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Photo library’s global success

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You might expect the man behind photolibrary.com to be a hardnosed businessman who trampled his way to the front of the pack to buy the world’s most obvious domain name for a photography distributor. But Tim Moore is a mild-mannered Australian who simply followed his instinct and took his small photographic library online in 1995 before most people had heard of the internet. "It was obvious this line of work was going to be internet-enabled in a very big way, in a market and distribution sense," he says. Now photolibrary.com has 10 million images, thousands of hours of footage and music and competes as one of the top three image providers in the world. Chances are the cover of the book you’re reading, the last piece of advertising you saw or the gossip magazine you glanced at had an image or footage from the Photo Library archive. The collection is held on a 70-terabyte server, whirring loudly away in the back of their North Sydney office not far from old metal filing cabinets where thousands of film photos are catalogued by subject. Ninety percent of Photo Library’s trade is with overseas customers. Moore tapped the enormous English market in 1999 with a joint venture and soon bought out his partner. Photo Library became a major distributor in England and soon "the tail was starting to wag the dog" with British demand driving growth for the business. With assistance from UK Trade and Investment, Photo Library used England to springboard into Europe.A shrewd move into Singapore ("I always believed Asia was going to be a vibrant marketplace") drove business in South East Asia, and requests from other cities rolled in. "Progression was really based on demand and, to be truthful, quite a bit of risk," Moore confesses. In the UK and US, Photo Library concentrated on acquisitions to grow market share, trading off established brands. It now has 20 offices in 15 countries and a B2B market capturing 500,000 unique visitors a month.Photo Library’s big secret to success is glaringly obvious, Moore says. "Face to face contact. We’re probably the only company at the big end that has people going to see clients on a regular basis." Photo Library employs 80 highly trained sales staff to liaise with clients. "The internet is fantastic as a marketing and distribution tool but we believe that people still count." Competing with the likes of Bill Gates’ Corbis and privately owned Getty Images, Moore has concentrated on differentiation to gain market share. He looks for specialty brands with niche photography. "That allows us to walk in to a client and say, ‘Ah, yes, we have got something different, we’re not like the shop next door’." Photo Library offers a research service alongside targeted email marketing to known clients and Moore also has built a subscription based photo service to compete against iStock. "A really big mistake in internet companies in our industry, people think that because you have a website people come banging on the door. They don’t." Photo Library recently moved into the paparazzi image market, adding 5 million images to its collection. Moore says making this move in response to customer demand has given him a competitive edge. "Customers tell us what to do. That’s our secret." He expects the paparazzi area to increase turnover by 30 percent. In the next two years Photo Library will open more offices to service mainland Europe (it will open in Paris in September and in Berlin by the end of the year). "We don’t take on a project unless we know we have the cash flow or the capital to do it. We’re fairly conservative in that area." Photo Library sells to some of the world’s biggest corporations, but Moore says they don’t operate like a big international. "We still have the small business mentality."

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