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Photo archivist to hire 40, expand NLR hub

Posted: January 10, 2013 at 12:53 a.m.

Bekah Cone pulls a file of old photos from the shelf as she searches for an original print to ship to an Ebay buyer at the John Rogers Photo Archives along North Poplar Street in North Little Rock Wednesday.

— Rogers Photo Archive is expanding its North Little Rock operations to accommodate its global aspirations.

The business is adding 15,000 square feet and hiring 40 people, owner John Rogers said Wednesday.

That will make 90 workers in North Little Rock in addition to 40 in Memphis, with 200 more in Calcutta and Bangalore, India.

Rogers has his eyes set on international deals in 2013. The 10-year-old company has anagreement in principle with a yet-to-be named major foreign newspaper chain to digitize its archives and spread the images worldwide.

If that sounds ambitious, then consider Rogers’ loftiest goal.

“We want to preserve every photo archive in the world that, in our mind, is worth preserving.”

Rogers buys prints and negatives and for the past two months has been offering them on Argentaimages.com.

All the newspapers with which he has struck a dealretain the copyright on their photos and can continue to use them. The originator gets half the revenue from any sales.

Rogers’ employees organize as well as clean negatives and prints before they are scanned.

Workers in India add the vital information - who, what, where, when - to the images.

Thanks to advances in proprietary technology, the workers are able to process photos and negatives fasterand faster.

A few years ago, an employee could scan 600 a week. Now it’s 20,000 to 25,000, Rogers said.

But speed alone is not enough. Hence, the hiring of more employees and expansion of workspace.

About half of the 40 workers, who will be paid between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, have been hired. And the construction, which will bring the North Little Rock facility to about 30,000 square feet, should be completed sometime in the spring.

The company currently has 120 million to 130 millionphotos and negatives in storage, about half of which have been digitized. There are another 50 million digitial-only images, Rogers said.

The firm broke the photoarchive ice with big newspapers in 2009 when it struck a deal with the Detroit News, and it has since added a number of other metro dailies to its roster.

“That’s when things exploded,” Rogers said. Newspapers were feeling the effects of a downturn in circulation and ad revenue.

The digital age for publications has been a boon for Rogers. Revenue in 2012 was about $16 million, and he sees that reaching at least $100 million in five years.

Rogers, who started his career as a sports memorabilia trader, has struck deals with more than 30 papers, he said. Last summer, he signed a contract with McClatchy Co., a chain of 30 newspapers.

And, he’s now in the process of evaluating the E.W. Scripps Co.

Bob Houlihan, formerly photo director for the Detroit News, praised Rogers’ enterprise.

Houlihan recalled when the paper was in need of an action photo of baseball player Hank Greenberg, a Detroit Tigers great, and couldn’t find one.

“Newspapers’ archives over many years have become less and less used ... and nobody is looking after them. Things get misplaced, things walk away,corners get bent, negatives get trashed and you’re really losing a piece of history,” Houlihan said.

“I’ll have to admit I was skeptical at first. As a photo guy, the last thing that I ever wanted to do was let the physical property get out of my hands.

“But when we started talking about having all these millions of images just key strokes away, the [advantage became obvious]. The paper would have access to the assets that they would never have money to do on their own.

“I love the aspect that this stuff is being preserved.”

Business, Pages 23 on 01/10/2013

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