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DAM – The Software Industry With A Market Identity Crisis

by Ralph Windsor on November 22, 2013

DAMMY award winner and author of the DAM Survival Guide, David Diamond, has written an article on his own DAM Survival blog with the arresting title: The DAM that can Cure Death.  The summary of the piece is that David believes the DAM industry has attempted to abstract itself nearly out of existence with excessive early horizontal integration before it properly got round to solving more tangible end user problems.  David goes on to describe how in the earlier years of DAM, systems were called ‘Image Databases’ – which was easier for users to understand because the title had nouns describing the subject of the problem and the solution in just two words.  He continues by offering the analogy that DAM systems are now marketed as solutions that can ‘cure death’ – i.e. do anything and everything for anyone:

There’s no question that DAMs have become much more than image databases. The question is why. The vast majority of DAM customers purchase their systems to manage images. And even those who do use DAM to manage Office documents, videos and more, usually have more images in their systems than anything else. In straying from the focused, easy-to-understand (and easy-to-sell) image-database class of software, the DAM industry is now mired in a software discussion that is always too complicated. Worse, we have created an industry that virtually no one understands.” [Read More]

This is another great article from David, who has certainly earned his DAMMY over the last few years.  I have to completely agree with him over the lack of focus and inability for DAM vendors (and many others on the sell-side of DAM) to pick one segment and make it their own.  The article resonates with many themes I discussed in my feature piece for DAM News last week: The Digital Asset Management Specialisation Debate but David’s item is a lot simpler and clearer at explaining the core problem (and far better for it).

I do still believe that Digital Asset Management as subject description is a good one because it is now an accurate summary of the wider process that takes place (especially with reference to metadata and cataloguing activities).  But it’s also true that the definition has ended up being applied in reverse order before anyone really had a proper grasp on what direction ideas like ‘digital media supply chains’ might take.  This is probably why the DAM market has taken so long to get going, because the industry has had to wait for user’s understanding to work out the reality behind the management consultant terminology and understand what you can do with a DAM system and why they should be interested.  It is also the case that innovations like digital cameras have exerted significant pressure to force users to go and find out what products are available (including the nomenclature and obscure jargon that DAM insiders often use).

I suspect that a contributory reason for the market identity crisis in DAM has been the early target audience that vendors have decided to aim for (which were mainly due to commercial factors).  In the earlier years of DAM, the type of clientele who were most interested in software systems to handle their media assets tended to be very large companies who had dedicated photo libraries or video production units.  They might have been attached to some department that wielded a budget that could afford a specialist solution which was more focussed on them and their needs than many of the generic ECM enterprise applications being offered at the time (which certainly used to be woefully inadequate, even if less so now).

Vendors chased after that business because the clients were often big name brands and had budgets which would effectively subsidise their development costs.  It’s understood by many entrepreneurs (in IT and elsewhere) that your first customers are more like investors – in which case, they have a lot of clout and can call the shots in terms of the direction you may end up taking.  This is where the current problem with lack of specialisation and targeting in DAM has started to gather pace, because in wanting to acquire as much business as they can, vendors have needed to present themselves in more abstract and nebulous terms.  It’s an ironic combination of circumstances that while many DAM vendor early large client wins resulted from ECM operators being too concerned with ‘the big picture’ they too have ended up copying the same strategy and are similarly at risk themselves now from others who are able to specialise and adapt their offers in a more targeted manner.

This has some potentially valuable lessons not only for DAM, but other related fields too.  If you choose to characterise your chosen solution subject in abstract terms which appear to try and solve large, macro-scale problems (or ‘cure death’ to use David’s analogy) then you run the risk that no one will understand (or care) what you do.  The DAM industry collectively got away with this convoluted and perilous approach due to a fortunate coincidence of timing with wider accelerating trends in the commodity digital image and video capture device market.  That probably won’t be repeated again, so now might not be a good time to carry on with the same luck-based approach to marketing strategy just because it happened to work successfully once before.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

David Diamond November 22, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Thank you for the very kind compliments, Ralph. I agree with your observations and assessments. I particularly like the concept of early customers being treated like investors. “Louder” customers can be treated this way too. At a former employer, I used to joke about our “squeaky wheel” product development strategy.

It’s interesting that because, as industry insiders, we’ve become so used to the “wealth” of features that today’s DAMs offer, we can easily lose perspective on what DAM should have been.

