The New York Times on Corbis and the Future of the Stock Photography Market

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[I am CEO of Zooomr, we are building an online stock photography company]

A Photo Trove, a Mounting Challenge – New York Times

“More interesting and innovative things are happening on the pages of Flickr these days than on Corbis and Getty,” said Mr. Shenk, referring to the photo-sharing site owned by Yahoo. “If we can use this type of opportunity to find the next great group of Corbis photographers, that also makes it a great opportunity for us.”
— Gary Shenk, President, Corbis

The New York Times is out with an interesting article on the state of the stock photography business. The article mostly revolves around Corbis’ plans for the business and features Corbis’ President (and soon to be added CEO title) Gary Shenk.

Corbis is 100% owned by Bill Gates and has an impressive collection of over 100 million images, including some of the most famous and historically significant images in existence. Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, all sit in Corbis’ impressive collection.

Corbis added significantly to their library when in 1995 they purchased the Bettmann archive. The Bettmann Archive was actually the result of a number of different collections coming together and features some of the world’s most significant historical photos. According to Corbis, some of the images in the library are over 100 years old. PBS did a great article on the Bettmann archive and on Bill Gates’ and Corbis’ role in acquiring it, digitizing it and preserving it in 2004.

Getty and iStockphoto are also mentioned in the article as well as Corbis’ own plans to announce their entry into the microstock business, “sometime this quarter,” according to Shenk and the Times.

Barbara Coffey, of Kaufman Brothers (a Wall Street research firm) is quoted in the article about the future of the microstock business,

“Think about how visual the world is,” said Barbara Coffey, a senior research analyst at Kaufman Brothers in New York who follows the stock photography market. “We have pictures on our cellphones. If I can get a reasonably clear picture and the rights are cleared and I pay $2 for it, then why would I pay Corbis $200?”

But this is only part of the future of the stock photography business. The bigger part is the gap between the roughly $250 per image average that Corbis sells their royalty free images for today and the microstock business. Because here is where the most potential exists.

Although some of top advanced amateurs on places like Flickr and Zooomr are selling their work through microstock agencies right now, many of the very best also are not. Conceptually it’s hard to sell a piece of art that is great for $1 for many people, and rightly so. Much of the best of the advanced amateur art at places like Flickr and Zooomr is every bit as good as what the top Pros are shooting for Corbis and Getty.

And this is why at Zooomr we are working on a platform to allow these advanced amateurs access to the “big boys” stock photography market. We believe that when the world has access to the freshest, cutting edge, interesting and innovative work that is being created in a rights cleared way that this will in turn make the world of photography a better and more beautiful place.

The Corbis and the Getty’s of the world indeed have some of the most amazing and historically important photos that have been shot in the past 100 years. But as we are fond of saying at Zooomr, the best photographs in the world have yet to be taken.

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0 comments on “The New York Times on Corbis and the Future of the Stock Photography Market
  1. John Rav says:

    I saw this article earlier and figured you would post it. Good read, I had forgotten Bill’s little investment in buying Corbis.

    Question on Zooomr and this topic. Since you have spilled the beans on the new feature of being able to sell stock photos through Zooomr MkIII, any chance we can get a run down of how it will work, how our photo’s will need to be identified. If there will be a ‘wanted list’ available. i.e. more information on how this will work. many thanks

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Question on Zooomr and this topic. Since you have spilled the beans on the new feature of being able to sell stock photos through Zooomr MkIII, any chance we can get a run down of how it will work, how our photo’s will need to be identified. If there will be a ‘wanted list’ available. i.e. more information on how this will work. many thanks

    Hopefully we will have more details on this out in the future. At it’s most basic level we are committed to allowing photographer’s set the pricing on their images and paying them as large a percentage as we can and still operate (at present we plan on paying them 90% of the proceeds from sales).

    We will need individuals to upload as large size original versions of their photos as possible and will have an option in the future whereby they can limit the size of the display for public consumption. This will allow users to lock up or not lock up their large size images.

    We will have a social search based algorithm that will help bring the most awesome photos to the top of the view for potential buyers.

    In terms of an images wanted section. My own vision is that we share with our users the aggregate search data of marketers to help them get a sense for what is being looked for when we get there.

  3. Steelsun says:

    We will need individuals to upload as large size original versions of their photos as possible and will have an option in the future whereby they can limit the size of the display for public consumption. This will allow users to lock up or not lock up their large size images.

    This is paramount for this to work, IMHO. Right now I refuse to upload anything bigger than 800pix on it’s largest side just because I cannot control who will download and use an image without permission.
    If you get this to work, I am sure you’ll start getting megasize images from me as well as countless others.

    I eagerly await.

  4. Julien says:


    This is paramount for this to work, IMHO. Right now I refuse to upload anything bigger than 800pix on it’s largest side just because I cannot control who will download and use an image without permission.

    Indeed. That’s a key feature and I think it will bring more people and quality photos to zooomr.

    Good thing we have unlimited storage…!