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BW Businessworld

Clicking On Ad Factor

Photo Credit :

(Pic By Tribhuwan Sharma)

Incorporated: 2003
Capital invested: Rs 1 lakh
Source of funds: Self
Area of business: Stock photography
for advertising and marketing industry
Key competitors: Getty Images and

Till the 1980s, the idea of foreign faces endorsing Indian products was not frowned upon; it was, in fact, considered elitist. But then things began to change. MTV and McDonald’s were forced to turn their menus desi, and Coke’s tag lines were written in Hindi as Bunty, Lucky and Happy replaced Tom, Dick and Harry in the minds of the burgeoning middle class.
It was around the middle of this decade that Sandeep Maheshwari, then a freelance photographer who had done a lot of portfolios for models and had friends in the ad world, was often checked out by advertisers who wanted to buy stocked Indian images. He was quick to take the cue. After some initial research, he realised that commercial stock photography, which was a $1.5-billion industry globally, was virtually absent in India. He decided to fill the gap.
Three years ago, Maheshwari’s company Mash Audio Visuals (which was incorporated in 2003), launched, perhaps the country’s first website that has a ready-to-use stock of photographs for the advertising industry. Today, Maheshwari and his team of five in-house, full-time photographers have created a 600,000-strong photo bank with pictures across hundreds of categories such as fashion, business, health and fitness and Indian culture. “More than 1,200 brands, including Airtel, ICICI Bank, Jet Airways, Tata Indicom and Ranbaxy use our pictures for their advertisements,” says Maheshwari.

And why not? “We save 50 per cent of the cost,” says Ashish Rehi, who heads Delhi-based Crayons Advertising, which regularly buys pictures from Imagesbazaar. Advertising agencies say a customised shoot for a single advertisement — which can entail shooting pictures over three to four days — can cost between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000. A readymade image from Imagesbazaar, on the other hand, can be bought for as low as Rs 10,000.

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How does Maheshwari swing it? Though Imagesbazaar spends a whopping Rs 1.5-2 lakh on a single shoot of 30-40 pictures, “sometimes we end up making money from just 10 per cent of the stock, of which some pictures are even sold 10 times”, explains Maheshwari. So, the cost advantage comes from selling some of the coveted photographs many times over, thanks to clients who, according to him, do not insist much on exclusivity. “Sometime ago, ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank used the same image for their campaigns, but the campaigns ended up looking very different because of the colour scheme and the design,” he says.
If two leading bank brands could get away with such an overlap, it is hardly surprising that 90 per cent of the pictures Imagesbazaar sells are non-exclusive. Those who buy exclusive rights — ICICI Bank and Aptech are among the few who have recently bought such rights for their campaigns — generally use the images for 360-degree campaigns, and end up paying as much as Rs 48,000 per photo sometimes. Sources in the ad industry say this high price of exclusivity is a bit of a grey area in an otherwise smooth Imagesbazaar business model.
But as far as the quality is concerned, Maheshwari’s clients are a happy lot. “In terms of Indian images, it is better than Getty Images,” says Ajmer Pratap Singh, brand design director at RK Swamy BBDO.
After three years in the business, Mash Audio Visuals has no serious competition, despite there being no perceptible entry barriers to his kind of enterprise. International commercial stock photography websites such as Getty Images and Corbis have very few Indian pictures. Indian websites — Visage, India-Picture and Dinodia — mainly cater to the demand for editorial images.
One reason for Imagesbazaar being virtually the sole big player in the arena could be that Maheshwari has kept a hawk’s eye on emerging competitors. Imagesbazaar struck a 50-50 revenue-sharing deal with the only other commercial images website in India, PhotosIndia, started by Delhi-based Manav Lohia and Amit Narain, in December 2007. Now, PhotosIndia’s pictures are distributed by the website. Imagesbazaar also has a similar arrangement with Pictureindia, owned by Singapore-based Asia Images Group, which has a huge bank of pictures of Indian models in exotic locales.
Connecting with competition is one thing, but Maheshwari’s obsession with links goes beyond this. His Web team has devised a thesaurus system that, according to him, links every picture on Imagesbazaar to about a thousand keywords. A BW search on the website yielded relevant results for most simple keywords, but slipped when words such as suave and savvy were entered. Not too savvy after all!
Being on the right side of 30, Maheshwari can hardly be expected to be content with the scale of his venture. He now plans to connect with photographers across the globe with Shot India, a website to be launched within the next two months that will feature all kinds of images. Photographers anywhere on the globe would be able to upload their pictures, which will then be sold by Mash. The company will pay 50 per cent of the sales proceeds to the photographers who will continue to own copyrights. “We will consider pictures even if they have been taken with a 6-megapixel camera,” says Maheshwari. “Right now, we do not accept anything less than 12 megapixel.” Mash will, of course, reserve the right to reject photographs.
A labour of love — that is what the Imagesbazaar team calls the enterprise. And this labour of love pays rich dividends.
binu dot kwatra at abp dot in
(Businessworld Issue Dated 24-30 March 2009)

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