Businesses have encountered a range of challenges over the past few months. So is being digitally focused helping DAMs and their clients to reap rewards? We speak to Abbie Enock, Chairman and Founder of Capture Ltd.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses of all types to analyze whether their existing setup will see them through the crisis.
Restrictions on movement have presented obvious challenges for the creation of new images and content, and have increased reliance on existing content in image archives.
So what kind of impact has this has on digital asset management agencies and their clients? Has this period allowed new opportunities to surface? And are we likely to see permanent changes once the worst is over?
Capture Ltd has been providing licensing and digital asset management solutions for over 20 years, and today serves a broad range of customers, from photographers through to world-renowned cultural institutions. Abbie Enock, founder and chairman of spoke to SmartFrame about the current situation.
SmartFrame: Capture has been around for over 20 years now. How have you seen the digital asset management and content licensing industries evolve in that time?
Abbie Enock: I started in the industry around 30 years ago with my own agency, having previously been a photojournalist, right back in the analog days. The business then was sending out transparencies to clients all over the world, which was a manual process, so I learned to code and wrote a comprehensive program to streamline production. This also took in the transition to digital, which was beginning to happen. Others in the industry wanted to use this system, and in 2000 the Capture platform was born.
Back in those days, people had a lot of transparencies in filing cabinets, although things were starting to become digital. It was a very difficult transition – scanning was a massively expensive, skilled business, and no-one really understood it.
I was in quite a good position as I ran a publishing company at the time, so I already knew about scanning. In order to help everyone transition, we bought some really high-end scanners – which were probably more expensive than my house! – and employed local students, who scanned around the clock. They scanned for both my agency and our clients at the time, as I figured that you had to go digital in order to compete.
Quite a few people didn’t know how to proceed, and they didn’t make it through the transition from analog to digital. Some of the smaller businesses just couldn’t make the switch – and many people did not understand at the time how extremely important keywording is. So it was a difficult time for many, but a great one to launch Capture. And we had a meteoric rise in those early years.
Back in those days, many people only really thought about rights-managed content. Licensing was quite complicated and there were lots of choices that buyers had to think about before agreeing on a price. But things like royalty-free licensing were already around and starting to change the landscape.
We worked steadily at improving the platform, digitizing and keywording content. I remember the first time searching our own archive and coming up trumps with quite a specific result because we had enough keyworded scans. Today it’s the opposite issue; there’s a plethora of content, and it’s hard not to find too much of what you want.
Things have evolved enormously. Licenses have become simpler and things have become more seamless. It’s our quest to make the production workflow as frictionless as possible, and the process of buying and licensing that content equally frictionless.
S: How would you say the current situation differs from previous periods of uncertainty, such as the 2007-2008 global financial crisis? Are your clients responding similarly?
A: It’s different. At the time of the global financial crisis, the world was much less digitally literate than it is now, and you still had people wrestling between analog and digital worlds. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was easier to do business in some ways. A lot of creatives wanted to sell their content, and in many instances were successful at that, without necessarily focusing too much on rock-solid business processes. The financial crisis really made people focus on business, and getting good at business. And that’s what’s needed to build a good business: you’ve got to be interested in both the creative and business sides of it. That teased out people who were more interested in being creative and more interested in running a good business, and a lot of people didn’t make it through that period.
It was a tremendously uncertain time. Those years were underpinned by the fact that the industry had to move towards digitization. There’s a stage where existing content was scanned, followed by a stage when digital cameras started to be used quite widely, which made things digitally native. Our clients who are currently around are pretty good at business, so they’re all tackling [the current situation] it in a business-like way. They’ve invested in a good tech company that has helped them to get their digital strategy together. So I’d say if you’re part of a good solid technical platform, it’s not a bad place to be in at the moment because it’s all about working remotely and digitally. So it’s a very different situation.
S: How has Capture adapted to the current situation?
A: We had already carried out a business continuity exercise prior to the lockdown coming into force, which was really useful. So when the instruction went out, we were able to close the office, walk out and continue seamlessly. I think the whole world is learning new things in this current environment. It’s a terrible thing that’s happened, but the other side of this is that it’s been a marvelous opportunity to put everything to the test. The very technology that we all said was alienating people before is the very technology that’s brought everyone closer together.
