The End of The ‘Roy of The Rovers Era’ In The DAM Software Market

This feature article has been contributed by DAM News Editor, Ralph Windsor.


Over the last year or so, the level of interest shown in Digital Asset Management software by investor interests (of one sort or another) appears to have increased quite significantly.  I now get calls and connection requests on a weekly basis from representatives of these firms eager to find out more about it.  Many vendors frequently tell me their experience is the same.  The on-going Covid crisis has not yet subdued demand for DAM, although the seller’s market for DAM software equity might be about to reach its zenith as we head into 2021.

Simultaneous with this trend has been the rise of Digital Asset Supply Chains where end-users want to connect their DAMs with an ever wider array of distribution channels, or to streamline ingestion of upstream digital media.  Where once a DAM system was regarded as some obscure niche piece of technology for production houses, archivists and a smattering of corporate photo or video librarians, now it is usually deemed an essential purchase, comparable with something like an accounting or ERP system.

Encouraging though all these developments are, they have occurred despite the DAM industry rather than because of it.  Vendors have ambition, but lack expertise or awareness of how to properly scale up.  There are numerous reasons for this, but one that seems most prevalent is what I would term the ‘Roy of the Rovers’ mentality that persists in the management of many DAM vendors.  In the remainder of this article, I will explain what this is, what the implications are and how the situation might have begun to change.

Who Is Roy of The Rovers And What Has He Got To Do With DAM?

I realise that my analogy of choice to describe the DAM market may not be straightforward for all readers to comprehend, however, I believe that once I have given some background to my reasoning, all should become clear.

Roy of The Rovers was an English football (as in ‘soccer’) themed comic that was in-print from the mid-1970s until the early-mid 1990s.  While I don’t believe the racial stereotyping, casual xenophobia and explicit sexism exhibited in many of the plot-lines (a feature of many British comics from this era) have ever been especially common in Digital Asset Management, there are certainly some other similarities.

One of the defining characteristics of many of the plot lines was the multiple talents of the protagonist, Roy Pace.  My recollection was that Roy was the centre forward, captain, player-manager and (at various times) even chairman of his team, Melchester Rovers, which he was fiercely loyal to for his entire career.  The other recurring theme was the way in which the plucky underdogs (typically Roy’s own side) would defeat the arrogant, complacent and wealthier favourite.

Both of these attributes bear a lot of similarities with the DAM software industry up until around three or four years ago.  I deal with a lot of DAM vendors as a result of working with consulting clients and this has provided me with an opportunity to observe some common themes.  One of which is that the principal of the firm is quite frequently the designer and developer of at least the original edition of their flagship DAM product.  Even if they are not still writing code (and more than a few are) they are probably still intimately involved in the finer details of the design and development work.

When I am asked to review well DAM products, as well as the more familiar brand names, there is at least one dark horse vendor who is less well-known than their peers.  Often they have a superior core product, a price point which is better value and a less entitled attitude towards securing the client’s business (which translates to greater flexibility and willingness to go the extra mile).

The better-known DAM vendors may claim they have ‘leading’ status (or some other grandiose adjective) but in reality, none controls more than a small fraction of the market.  DAM selection exercises very often have plots which are more like something out of Roy of The Rovers.  While the better-known vendor brands have larger numbers of clients, this does not preclude them from metaphorically getting kicked round the pitch by some fairly obscure competition on a more frequent basis than they would care to admit.  This factor is one of the major reasons why the Digital Asset Management software market is so fragmented.

The New Era

It’s intriguing to note that Roy of the Rovers ceased regular publication in 1995 and had been in some decline since 1993.  This coincided with the advent of the English Premiere League in 1992 which saw a considerable increase in the amount of money from TV deals, foreign owners of clubs etc.  With the money came increased professionalism and modern business practices.

I believe the same process is now playing out in DAM.  There is a lot more money flowing into the industry than at any time in its past.  Even though a number of vendors who have third party capital invested into them have still contrived to spend it injudiciously on multiple occasions, some are (finally) beginning to get their act together.

Many of the more recent client DAM requirements that I have been asked to review now ask for multiple integrations.  Rather than four or five, it is now of the order of eleven or twelve.  Further, some of the integration is complex and flows upstream and downstream through the digital asset supply chain.  Several vendors I have approached are unable to support the required range of counterparty integrations that an increasing number of clients now deem mandatory to be invited to pitch for their business.

Simultaneously, the trends in core platforms are towards API-First implementations, microservices architectures and use of third party Platform as a Services (PaaS) providers.  Partner networks and channel ecosystems have transformed from being advantageous to essential.  While I am sure vendors will still do implementations themselves, many will simply not have the manpower.

One critical point missed about scalability in Digital Asset Management is that it isn’t the number of assets that is the important variable, but more the number of users and the ability to cope with lots of a wide range of integrations.

Smarter vendors understand that they will have to choose their battles with great care to scale efficiently and meet their clients’ needs.  The notion that they can do everything in-house is disappearing fast (and I would argue it always was illusory).  As a result of the Covid crisis, there is undoubtedly going to be less cash available for just about everything in 2021, that will include DAM systems.  This will make it even more essential that DAM vendors become more professional and structured in their approach.

For end-users this might not appear to matter a great deal, however, if the vendor they choose to partner with to provide the software for their DAM initiative lacks the required mindset to scale their integration and implementation capabilities, they too will find their own ambitions limited.  For their own benefit and those of their customers, the principals of many DAM vendors will have to decide what their role is and where they can be most effective.  It may now be time for them to hang up their boots once and for all.

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  • LOL, I knew a “Roy”… perhaps the archetypal “Roy” of the DAM space has to be Jason Bright (though perhaps the Xinet dude was similar). I learned a ton working with Jason, an exceptional genius and pioneer who could do it all. But at some point when an organization grows, “doing it all” becomes impossible. You would find industry analysts complaining that implementations “would require the CTO himself to be successful.” Jason got harder and harder to reach. At one point it reached the point where his clients would call me, trying to track down Jason. Then I got the news… he finally sold the company. When I next saw him, and every time since, he looked remarkably healthy, like a plant that had gotten water. It takes its toll to be manager, programmer, marketer, and director of sales. Companies just can’t scale infinitely without delegation, specialization, and teamwork. Yet it is stunning what some of the Roys accomplished. Vision is key, and often a strong vision from a single person is very powerful. Scaling a company means having a shared vision: the risks the larger software companies face include death by committee-driven product design, death by middle management, and product fragmentation. A “Roy” can be fantastic for starting a DAM, but scaling will inevitably require a different model.

  • You make some good points, Max. Jason Bright would be one of the people I had in mind as a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ type in DAM, there are a lot more. As you say, in the early stages you need these kind of people, but later they can become a hindrance to growth.

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