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Through some detective work, Rogers eventually tracked them down to a warehouse in Charlotte, N.C. He remembers an old security guard leading him to a forgotten closet, where they had been unceremoniously buried under piles of junk. "They were down on the floor," he said. "The boxes were water-damaged, and on top of them were coats, phonebooks, coats, phonebooks. It was like an archeological dig. He said they did a coat drive every year, and it was literally four years worth: coats and phonebooks, with the negatives at the bottom."
Those negatives, Rogers said, have since been appraised at $18 million dollars.
At a former daycare center on Poplar Street in North Little Rock, Rogers' crews work around the clock in rooms that still bear crude, colorful murals of trees and smiling kids. There, using a "trade secret" formula that won't damage the photo emulsion, Rogers' employees carefully remove the editors' marks from the images, then scan them front and back. The archive currently employs over 300 people worldwide, including 120 in North Little Rock and Memphis, and another 200-plus in India, where they have photo tagging operations in Bangalore and Calcutta. Though Rogers said he has "caught some heat from critics" who say he's outsourcing jobs, he said that if they weren't doing the photo tagging overseas to help defray costs, the business model couldn't exist.
The building on Poplar Street is literally stuffed with photos, with every available surface covered with loose photos or boxes containing images waiting to be sorted and scanned. That's in addition to the large rooms full of towering shelves, each shelf packed with file folders, each folder packed with categorized images: Harry Truman, Dizzy Gillespie, Rosa Parks, Bill Clinton, the shootings at Kent State, Vietnam, D-Day, a million other moments, standing still forever. This is what the 20th Century in America looks like when you put the whole of it in one place.
Rogers' business model in purchasing newspaper archives has changed somewhat in the past few years. "The old days of us cutting large checks, we don't do that much anymore," he said. "Because our services have improved so much, we give them millions in services for free, we take physical possession of the prints, which we sell in the collectibles world and we keep that 100 percent. We pay for all the digital costs, and then we represent that content [with the papers] on a 50/50 revenue basis."
The business is still growing as well. With the help of North Little Rock businessman Mac Hogan and Dr. Christopher Cathey, Rogers started a new company called Rogers Partners, which has struck a deal with the McClatchy Company newspaper chain to eventually scan the photo archives of every paper they own. They've started work on the first batch of McClatchy papers, including the Kansas City Star, The Wichita Daily Eagle, and the Charlotte Observer, and will have scanned and tagged somewhere between 10 and 12 million images by the time they're done. The deal with McClatchy is a bit different as well. The Rogers Archives won't own the negatives in that case, but will have an exclusive agreement to license content from the McClatchy materials.
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