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The Dawn of Digital PicturesThe Great Library of Alexandria Lives On...
In 1989 I heard about a lumbering digital Goliath, mysteriously gobbling up individual collections of transparencies, photo libraries, manuscripts, woodcuts, and illustrations. That was in '89.
CONTINUUM Productions Corporation (once called IHS (Interactive Home Systems) and later, in ‘94, CORBIS*, was the inspiration of Microsoft's founder, Bill Gates.
Early in 1994 I traveled out to Bellevue, Washington to their original HQ, a two-story building, to see what it was all about. CONTINUUM was still the banner name at that point.
CONTINUUM was on a roll and about to fly as a one-stop digital archive company that would encompass a wide range of subject areas.
Fine arts, culture, history, technology, science, and so on, would all be included. In the continuing process of expanding the archive, CONTINUUM was creating wide-ranging relationships with photographers, museums, private institutions, and government sources.
CONTINUUM actually was to be two organizations. The Content Licensing operation (IHS) was primarily a business-to-business digital stock photography service that launched in the fall of ’89. "Many people in the professional photography industry are thinking of us as a massive stock agency," said Charles Mauzy, Acquisitions Manager at that time.
"CONTINUUM is not limiting itself to the business of the stereotype agency with traditional content, markets, business, and administrative processes. The company's licensing business will develop and reach many new as well as traditional markets in the commercial and editorial marketplaces," Mauzy said.
The aim of the publishing side of CONTINUUM was to fulfill the company's original goal: to acquire visuals, audio, and text to produce multimedia products for traditional as well as the upcoming new age media: CD-ROM, (DVD’s hadn’t been invented yet), on-line searching, video clips, sound bites, etc.). Educational markets and home consumers were included in their target markets.
“Can it be done?” we were all asking then.
With the resources of Bill Gates in the wings, CONTINUUM was in an enviable position to bring off the monumental task of building this comprehensive all-digital archive.
Slide scanning, authoring software, digitizing procedures, retrieval systems, would all be incorporated to produce easy on-line access for the photo researcher. What better computer consultant to have overlooking your operation than Bill Gates?
How did they see the individual stock photographer fitting in?
Mauzy said that his organization “will become one additional tool" for the stock photographer. "We will be a representative for our photographers, and we will work to preserve the gains of PACA and ASMP."
CONTINUUM (by invitation) enticed photographers to place non-exclusive images in their repository, for a nominal advance to the photographer of up to $4.50 per image. Each time a digitized transparency would be used, the photographer would receive approximately 45% of the use-fee paid. Photographers would be free to sell the same image on their own, to their own markets.
"We are looking for content-specific images," Mauzy said. "Most of our clients will be seeking informational images, ones that can be used for specific purposes. We're not interested in generic pictures or “clip art." (The microstock concept had yet to be invented).
Dejas vu? During the first centuries A.D., scholars from the civilized world paid visits to the intellectual center of Hellenistic culture, the Great Library of Alexandria in North Africa, to benefit from the accumulated knowledge of the time.
In the 7th century A.D., vandals destroyed the great library and no doubt hastened the period known as the Dark Ages. Only now in the 21st century has the concept of “gathering all of the world’s knowledge into one central repository” been revived. The dawn of digital is making it possible for Corbis, Google and others to wake up to the possibility
*. "Corbis" is Latin for "wicker basket", which at the time referred to the company's emerging view of itself as a receptacle or storehouse for visual media.
Rohn Engh is the best-selling author of “Sell & ReSell Your Photos” and “sellphotos.com.” He has produced a new eBook, “How to Make the Marketable Photo.” For more information and to receive a free eReport: “8 Steps to Becoming a Published Photographer,” visit http://www.sellphotos.com