I think we’ve adapted extremely well to managing everything remotely, and helping our clients to interact with us remotely. I’ve had fantastic business meetings with people, which previously might have been more stuffy, corporate occasions. Even if people have had to be perched on the end of their bed or bath because of their kids running around or for some other reason, these meetings have been just as productive and business-like, and more human. I hope we’ve always been a very empathetic tech company, a very human company. So for me, this is something of a comfortable place; ironically, this distancing has made that easier.
I think working remotely means you have to work better because you have to be clearer and manage people in a clearer way. I interact with a lot of businesspeople, inside and outside of our industry, and with friends in very senior positions in a lot of organizations, and I think that, generally, people are really finding a lot of advantages going forward. Not necessarily that they will be [working this way] all the time, but to be able to move seamlessly in and out of offices and to still be productive is extremely powerful. Nobody really knows where we’re heading but we’ve upped our governance just to keep a watching brief on the situation, and to make sure we’re well away from any rocks or icebergs that might be looming.
We’ve all had to be more empathetic towards each other because we’re all dealing with different pressures. Some people are alone and some people have plenty of time on their hands, while others are caring for people or have kids to look after. We’ve had to understand each other on a more human level and I think that’s a good thing.
S: Do you imagine any changes that businesses have made in response to the ongoing pandemic will become permanent?
A: Yes, I do. The world was quite digitally literate before this, but huge numbers of people have had to get to grips with technology in a way they could never be bothered with before. Now, technology-wise, even the most conservative elements have had to embrace things like video calls and video conferencing. And I think that will change everything forever, as these companies realize they can do business effectively like this. It opens up so many more possibilities in terms of saving time, and not having to spend every day commuting to the office, and being able to engage with people all over the world just as successfully. People feel more confident in engaging remotely, which can only open doors.
I think this period has made people think differently about the world, and it’s a responsibility of businesses to help lead in that. I’m delighted that people are realizing that the air is so clear, and that we need to look after the planet. All these little things that we all do everyday matter massively. Previously, many people didn’t quite believe that, thinking it wouldn’t really make a difference if they didn’t use their car, for example. But we can see if everyone does it, the entire world changes.
It won’t change everyone’s mentality. Many people will probably revert back to how they were before, but I think huge numbers of people will be changed forever through this experience. Personally, I feel really privileged to be alive at this time, as it’s such a pivotal moment for the world. The world has sent everyone to their rooms to consider their behavior, and that’s no bad thing. The world was too revved up before, and not heading in a good direction, but a stop has been put to all of that. It’s given us all a unique opportunity, while the world is on pause, to think about how we move forward when it gets going again.
S: What would you say the main challenges for your clients were before the pandemic? And how have they changed since then?
A: We have a wide range of clients, from people who produce content to people who consume content, and their challenges have always been quite different. For the content producers, the stock industry gave them a tremendous run for their money for several decades, but that has changed. Back in 2008, people were challenged to get to grips with that. Now, most people understand it, but the fact remains that technology has allowed people to go out and do very cheaply what they previously had a monopoly over. The value of what they create has changed dramatically, particularly if it’s not specialist material. So it’s squaring that difficult circle, and understanding that content still is king, but with a different spin.
There’s more content produced and consumed today than ever before, but the challenge is how to make sure that content is valuable and how people can make a living from it. And also, how they can combat all the free content that’s out there. My view is that there’s no such thing as free content as, behind it, there’s generally some kind of business thrust or initiative. So I think you have to chuck all your conventional thinking out of the box and see what cards you have to play a blinder of a hand in difficult situations. And often, you find a totally different business model that works much better. But it’s about having the courage to do that, and to let go of things you’ve known in the past so you can do business in a different way.
S: Would you say services that offer copyright-free images have made people value online images differently?
