History Of fotoLibra

How it all started

By Gwyn Headley, Founder

fotolibra is an Open Access picture library. Everybody and anybody can join to sell their images. It's free to use our services — only when you want to put a professional number of images up do we make a charge.

There was a chain of coincidences, circumstances and events which led to the foundation of fotolibra. The story has been told several times but it's worth repeating and amplifying, because for the general public the story of the birth of fotolibra is the story of triumph over tragedy, whereas the full- or part-time freelance photographer needs more depth of field.

First the triumph over tragedy bit: fotolibra started working in January 2005, although the idea arrived as a watershed three years earlier, in January 2002. A burst water tank in my house meant the loss of 120 years of treasured family photographs. Within two hours I was writing the business plan for what would become fotoLibra.com. It took three years to construct the robust technical and financial foundations to build a business out of the concept of the world's first open access image library.

What sets fotolibra apart from every other stock agency or image bank is that it's open to everyone; it is the world's first open access picture library. This means anyone can join fotolibra and sell image rights in a picture. There is no submission panel and no need for a substantial portfolio. And it's free to try out. One man signed up, uploaded one picture for free, fotolibra sold it five days later and he received a cheque for £1,100.

This is rare enough to be worth mentioning, but it does happen. fotolibra is not a get rich quick scheme. But for the first time, everyone has a chance to maximise their income from their photographic heritage — without even parting with them. And for professional and semi-pro photographers, fotolibra provides a route to market which was simply not possible before.

Now the other influences, all of which played a part in triggering the fotolibra concept.

  • I had run a small and extremely specialist picture library of photographs of architectural follies for 12 years, mainly my photographs but also about two dozen other photographers.
  • The admin and maintenance of this was tiresome unto me and not part of my main job, which was as a book publishing consultant.
  • I knew and had dealt with many of the leading players in the picture library world through my time in publishing, so I was strongly aware of the value of images.
  • I offered the folly picture library of some 6,000 images to Arcaid, who politely turned it down because the 25 photographers were not full time professional architectural photographers.
  • Most traditional picture libraries had a minimum submissions policy which specified a minimum quantity of images, regular submissions, file size limitations and so on. I thought this was restrictive, and tended to impose a uniformity of image, like competitions in photo magazines. For pictures to be accepted by the major agencies, it sometimes seemed that there was a requirement for a deadening sameness only a step removed from the Royalty Free microstock imagery world populated by laughing unblemished brown-skinned girls of indeterminate ethnicity.
  • AbeBooks.com was a consortium of second hand bookshops from around the world who all listed their wares on one site, paying £20 a month each to do so. Nice idea; it worked and benefited both buyers and sellers. Amazon bought it.
  • In January 2002 my local camera shop was selling my favourite film (Fuji Velvia 50) at £6.00 a roll.
  • Bandwidth was increasing, and more and more people were migrating to broadband.
  • The cost of digital storage was falling.
  • When people bought PCs, scanners were often given away free. What on earth could people use them for except to scan their family photographs?
  • Think of all those families who had keen photographers among their ancestors.
  • It was clear that digital quality was going to improve, match and surpass film quality sooner rather than later.
  • Book clubs had proved that subscription models worked.
  • I agreed with Henri Cartier-Bresson's theory that “Everyone is capable of making at least one great photograph in their life.” Roger Hargreaves in the Sunday Times went on to say “Given that millions of us have tried, thousands have made a half-decent living at it and a handful have been touched by genius, there must be a world out there of undiscovered treasures waiting to be lovingly winkled from obscurity.” We think fotolibra is the vehicle to uncover those treasures.
  • Then I lost my father's and grandfather's wonderful photographs, dating back to the 1880s, in a flood.

At that point all these thoughts coalesced to become the concept of fotolibra.

As I had no money to speak of, I had to provide a business model which would attract backers. Hence the sub was based on the cost of a roll of Fuji Velvia film a month. So we got going properly in January 2005, and our growth since then has been tremendous. We now have hundreds of thousands of images on line and nearly 40,000 contributors in 170 countries.

We are passionate about the concept of fotolibra, passionate about open access, passionate about our stock in trade (our Contributors' photographs) and passionate about our business.