Corbis Acquires Westlight

Posted on 5/20/1998 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

On May 5, 1998 Corbis announced that it has acquired WestLight headquartered in Los
WestLight has a strong advertising and corporate customer base and an image collection of
more than 3 million images.

When Corbis was founded in 1989 their focus was toward the editorial side of the business.

Over the years they have acquired rights to content from some of the leading editorial
shooters, worldwide. However, so far their ability to market digital versions of these
images has been very disappointing.

Meanwhile the demand for images that could illustrate the concepts used in advertising and
brochures, for years the biggest segment of the market, has grown steadly. When

about their lack of interest in the commercial side of the business Corbis always claimed
that their primary interest was editorial and documentary photography.

In September 1997, they hired Leslie Hughes, formerly with The Image Bank, and named her
vice president and managing director of Corbis Images.

In February 1998 they acquired Digital Stock Corporation, a royalty fee marketer whose
content is strongly focused toward the advertising and graphic design community. (There
more on this move in the March issue of Selling Stock - Story 130.) Now, with the acquisition of
WestLight they have greatly strengthened their file of images that will be of interest to
advertising art directors and graphic designers.

Corbis is aggressively scanning the best selling Westlight images and expects to
have the images available on-line within the next six months. Expect to see a site that
can be reached by going to the URL, but can be accessed separately, much as the
Digital Stock offering is accessed separately now.

In six to twelve months, expect to see Craig Aurness transition out of most management
within the company. He will go back to shooting with a focus on doing editorial projects.

Craig will also serve as "Creative Consultant" for Westlight. As such he will provide
general guidance to all Westlight photographers as to the directions their shooting should
take. The question as to how specific and detailed this guidance will be remains to be
worked out.

With regards to his personal shooting, the projects that will be most interesting to him
are those that also generate imagery that has some value in the commercial (advertising,
graphic design) market. Given the resources obtained in the sale, he will be able to afford to
invest a lot in expensive productions without the necessity of seeing a quick return on
that investment.

In his Stock Photo Report Brian Seed has also reported that "At a later date he (Craig)
start an image-production company, working with photographers in new areas."

Holly Morton is currently slated to take over the day to day management of the Westlight.
Leslie Hughes at Corbis will oversee all direction/strategy for the licensing of Westlight
and Digital Stock images. Both companies are now divisions of Corbis.

I estimate that WestLight has an annual gross sales of between $6 and $8 million and is
the 6th or 7th largest stock photo agency in the U.S. in usage rights licensing business (as
distinguished from the business of selling royalty free images.)

Photographer Consultation

There has been criticism in the past that stock agencies have been sold without any
consultation with the photographers they represent. This was not the case in this

In the final phases of discussions with Corbis eight members of the Westlight
committee were invited to Seattle for a full and detailed explanation of the plans. These
photographers represented the variety of different styles of work produced by Westlight
photographers and they voted unanimously to go ahead with the sale.

One critical element in their decision was the belief that the industry is moving rapidly
toward the time when digital search and delivery will be the principal way that images are
marketed. In order to a player in this environment, huge investments of capital are

Corbis provides Westlight with the capital they need for future growth and gives them the
backup resources of a variety of levels of digital and management expertise.

While Westlight has a relatively small core of photographers, and thus a somewhat limited
ability to create new images, the indications are that Corbis and Westlight will not
attempt to greatly enlarge that core group of producers in the near future. Westlight
will consider new photographers with a niche expertise that fills a hole in their current file,
but will probably be slow to take on new people who work in the mainline production areas.

For the time being, photographer percentages will remain unchanged. This means that
Westlight photographers will continue to receive 50% of gross sales while other Corbis
photographers receive only 45%. However, Westlight photographers pay substantial fees for
promotion. It would seem likely that as the two companies are integrated, both promotion
fees charged and royalties paid photographers might be reduced.

The only remaining U.S. agencies of significant size that have not been acquired by one of
the large conglomerates are The Stock Market and Comstock.

The following is the Corbis press release giving details of the announcement.

