BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) is the UK’s stock photography trade association. It represents over 200 members, including Getty Images and Corbis, but also a lot of small and medium sized photo agencies, which make up the bulk of the UK industry. Founded in 1975, members must adhere to BAPLA’s Code of Professional Ethics, which promotes fair dealing with clients, contributing photographers and other agencies. BAPLA is a voluntary organisation run by its Executive Board of well-respected industry figures, in a similar way to PACA in the US. It has a small office staff, but relies on a lot of hard graft by members as well.
The size of the photo industry in the UK has not been calculated exactly because most of the agencies are private companies and do not post public accounts. Getty Images used to, but also is now a privately-held company so using that as a proxy for the whole industry, as some analysts did, is not possible any more. BAPLA estimates their members annual turnover at GBP 310 million ($520 million).
BAPLA’s functions fall into two main areas: acting as a lobbying group, advocating for the interests of agencies and photographers, and raising the profile of the industry; and a secondary area of having events for their members including business education, networking and social evenings. This was very much appreciated by their members, with seminars on industry standards and procedures led by experts, but has been on the back burner because continuous lobbying over orphan works and changes to UK copyright legislation left little time to spare for other areas of BAPLA’s remit. The draft legislation, which has been much improved by lobbying by BAPLA and other industry groups, should pass into law in the spring.
BAPLA’s sterling lobbying to modify forthcoming government legislation left little energy on behalf of volunteers or staff to organize more industry-focused events, a shortcoming that BAPLA are planning to remedy later this year with a one-day seminar, to be held in the fall, which will include various panel events, guest speakers, and, I am informed, a nice lunch. Details are yet to be finalized, but I will keep Visual Connections readers informed of the details. This event is going to be open to everybody interested in stock photography, including photo buyers. BAPLA are also planning an upgrade to their website, which will make it more modern and user-friendly.
Steve Lake, chairman of BAPLA and library manager of 4Corners Images says that the UK stock business has steadied since the recession led-declines of 2007-8. Times are still hard but not as bad as they have been. Steve says, “Unfortunately the reality is individual prices are still going down. Nobody expects them to go up. You can still make some good sales in the commercial and advertising side of the business but editorial prices remain low. There is some good news, volume seems to be going up so that partly compensates for the decline in licensing fees.”
My own take on a good way for specialist and smaller libraries to survive is where they have an established relationship with publishers, and particularly a recognized niche where they can deploy their staff expertise, which larger agencies sometimes lack. Skilled photo buyers recognize that having a subscription deal which limits sources means that sometimes inferior images end up being substituted for the really good ones – in terms of both content and technical quality – that can be found by searching more widely. It is in the interests of quality publications to have a plurality of sources, and BAPLA represents many accomplished photographers via their agencies. The historical material owned by its members is vast, covering such sources as Mary Evans, the National Gallery, Imperial War Museum – important for its World War One coverage in this anniversary year – and legacy newspaper archives such as Mirrorpix, which holds material from the UK Daily and Sunday Mirror going back over 100 years.
Overall, BAPLA is one of the most useful portals to find material for photo buyers, particularly for projects related to the UK and its part in global affairs. BAPLA members represent some of the best collections in Britain, and pride themselves on the quality of their photography and service.
BAPLA’s website is www.bapla.org.uk.
Julian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His website is www.julianjackson.co.uk. He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course www.picture-research-courses.co.uk. Linked-in profile.