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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 1999-12-23
It's Not Magic, It's Merlin
By Dave Tenenbaum, T/One, Inc.
This is a story about not letting great pictures die in obscurity.
Problem: You take a great picture. It has a short, exciting life in tomorrow's newspaper or next week's magazine. Then it gets buried in a digital archive someplace. Maybe it gets seen again. Maybe it doesn't. How do you give it the best possible shot at getting out there and generating revenue?
Problem: Your neighbor takes his kids to their first NFL game. He wishes he could buy them a photo from the game as a souvenir of that special experience. How does he do it?
Problem: A newspaper decides to sell its photo archives on-line through its website. People search for a photo that's not in the archive and go away disappointed. Or a talented freelancer has some nice pictures on his or her website, but no one ever sees them. How do you prevent that?
Problem: Say you wanted to sell pro sports images on-line. How do you deal with the trademark, copyright, and players' likeness rights? Do you just go ahead and sell them, and wait for the appropriate league or players to sue you?
In short, how do you get great images into the hands of consumers, editorial clients, and commercial customers who would appreciate and buy them, while providing an enjoyable "user experience" and doesn't violate any laws?
The answer is Merlin-Net. We approached the NFL with a unique business proposal resulting in the only license agreement with professional football allowing recent game photos to be sold on the internet. We are pursuing similar agreements with the other major sports leagues.
Why Merlin-Net? How do you solve the other problems?
Strangely enough, you imitate the pornography industry! Setting aside moral judgements, that's an industry generating $1 billion in e-commerce per year, and they are doing so because they've evolved a very efficient business model. Instead of a thousand separate sites doing their own e-commerce thing (much like current sports photo sites) they've banded into a community. Customers enter through one site and move within the community until they find what they want. If there is an eventual financial transaction, the final site (content provider) gets paid, but so do the sites that brought the customer there (access sites).
That business case study hit me on the head like a hammer. I realized we are uniquely positioned to do the same thing for news and sports photography.
First, we created some software that would let an individual paper sell its images on the web. But we quickly recognized a fatal flaw: what if someone in the Boston area heard that the Globe's pictures were on-line, and went to their web site to see images of the San Francisco 49ers? If there weren't any pictures of the 49ers on the Globe's site, they would go away disappointed and never return. That's not a good customer experience.
So we thought: why not ask newspapers (initially) to go through their picture archives and mark the images they wanted to sell on-line. We could then grab the large thumbnails of those images and captions and pull them into a large, fast, centralized database. Each paper could put links on its own website pointing to the central database, and place ads to promote selling their photos.
So now someone in Boston hits the Boston Globe website, searches for the 49ers, and views pictures from the Bay Area newspapers. That person buys a Modesto Bee photo; the Bee gets X% of the transaction (content provider), the Globe gets Y% (access site), and the NFL gets Z% (trademark and likeness rights). Merlin-Net does all fulfillment out of the central site, and everyone else gets a check. The Globe has a happy web customer and gets money from the sale of a Modesto photo; Modesto makes money off a sale in Boston that was highly unlikely otherwise. The papers place ads for the service because it drives people to their own websites and it makes them money, two things they want very much. Everyone wins. No one gets big money from a single transaction, but all parties do better than they could on their own.
That's the basis of Merlin-Net (www.merlin-net.com). Our editor Peter Southwick (until recently the Director of Photography at the Boston Globe) reviews, lays out, and displays incoming images. We will be accepting suitable photos from top freelancers as well as other organizations. We have just launched the site, and we have all Boston Globe images on a web-exclusive basis, as well as NFL images from fifteen other newspapers, a list that is growing daily. We will have links very soon from Boston.com, NFL.com, and NFLShop.com. We'll be taking in freelance collections as well as other newspaper archive images starting in early January, with a launch of editorial and commercial interfaces shortly thereafter. We have started a weekly contest with a $100 prize to the photographer for the best new image sent to us. There are a lot of innovative, user-friendly features on the site, and some amazing technology below the surface.
Got some great images looking for a new life?
(Dave Tenenbaum was an AP shooter for 15 years and 11 years ago started T/one Inc. which has supplied Merlin digital archive systems to about 60 newspapers and corporations (including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post). More than 7 million images are stored in those systems.. Merlin-Net Inc. is located at 17 Whitney Road, Quincy, MA 02169; www.merlin-net.com; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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