Finding The Right Distributors

Posted on 7/29/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

While finding distributors for one's production has always been a key aspect of the CEPIC Congress, there was a greater sense of urgency this year. One producer, Alex Mares-Manton of Asia Images, reported that in two-and-one-half days at CEPIC he was able to sign contracts with 14 distributors and complete handshake deals with 46 others to represent his new RM collection MindBodySoul (

However, the real question for producers is not how many different companies can represent your work, but how much additional revenue will it bring to the table?  Production companies say that many of the smaller agencies/distributors contribute little to their overall revenue.

In the last few years, there have been an explosion of production companies that aim to produce 5,000 to 15,000 new, top quality images a year. Most make little effort to license rights directly to consumers and rely almost totally on a network of distributors to deal with the customers. These companies supply up-to-date, carefully edited material with few duplications that meet all the distributor's quality control and keyword standards. Such operations reduce the distributor's overall costs.

In some cases, all a production company needs to sign new distributors is a representative sample of the high-quality images it intends to produce, not by having 5,000 or more recently produced images ready to deliver. (Increasingly production companies are not producing the quantity of new imagery they anticipated.  Sources indicate that the vast majority of Getty's third-party suppliers failed to meet their quotas in 2007.)

Who Are The Top Distributors?

It is generally believed there are about 375 companies worldwide that distribute the production of other stock photography companies. A huge percentage of these companies generate relatively little revenue for their suppliers.

There seems to be general agreement that the four major distributors combined - Getty, Corbis, Veer and Jupiterimages - generate in excess of 50% of total stock photo revenue, worldwide. Getty, Corbis and sometimes Jupiter are competitive enough to demand that a production company only use one of them. Rarely, if ever, will you find the same production company represented by both Getty and Corbis.

Of the remaining 50% (or less) of industry sales, 80% are licensed by less than 25 distributors. Included in this group are: amana, Masterfile, Inmagine (Houston), Photolibrary, Alamy, Mauritius, Matton Images (Stockholm), ANP (the Netherlands), Photononstop, (France), Scanpix (Scandinavia), Aflo (Japan), Panorama Media (China), Topic (Korea), Media Bakery, Superstock, Datacraft (Japan) and TIPS (Italy).

There is also general agreement that there may be as many as 50 middle-level distributors whose combined sales represent 7% to 8% of the remaining industry total. In this group, there are some distributors that do well for suppliers in their niche, but usually are not very productive for producers with general collections.

That leaves about 300 companies to share something in the range of 2% or 3% of total worldwide stock revenue. For many producers, supplying these distributors is of marginal value, at best. Some production companies with images at a large number of distributors are thinking of reducing the number they supply because the revenue generated isn't worth the effort. The problem is determining, prior to signing a contract, which images are likely to generate sales.

The wire services, Associated Press, Reuters, and DPA Photo in Germany, make a lot of stock sales but usually don't represent the work of other production companies. Most of their production is wholly owned. However, AP does represent some commercial agency work.

Finally, the microstock companies, iStockphoto and Shutterstock, are large generators of revenue, but only deal with individuals. They don't represent the work of production companies with a team of photographers. Fotolia is an exception. While primarily a microstock company, it also represent imagery, priced at midstock levels, that is supplied by third-party production companies.

Copyright © 2008 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 301-251-0720, 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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