Getty to Distribute Corbis Images for New Corbis Owner

by David Walker

After limping along for years in the long shadow of arch rival Getty Images, Corbis has a new Chinese owner who will distribute Corbis content through Getty's worldwide network. The news, announced today, reflects the competitive challenges of stock photography, a once-lucrative business that has turned into a low-price, volume-driven industry.

Corbis, founded and owned by Bill Gates, has sold the assets and brands of its image division--including Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and the Veer licensing brand--to Chinese company Unity Glory. Based in China, Unity Glory is a subsidiary of Visual China Group (VCG), Getty's long-time distributor inside of China. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The deal did not include the sale of the Corbis entertainment division, which Gates has retained and will continue to operate.

Immediately following that announcement, Getty announced it had struck a deal with VCG to distribute the Corbis image collection outside of China. Getty says the deal enables it to offer what it calls an "unprecedented" collection of contemporary and historical images to its customers.

What effect, if any, the deal has on prices those customers pay for stock photographs remains to be seen. Prices for contemporary stock photographs have been driven way down in recent years by a glut of available imagery, and stiff competition from a number of suppliers, not just Getty and Corbis.

But the deal does give Getty more of a lock on historical image content, by adding the Corbis Sygma and Bettmann Archives--totaling about 50 million images-- to Getty's Hulton Archive, which has 80 million images.

For Corbis contributors, the VCG/Getty distribution deal means wider distribution, as well as a chance—but not a promise—to become contributors to Getty, according to an FAQ that Corbis sent to its contributors. Getty will be going through the Corbis files to determine which photographers it would like to represent directly, Corbis says. Corbis contributors will be notified over the next several weeks about whether they will be invited to sign contracts with Getty.

Meanwhile, those not invited to join Getty--or those who are invited but don't want to join--will continue being represented by VCG under the terms of their Corbis contracts. At VCG's discretion, those contributors may be "offered" termination, according to Corbis.

For its part, Corbis will continue to operate its entertainment business, but under a new brand name to be announced, the company says. The entertainment businesses include Branded Entertainment Network, which handles produce placement deals; Splash, an entertainment news photo service; and Greenlight, a rights clearance and representation business.


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