IBM, National Geographic team up on Web site

For years, the National Geographic Society has sold the rights to use many of its most amazing photographs to advertising agencies, publishers and others seeking striking and colorful images for ad campaigns, books and more.

Now, instead of using old-fashioned faxes, telephone calls and overnight couriers, business users will for the first time be able to peruse and license those images online at a business-to-business Web site built with hardware and software from IBM.

In an announcement Tuesday, IBM said it has signed a multimillion-dollar deal to provide the Washington-based society with an IBM eSeries p690 server running eight processors and IBM AIX, along with its IBM WebSphere Commerce for Digital Media application, DB2 database and IBM Content Manager to maintain and organize the digital images for the site.

Debbie Moynihan, program director for WebSphere Commerce, said IBM also worked with the society on workflow improvements, image archiving and other business processes to help streamline the operations.

Maura Mulvihill, vice president of the National Geographic Society image collection division, said the organization began looking to move its operations to an e-commerce arrangement about a year ago and figured it would need custom software to accomplish the task. Some 20 companies responded to its request for proposals, including IBM.

What the society found was that instead of needing a customized development project, it could use IBM's WebSphere Commerce for Digital Media, which looked like an almost perfect fit right out of the box, she said.

"It already had all the functionality we needed," Mulvihill said.

The society hopes to drastically cut its handling costs in licensing digital images and to almost triple revenue by using the new Web site and ordering capabilities, she said.

By moving to a Web site that's open around the clock, the society is following the lead of other companies that provide stock photos for business use, Mulvihill said, including Corbis Corp. and Getty Images Inc., both in Seattle. "Our marketplace is becoming very accustomed to being able to get images 24/7."

Licenses for the images can cost hundreds of dollars to several thousand dollars each, depending on their intended use.

The society has already loaded about 7,000 of its most popular images for business use onto the newly created site, www.ngsimages.com, featuring photos of cultures, expeditions and nature. Several thousand images are expected to be added each year until about 100,000 images are available online. The society's image collection includes more than 10 million images, though most won't make it onto the Web site.

The National Geographic Society has been selling licenses for photographs by mail, phone and fax since 1994.

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