Catalogs Create a Profitable Picture for Photo Broker

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Alamy Images Ltd., a British online broker of stock photography, is using slender catalogs supported by direct mail, e-mail and public relations to grab a 1 percent market share in the past year from industry giants Getty Images and Corbis.


Such below-the-line marketing has helped the Abingdon, Oxfordshire, firm garner 23,000 full registrations from its direct marketing and alamy.com efforts. At last count, the 2-year-old company had 4,000 corporate and about 8,000 individual customers in the United States, Canada, Britain and parts of Europe and Asia-Pacific.


"People didn't want to receive the big book they get from other agencies," said Stuart Cox, client development and marketing manager at Alamy. "They wanted something smaller, something they could keep on their desk, something they could keep in their handbag or read on the train. So the format was pretty much decided by customer consensus."


The first catalog, titled Magalogue, dropped in spring 2002, generating a 25 percent response rate, Cox said. The second and third books, in fall/winter 2002 and spring 2003, drew a 12 percent response as the novelty of the first effort wore off.


Similarly, a "Two Sides to Every Story" mailer in spring/summer 2002 and an Alamy Difference piece sent a week before the first catalog yielded response rates of 7.5 percent and 11.5 percent, respectively. The mailers went largely to smaller design firms.


Online, bimonthly awareness and sales promotion campaigns by e-mail to house files and lists rented from data source adbase.com generated an 11.5 percent response.


Targets of these efforts include art buyers at ad agencies, picture editors at publishing houses and media firms, and pertinent executives in design firms.


For the first Magalogue in spring 2002, Alamy measured response rates based on the receipt of postage prepaid business reply cards in the catalogs and mailers as well as visitor registration on alamy.com. Subsequent response rates are based on conversion from registration to sales.


The call to action in all marketing is to drive traffic to alamy.com for registration or to fill out the business reply card for follow-up. Consumers can call a toll-free number as well.


Alamy targets 30 percent of its outreach to prospects and customers in the United States and Canada, and another 30 percent to its home market. It splits the rest between Europe and a promising Asia-Pacific region.


Companies and individuals who respond and opt in get more mailings as Alamy replenishes its prospect lists via barters with third-party suppliers and adbase.com.


Being a small company, Alamy has kept a lid on costs. The overall budget for each catalog at the current print runs of 20,000 is $30,000. It costs 75 cents per book simply to design and print.


The catalogs display only 100 images across categories as opposed to the 500,000 that can be bought at alamy.com. On the site, visitors can find royalty-free and licensed stock images. Subjects include lifestyle to science and festivals, plus portraits, politics, landscapes, botany and architecture.


Paper for the catalogs and mailers comes free from barter deals with local organizations like paper manufacturer Sappi, Cox said.


Alamy is also aggressive in its pricing. It charges only a 35 percent commission. Getty, which pitches itself for its high-end creative, and Corbis, geared toward publishing and editorial clients, sometimes charge nearly double for all images they sell on behalf of others.


Segmenting its database, Alamy finds that 45 percent of its business comes from editorial clients and 55 percent from commercial. Its roster includes AOL Time Warner, The Economist, Landor, Grey Global Group, McCann-Erickson and its MRM Partners Worldwide sibling, J. Walter Thompson Co., BBDO, Wunderman and OgilvyOne Worldwide.


Overall, Alamy budgeted $470,000 for the year, including a minor outlay for print advertising. With partnership marketing and other swaps, it expects the marketing to be worth more than $800,000.


Whatever the marketing is worth, it is necessary for Alamy as the company builds its name. The company is positioning itself as a one-stop shop for stock photography from 110 agencies and 1,410 photographers.


"This has been an integral part of our direct marketing strategy and why we chose to go strongly below the line rather than above the line, because we needed acquisition data," Cox said. "Everything we do has to be accountable, has to be measurable, and we need people's names from that detail to continue our marketing messages."


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