Corbis Expands its Product Spectrum with the Purchase of Premier Commercial Stock

Corbis, the leading provider of visual content solutions on
the Internet (, today announced its intent to acquire Westlight,
home to one of the world's most extensive commercial image collections. With the
acquisition of Westlight, Corbis continues to deliver on its strategy to become the
first company to offer creative professionals and image consumers a
fully-integrated product spectrum of visual content and services.

"Westlight and Corbis are a natural fit," said Craig Aurness, president and CEO of
Westlight. "With synergies in digital innovation, image indexing, content
creation and worldwide distribution, Corbis and Westlight can now offer a wide
variety of creative solutions for their customers, as well as many new and
exciting opportunities for their photographers."

Today's announcement represents an aggressive move by Corbis to broaden its
content and customer base. The acquisition of Westlight and its more than 3 million
images, combined with Corbis' previous acquisition of the royalty-free image
provider, Digital Stock, solidifies Corbis' position as a premier provider of
commercial content to advertising, graphic design, prepress, publishing, multimedia
and Web site design markets. Moreover, both acquisitions further strengthen
Corbis' position as the leader in digital imaging by adding innovative and
complementary digital delivery systems.

"By building on our strategy to expand our product offerings and their reach to a
broader range of image customers, Corbis is further strengthening its position as
the single source for digital image solutions," said Leslie Hughes, vice
president and managing director of Corbis Images. "Adding Westlight, including its
talented staff, leading photographers and vast collection of quality images to the
Corbis family, increases our ability to better serve our growing customer base.
Whether images are used for graphic design, advertising, prepress, publishing
and/or multimedia applications, Corbis has the products, prices and services
customers are looking for."

Corbis is home to the world's largest digital image collection, with over 1.3
million images currently available online with access now to more than 23 million
total images. Content categories include news, celebrity, contemporary stock and
editorial collections, premium and fine art collections, and both royalty-free and
rights-managed commercial stock images. As part of the agreement, Westlight becomes
an operating division of Corbis' image-licensing business -- Corbis Images
-- and will continue its current operation in Los Angeles.

Corbis is the first company to recognize the potential of digital imagery and is
making significant advances in imaging technologies, digital cataloging systems,
sophisticated image archiving and storage systems, and Internet-based search,
retrieval and transactional capabilities. Corbis develops and deploys products and
services for professional image users that make it faster and easier for those
customers to locate, license and purchase visual content for their needs.

About Corbis

Corbis provides visual content and services to creative professionals and
image consumers through innovative digital technologies. Through the combination of
world-class photographic images and state-of-the-art technologies, Corbis
creates new and compelling ways for its customers to view, experience and buy

The Corbis Collection, with more than 1.3 million high-quality digital images,
contains the world's most significant collections of photography. Comprised of
hundreds of leading creative sources, the Corbis Collection includes the work of
photographers and artists such as Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, David and Peter
Turnley, The Bettmann Collection, Lynn Goldsmith, Roger Ressmeyer and works from
the National Gallery in London and the State Hermitage. Founded in 1989, Corbis
continues to set industry standards in imaging technologies; digital image
cataloging, archiving, search and retrieval; and the protection of
intellectual property rights in the digital age. Corbis is based in Seattle,
with offices in New York, London and San Diego. For more information about Corbis
and its products and services, visit its Web site at

About Westlight

Westlight has been at the forefront of creating the finest stock photography for
over 20 years. Founded in 1978 by former National Geographic photographer, Craig
Aurness, Westlight provides creative solutions to image-buying professionals.
With over 3 million images from some of the world's best-known professional
photographers, Westlight has produced many innovative products, including
"Backgrounds for Advertising," "Textures," "Get Real," "Pacific Rim Stock" and
"Silhouette Solutions," as well as designed the largest single source of
professional images on CD-ROM. Known as "Creative Freedom," the CD-ROM not only
contains thousands of images but also employs some of the most sophisticated
search techniques in the industry.

Copyright © 1998 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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