The quest for a good media asset management system

The quest for a good media asset management system


Summary: this article is based on David Gewirtz (ZDNET) unsuccessful search for a comprehensive, powerful, fast, and flexible media asset management system. 

When Mr. Gewirtz set out to find a digital asset management program that would suit his requirements, he eventually gave up in frustration: “Over the past two weeks I have continually lowered my requirement set, reduced my "must haves," given up on my "like to haves," to the point where there's nothing left, not really.”

David is a guy who has tested many image management software products mainly for putting images into his PowerPoint presentations.

He found that some software could handle bitmap-based images, mainly photographs (JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, RAW, etc.), and others would be good at vector-based images, graphics and illustrations (EPS, AI).

Mr. Gewirtz has thousands of images, both bitmap and vector. Some of the photos he shot himself, others are stock images. He purchased and modified most of the vector images in Illustrator and Photoshop for his presentations. Finding the right image for David’s tasks was out of control. It could take an hour to locate a suitable file in his image library, even though he had it organized in folders and could view his images with thumbnails. Instead, David wanted to “search by keyword, review images quickly, search across collections, choose based on metadata, file type, and more.” He wanted an image organizer that could handle bitmap and vector images.

David’s specs were rudimentary:

  • "I wanted to have a database-based organizer, so that searches would be fast and all the files wouldn't have to be scanned for each search."
  • "I wanted that database to hold all my media asset files (both vector and bitmap)."
  • "And I wanted that system to allow relatively easy drag-and-drop from the desktop to the application so I could get content in and out of the system while composing presentations, without losing track of the flow of the actual lesson I was preparing."

“Oh, and it would be nice to have this on a network, so I could easily do my work either at my desk or on my laptop.”

One might think that this should be straight forward. There is nothing in David’s requirements that should not be covered by the most rudimentary photo organizer. Yet, they cannot handle vector image files.

David is frustrated about the “enterprise-level” products in the Digital Asset Management world also:

“There is a category called "Digital Asset Management" out there as well. These are enterprise-level products, often Web-based. You can begin to tell they'll be trouble because there's no price for the product on the site. Almost all providers of DAM tools have a "let us have an expert call you" button.”

The lack of price transparency is something that we at Onison do not comprehend either. We have provided enterprise-level branding solutions, including Digital Asset Management for over 15 years, and we have never understood the ‘expert’ buttons. Should photo organizers for bitmap images and vector graphics not be simple and straight forward? True, when it comes to global, cross-cultural media asset initiatives, the structural complexity of an organization appears daunting. However, organizing the files is not, even through multiple layers of groups, teams, divisions, companies, or entire logistic chains. It is not complicated because there is always only one file. This single file might get metadata in different languages, it might be modified and masked for different cultures, and it might have copyright restrictions that prevent it from being used in certain countries, for example. Yet, the single original file remains one file even if hundreds of modified files relate to it. How much of an expert do you really need to make a file available to the correct people around the globe at the right time within the parameters of the copyright restrictions? The answer is shockingly simple: there is only one expert for your images, and that is you. In other words, a media asset management has to be flexible enough to do what you want it to do whether it is for a small company with a few original files or a very large, global organization with millions of files. Each of these files has its own expert that is attached to it, and it is this expert that needs to know what the file is supposed to do. The problem with having a lot of files is that these experts get lost and with them, the knowledge of what to do with the files is absent. If said knowledge is stored in the so called metadata of the images in the Media Asset Management System, it never gets lost.

We at Onison hear a lot about the requirement of having to upload multiple formats and file types and having to render thumbnails for these files, something that David found lacking in many of the media management systems that he had tested. A photo manager or a media asset management that does not procure such derivative file types and thumbnails automatically is simply not up to par. These are among the most rudimentary functions of such systems: store an original file, whether it is a bitmap, a vector image, a video, a pdf, or an office file, procure the necessary derivatives, and make the files retrievable through powerful search features that are supported with metadata, geo-data, marketing data, etc.

