by Sam Eifling
Posted 5/17/2010 12:00 am
Updated 1 year ago
The North Little Rock buildings where John Rogers is storing, scanning and shipping millions of original photos from some of the country's biggest newspapers were until last year day care centers, and still bear the scuffed walls and primary-colored paint schemes to prove it. The work inside now is of a restorative nature. Crews clean editors' marks from the black-and-white photos that Rogers, a 37-year-old baseball buff and businessman, has been hauling to central Arkansas in moving vans.
Gradually, then with a swiftness, Rogers has assembled one of the most formidable collections of news photography in the world. He estimates he has 32 million photos, on the way, he expects, to 50 million or 60 million. By comparison, he said, Getty Images has about 72 million images digitized. (To flip through some of his classic and rare photos, check out ArgentaArchive.com.)
Rogers is finding a buyer's market at cash-strapped daily papers. His most recent get was The Denver Post. So far he has taken possession of about a third of its collection, biographical photos A through Miller. He began this run last summer with The Detroit News' archives, followed that with a deal with the Detroit Free Press, and then with the Chicago Sun-Times in December. Not all papers' archives are worth acquiring; he found the Boulder Daily Camera and the Boston Herald rather picked over, and declined to pursue them.
"I am aggressively trying to get more papers," he said. He said he recently scouted the New York Daily News' archives. Without divulging details, Rogers said the acquisitions were seven-figure deals.
The operation to process these images is considerable. The images have to be cleaned, then run through a massive scanner that can digitize 100 photos per minute. Many of the prints (duplicates, mainly, but some gems) are offered for sale on eBay, where about a quarter of those sell, for an average of $21 apiece; the resulting $80,000 to $100,000 a month goes toward daily operations and more acquisitions.
The newspapers retain the rights to their digital archives and copyrights of staff-shot photos. While the photos are awaiting scanning, Rogers' staff (which during the past year has grown to 40 in North Little Rock and Bryant) is filling requests from the original photo departments. For much of the scanning and all the concomitant data entry, Rogers has contracted with a company based in India called Infoway. A representative said that company presently had "eight or 10" people working in Calcutta on Argenta's scans and metadata, with plans to dedicate upwards of 150 employees to the project in the coming months for what Rogers said could amount to a 10-year processing project.