A: Many people outside the professional image industry don’t understand that images or video clips might belong to someone, and think that they can just use them. But I think awareness is increasing, and I work with people like the Copyright Hub to increase that awareness. If people create something amazing, they have the right to feel proud of that, and have their copyright attached to it, so people can’t just piggyback off the back of it. But the vast quantity of imagery online is user-generated for a particular moment, which is brilliant at the time but may not be worth anything in the long term. So there are different classes of content available. I’m all for initiatives that help distinguish between that: what is valuable content and what isn’t, and how do you flag that information up to end users clearly, so we can get to a point where those flags are generally understood.
S: Do you think people are becoming more or less aware of issues surrounding licensing and copyright than they used to be?
A: I would like to think the general public is becoming more aware of licensing. There are two sides to this: while people in the picture-library industry quite understandably worry about the free content that’s being generated, and how they can combat that, on the other side, professional consumers of content – such as publishers – also worry. They might employ picture researchers who find images online for a project and use them in publications, and then have a nightmare clearing the copyright for them. People who consume content professionally worry all the time that they will slip up and use something that hasn’t properly been cleared, and end up being hit with a lawsuit.
We’ve built technology that handles both sides of that equation: bringing that content in but also managing the rights for it. For a long time I had a vision of a safe, walled garden in which professional producers and consumers can consume safely, but also reach out beyond the walls of that garden and bring in other content when they can’t find what they are looking for. Great content makes great communications and publications, and that need hasn’t gone away.
S: We’re seeing and hearing about increases in online traffic and an increased focus on digital channels. What kind of trends have Capture’s customers been seeing?
A: Right now, we have clients who have seen an absolute upsurge in people going online to view certain things. It’s hard to know how that’s going to play out, but life is made up of people having habits. Changing those habits is difficult, but this current situation has forced people to adopt different ones.
We have customers who use Capture for outward, client-facing websites, and others who use it for their global internal DAM systems. Sporting organizations, for example, some of which are thinking: why not expose some of this internal content to the public? They can’t hold events at the moment, so they’re pulling imagery from previous events and making this available. People are thinking much more like that now.
Being online and having digital content online puts people in a really strong position. The world has paused and everybody is listening in a way they weren’t listening before, so this is the moment to reach out and help people to change their habits, and to start engaging with people in this way going forward. Out of adversity comes opportunity, and at the moment, the world is listening for messages that will help with life going forward.
Our advice to our clients has been this: if you can, during this period, let’s get done what we’ve always wanted to get done. Content is only as good as its metadata, keywording, discoverability and categorization. Otherwise, it’s like trying to find a raindrop in the Atlantic Ocean. Some of our clients are responding to that very well. Perhaps their staff haven’t been furloughed, and so they’re seeing this as an opportunity to do these things. You can automate a lot, and we’re always looking at ways to automate things, but it does still require work and thought – and what you put in you’ll get out of it. People are using this time wisely. They’re using it as an investment to be on the front foot when the world starts revving up again.
S: We’re all having to get used to new ways of engaging with customers. You’ve recently started a series of webinars. Was this something you always intended on doing?
A: It’s something we always planned to do. When I wrote the initial platform for Capture, I wanted a strong user community. Obviously we didn’t have webinars back then, but I couldn’t be more pleased that we’re doing them now.
Also, everybody now knows what Zoom and [Microsoft] Teams are, so it’s a brilliant time to start getting people engaged with these. People realize that doing things like a webinar really feels like a one-to-one, and everyone understands it’s a good way to get that information across and to absorb it.
When we first launched Capture, all of our training used to be face to face as we had to install everything on our premises and teams were all trained over a two-day period. As the world moved on, and we started to switch training to be occasionally remote, our clients started to prefer it.
One of the benefits of doing things remotely is that it’s much easier to get people together and organize things quickly. Also, it can be short and sweet. You can have really short sessions with an absolute focus on one area, something that may have previously been blocking a way forward.
It’s a weird world when many of us are healthy and many other people are struggling. But I’ve come from feeling almost a bit guilty to feel really privileged to be around at this point in time. This is an amazing opportunity for us who are well to look at what’s going on … and help change things for the future.