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INTERVIEW: Alan Smith – Managing Director at Topham Picturepoint

  • Managing Director at Topham Picturepoint (
  • President CEPIC (Coordination of European Picture Alligencies Press -Stock Heritage,
  • Three times Chairman BAPLA (
  • Trustee Hebridean Trust (

    When did you start in the picture library business?

    1975, but Topham started in 1927.

    Is the industry easier now compared to then?

    No but much more fun.

    How many employees do you have?

    About 15.

    How involved are you in every day picture sales decisions?


    What have been the largest events and changes in the business outside the arrival of digital delivery and web sites?

    The arrival of Corbis and Getty. Still nobody knows what we do but at least it’s now known to be important. And the cooperation within the industry, worldwide.

    Do you have any advice for a new picture library?

    Work all hours, partner where you can, participate in your trade association, practise negotiating skills, know your pictures and understand your technology.

    Which picture library web site has caught your eye recently?

    Rex and Alamy and everyday, BAPLA, PACA, Cepic, PDN and Selling Stock – there’s always something new.

    Which papers do you read regularly?

    I read the Scotsman, Oban Times, L.A. Times, Edenbridge Courier and Cyprus Mail, but I see all the dailies every day.

    Why do you think we are seeing a change in photographers’

    copyright deals? Photographers’ work/job has not changed.

    Any gain in margin goes straight to the bottom line. It may seem odd but a fifty/fifty split is too low for both agent and photographer. At the moment the swing is in favour of the agency where the overheads are greater. Buying evolving technology is like buying new filing cabinets every six months and those agents who can afford this look for a better margin, particularly if they are public companies or venture capital funded.

    What interests do you pursue when you are not selling


    Is there anything else?

    Do you feel at a disadvantage not being based in central


    No, contrary to what people think, the overheads are not much cheaper but it’s so much more efficient. I left Fleet Street in 1975 and set up with a telex and motorbike and an OAP who travelled cheaply on transport. We were the first picture library to have a fax and now have a 32 meg fibre optic cable.

    Which system do you use for your online library?

    The Norwegian based that, for a library of our size, I believe is easily the best.

    Is it web based?

    In house and web searching are seamless.

    How many pictures do you sell overnight directly through your web site?

    Impossible question, but self email, FTP, download, zip

    download goes on all the time. People view around the clock and order by email. The quiet period is 22.00 to 0200 reflecting agency time zones.

    What percentage of your outgoings do you spend on marketing

    the library?

    Depends how you define marketing. 24 hour availability I call marketing, and that costs a lot with 700,000 pictures on the site and 10 sites running. We attend all trade shows and print guides to the collection in house.

    Where do you live?

    I live and work in rural Kent, 30 miles south of London.

    Family status?

    Married with girl, boy, girl.

    Do you take pictures?


    Describe your day.

    Tea at 6.20; office 7.30; home for

    lunch; collect my son-in-law from the train at 6.45; garden/greenhouse.

    Supper; read P. G. Wodehouse; bed

    What’s hot, what’s new?

    100,000 pictures from Scotland’s Business AM Newspaper, a new guide to our US partners, The Image Works, trying to scan every picture in the library.

    Any last thought?

    Yes, planning to make Cepic Congress

    Copenhagen, 10th to 13th June 2004, the place to be.