One point I considered making in the article but didn’t (because I felt as though I was beating a dead horse, when I like horses) is that because we are based on standard databases (well, most of us, anyway), why not extend DAM to including accounting? It would start with the understandable feature request of being able to tack on some fictitious value to the use of an asset and then be able to compare that to the fictitious value assigned to the creation of the asset. Before long, we would have DAM vendors going off about how their DAMs prove ROI beyond any reasonable doubt. Then, of course, the DAM could just be extended to handle the rest of the organizations accounting needs.

Seems logical, right? After all, it’s just a database.

It’s funny that since getting to know how Adaptive Metadata works in Picturepark, I’ve actually started wishing that our CRM and other databases had similar functionality. Imagine being able to have a different CRM field schema for partners than you do customers or suppliers or competitors. Not a bad idea, eh?

I even went so far as to draft a proposal for extending Picturepark in the direction of being able to use Picturepark as a CRM. After all, a CRM is basically a metadata engine that has some email component. We already knew how to send an email, so how tough could it be?

It was while drafting that idea that this article occurred to me.

Would it be awesome to be able to offer Adaptive Metadata CRM services to Picturepark customers? Absolutely. Would it confuse the DAM discussion further? Absolutely. Would any of those customers dump their current CRMs just to get it? Absolutely not.

This is what I meant by our seduction of the flexibility of software. CRMs *do* need Adaptive Metadata–without a doubt! CMS systems could benefit from it too. But this is something for them to discover and add.

Or, just imagine the entire Adobe Creative Suite being one application. What a wonderful and perfectly horrible idea.

David Diamond
Director of Global Marketing

MIchael Kraeftner November 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Great article and I could not agree more. If companies that have “DAM” in their name even don’t use the term Digital Asset Management on their website’s front page anymore, well that shows pretty much where we are. I also as always salute David for his insights! If we look at the several DAM vendors, the “pure play” vendors have become a rare species. Some do PIM, others MRM, others anything but proper DAM and others are on their way to insiginificance. The question one has to ask: shouldn’t we rethink the term DAM, regardless how good the term DAM fits the general descirption of what we do? As David wrote and as is my perception: Image database was way easier to understand for clients than a term that does not describe in common words what the software actually does. At celum, although still very much committed to the DAM industry, we have decided to label our most capably product with exact the name that describes what actually ALL its large international clients use it for. Managing product (multi)media. So we “invented” – “product media management/PMM” – and guess what, people immediately understand what it does now. All its powerful and unique, but rather complex features, like metadata inheritance, type specific metadata, multi relations on content, even metadata on metadata and many more make immediately sense when you put a product of a global manufacturer, or a brand of a global brand in the middle.

Still if we look at let’s say CRM with all the clarity and analyst coverage, I think we as an industry should try to foster a more “client friendly” definition of our space, which could still include or even extend the term DAM.

Michael Kraeftner
Founder & CEO

David Diamond February 28, 2014 at 3:15 pm

All this time has passed and I only *now* realized that Michael posted this reply. I really like “product media management” for the reasons Michael states. The only concern I have about it as an umbrella term is that not everything related to DAM is about a product. (Or at least many DAM customers don’t see their content as being related to “products” in the commercial sense.)

Still, as I have long suspected, there are smart minds at many different DAM vendors who waste time competing for scraps when we should be spending time collaborating for our industry’s survival. Digital Asset Management’s long-term health is not a given. I rambled on about this in “Kill the Competition” (, so I won’t go into it all again here.

Still, I fear it might be too late to shift course on the term “Digital Asset Management” without further confusing the market and Google. Certainly without the industry as a whole adopting a new term we’re not going to see much change. Who, for example, is willing to give up the SERP on “Digital Asset Management” first?

Plus, when you think about it, “Customer Relationship Management” sounds to me like software I would use to schedule lunches and send candy on birthdays. Why didn’t we just call it an Electronic Address Book? I suppose that oversimplification would be akin to calling today’s DAM systems “image databases.”

It sort of reminds me of something I experienced way (way) back when I was in the music industry. When writing songs, the best ones seem to just come together quickly and without much effort. The ones you spend the most time on end up being the ones you like the least. That taught me that the best ideas are simple and the most complicated things are just in need of a better approach. And if you can’t come up with a better approach, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to begin with.

I can’t imagine a world without the functionality that DAM offers. But it’s very easy for me to imagine a world that manages its content in a very different way than we’re doing today. I guess, in my heart, I feel like we’re spending an awful lot of time trying to make this one song a hit.

(Thank you, Michael, for the very kind comments!)

David Diamond
Director of Global Marketing

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