We talked to Peter Charlesworth of LightRocket about the photo agency, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Peter Charlesworth: I have been fortunate in that my family and I, and indeed all of my colleagues at LightRocket, are well and have not been struck down by this appalling pandemic. That is not to say it has not taken its psychological toll. Despite working in an industry that lends itself to being able to work anywhere with a computer and an internet connection, the lack of personal interaction other than video conferencing becomes somewhat tiresome. I am very much looking forward to the day when I can sit around a table with my colleagues and finally meet again in person.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded LightRocket.
Peter Charlesworth: I worked as a professional photojournalist for over 35 years. Working for Time magazine, I covered the conflict in Lebanon, Ferdinand Marcos’s fall, the rise of Cory Aquino in the Philippines, and the fight for democracy that ended tragically at Tiananmen Square. After a few years spent in Hong Kong covering China, I moved to Bangkok, where I covered many of the major stories across Asia for the world’s leading magazines, including Newsweek, Life, and the New York Times. At the turn of this century, fellow photographer Yvan Cohen and I founded a photo agency that has since morphed into LightRocket.
How does LightRocket innovate?
Peter Charlesworth: Our Singaporean company was initially started in 2000 as a photo agency called OnAsia Images, and from day one, we created all of the online tools required to distribute and sell images to publications worldwide. While revenue was originally generated from image sales and our public profile was a photo agency, we’ve always been a software company. Starting with the components of the agency’s image management system, including the creation of an English language thesaurus of terms specifically designed for keywording (tagging) visual assets, we have innovated and adjusted to the changes in the image industry over the past twenty years.
The tsunami of images hitting the internet in the past decade has transformed the photography industry. A boutique agency such as ours became unviable. Simple demand and supply economics had created a market where image prices were (and still are) falling while image availability has skyrocketed. One simple statistic – over 350 million photos are posted to Facebook every day – illustrates this perfectly.
But therein lay the opportunity for innovation. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer. And many of them need a way of archiving, managing, and presenting their images. So our company morphed and rebranded as LightRocket, (https://www.lightrocket.com) no longer selling images, but providing online tools for an ever-growing number of photographers. Our subscription-based service provides storage, websites, contact management, and much more for the professional and keen amateur photographer along with anyone wishing to archive and presents a collection of photos and videos such as a digitized family album.
LightRocket also offers a way for our subscribers to display and sell their work to photo editors and buyers worldwide via the LightRocket archive – almost a half-million images – the quality of which has been endorsed by our partnership with Getty Images, whereby some of our best contributors are able to contribute to the largest image sales platform in the world. LightRocket generates management fees for this service and currently has over 800,000 images on the Getty images site.
Our Enterprise solution, a digital asset management system for companies, LightRocket Media Manager (https://lightrocketmedia.com) has been licensed to large organizations such as the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the European Broadcasting Union.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Peter Charlesworth: We are exceedingly fortunate in being able to weather this pandemic storm. Some of our staff members are currently stuck in far-flung areas of the globe because of travel restrictions but are all able to continue work unaffected by the social and economic upheavals affecting other industries. A laptop and a connection is all we need to continue meeting online and working from home.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Peter Charlesworth: Probably the hardest decision Yvan Cohen and I have had to make over the past decade was to change the direction of our ship as the tidal wave of imagery swamped our photo agency, and we moved in the direction of the growing photographer services market.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and LightRocket in the future?
Peter Charlesworth: Personally, I leave the stress and anxiety at home (I would like to say at the office) and head off to play golf or walk my dog. But these are exciting times, so they don’t come across as that stressful. We have a completely redesigned user interface update of our B2C product, LightRocket, about to hit the market; along with the continued growth of revenue from our partnership with Getty Images; and finally, we have a growing number of big organizations licensing our enterprise software solution (our DAM system) – all in all, things are looking pretty unstressful.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Peter Charlesworth: There are many other software-for-photographer companies out there, and indeed many big companies offering digital asset management systems, and most employ way more staff than we have. But we see this as a huge advantage. We are able to offer our clients a very bespoke service; we listen, we react. The big organizations like working with us because we are not unwieldy and can cater to their changing requirements – something the bigger companies with huge staff resources and all that entails in terms of decision making just can’t do.
Your final thoughts?
Peter Charlesworth: Let’s not say too much about 2020, a horrible year for many, but we are looking forward to LightRocket taking off in 2021 and that the New Year will offer a brighter future for everyone.