Instead of sticking with or raising his expectations, David resorted to lowering them. He would create a place for his bitmap photos and another for his vector images. He was surprised to find photo editing tools in photo organizers such as Picasa (bitmaps only), Lightroom (does not recognize PNGs), and others. Professionals edit their photos professionally. Thus, these tools clearly cater to the photo snapping masses that want red eye correction in otherwise incorrectly exposed photographs for their social media exposure. 

David said: “I have a lot of licensed images I'm allowed to use in my own works, but not that I'm allowed to publish as standalone images. I didn't want Picasa to just upload all my files, willy-nilly. […]

“With one or two exceptions, the database catalog in these systems resides on your local system. This is a single-user application, and if you try to move the database somewhere else, there's no end of complaining on the part of the application.”

So David went and got himself an image converter because these systems just could not do what he wanted. Yet, at Onison we are surprised that David even ran into such problems. It is the job of a Media Asset Management to provide the file type that the user needs, in particular across bitmap and vector images or transparent imagery.

Instead, David ran into deeper frustrations: “Can you see where this is going? Lightroom couldn't read the TIFFs produced by the conversion programs, although Photoshop could. But if I couldn't organize them in Lightroom, then I pretty much couldn't use Lightroom. And yes, I could convert the PNG images to transparent TIFFs in Photoshop, but even with some of Photoshop's batch settings, my desire to save time managing images was rapidly becoming a second full-time job.

“And I haven't even talked about the curation process required to assign appropriate keywords, and so forth. We're not even there yet. That's another nightmare and lifetime of organizing, all on its own.

“Lightroom can't organize vectors, won't read PNGs, and won't understand converted transparent TIFFs. Bridge takes a lifetime to scan large directories of images (which is the whole point) and won't display transparent PNGs as transparent. The other photo organizers break in similar ways, and won't display vectors.

“Worse, the curation process — trying to sort out, label, and keyword thousands upon thousands of images — is a job for a team of people over six months, not one lone professor working in the comfort of his home office.

“I have to say that it astonishes me that there isn't a widely available solution to this. I'm flabbergasted (love that word!) that Adobe doesn't have just the perfect solution to this problem (beyond the somewhat anemic Bridge) because solving this sort of image management problem is at the heart of what Adobe does.

“I'm also disappointed in the Web-based and enterprise-based solutions.

“First, the barrier of entry is huge. There appears to be a disconnect between the needs of a professional designer with thousands of images and a large corporation buying an enterprise package.

“Second, most of the Web gallery and enterprise solutions still use relatively primitive upload dialogs and download buttons. There are very few solutions that will let you drag from a Web page into a desktop application, or to the desktop, and do it for a bunch of images, and those that do also seem to think the only type of image that exists is based on bitmaps.”

Thus, David was left stranded, not knowing that there are professional solutions to exactly his problems, and Onison delivers on every one of his concerns and goes much further. David has not even touched on the difficulties with adding and streaming videos or sharing and selling his images through his different channels. True, David has looked at some free tools for the wider public. We at Onison do not understand why a professional would do that other than for curiosity whether these tools might be catching up to the enterprise world. Onison’s tools are very affordable, but they are not free. They cater to people like David that need a professional tool to organize their images, videos, and files of any kind and make them easily retrievable throughout his various channels, not the least for his powerpoint presentations.

David Gewirtz’s original article can be found at


More info

The complete suite of Single Source for Brand Management.


The Company

Onison Corporation is a leading global provider of branding tools that assist companies to manage their digital assets and contents for various media outputs.

Products & Services

Onison's scalable enterprise brand management platform provides a smart approach to manage brand and marketing workflows.

ImageDirector Media Asset Management
Preeon Web-to-Print Publisher
Automatic Catalogue Production
Product Information Management

We are available 365/24/7 with a primary goal to ensure that our customers utilize their applications to their full potential.

+41 44 585 36 63

North America:
+1 604 681 4191
ⒸCopyright Onison Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
brilliance in simplicity