from a photo collection is certainly alluring, being able to preserve the historic significance of these photos is crucial for newspapers and magazines as well. "We think the archived photos that we have are unique to the extent that no one else has them," says Robert Bogle, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune. "They are historic as well as important to reflect the activity and events of the past 126 years." Customers "can have a part of history in many ways. They can take pride in having it and we can take pride in having provided it, and at the same time, it will be another stream of revenue for us."

This sentiment is echoed by Debra Bade, editor of news research and Archives for the Chicago Tribune. "Maintaining an archive of photos is something that is critical because it is part of the newspaper's history as well as the community's history," says Bade. "The Tribune is looking at lots of ways to increase the revenue flow, and this could be a big piece of that."

In addition to creating a revenue boost and preserving the historical value of these photos, Bade also acknowledges the organizational benefit of digitally archiving. She says that with over 7 million print photos in the Chicago Tribune archive "the more photos that we can easily get to the better. Having them available digitally moves that forward dramatically." Amundson agrees, noting that by digitizing photo collections with the AIA service, newspapers and magazine will have "the ability to access, search, and utilize the archive 24/7 throughout the organization and its associated companies. Prior to digitization there is typically very limited access to the archive, no ability to search it, no index of what's in the archive, and the photos are prone to damage and deterioration."

In the end, as Pokress points out, the success of a newspaper or magazine comes down to its willingness to adjust its business model to fit today's market. "I think the key point is that the world of media is changing very rapidly and the business model that they need to be successful in the future is going to be very different from one in the past," says Pokress. It is "important to reshape and redefine who they are as a way to generate revenue in the world of electronic content as opposed to the way they generated revenue in the world of print content."