570 IS CORBIS HEADED FOR AN IPO??
August 1, 2003
According to the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) followers of Corbis believe a
public offering may be in the planning stages.
Jennifer Hurshell, the company's new senior vice president of global communications and
corporate strategy said, "We haven't ruled out categorically diversifying ownership,
but we have no plans at this time."
In April, Corbis held a group meeting with more than a dozen financial analysts in New
York to brief them on the company and they are actively seekng a new chief financial
officer with public-company experience. They are also looking for senior staff with
international publishing or ad-agency experience. Jonathan Klein of Getty Images says,
"Investors I've spoken with think you don't do these things unless you're on a 12 to 18
month runway of going public."
According to the PSBJ Corbis sales fell 6% to $128 million in 2001 and the company
maintained this level of sales in 2002. Michael Croan of Corbis Public Relations said,
"As a private company, Corbis does not release revenue figures. What I can tell you is
that our revenues are well above $100 million and we have been experiencing double
digit growth, even through a down market."
Another surprising comment in the PSBJ story is that Davis said a decision was made
last fall, with Bill Gates' input, to forgo immediate profits in favor of further
investments in infrastructure and personnel to pursue a new business strategy. "We are
moving farther away from being just an online picture library," Davis said.
This new business strategy combines online-shopping convenience with personalized
service. Michael Croan said, "Our services extend well beyond imagery into the realm of
third party rights clearances and the management of digital rights and assets.
Personalized service has always been part of the Corbis strategy. In recent years we
have expanded the range of services that we now offer to our client."
According to PSBJ, a Corbis survey of 300 advertising and news-industry customers in
the fall of 2002 pointed the company in the direction of providing more hands-on
service. Customers that receive more hands-on help end up buying more images.
This new business strategy has required some adjustment in staffing distribution. While
some management-level positions have been eliminated, there have also been a number of
important new-hires to support the strategy. Among new hires is Gary Shenk, formerly of
Universal Studios, who will head the rights and clearances department. More top
management announcements are expected soon, according to Hurshell.
Davis was quoted in the PSBJ as saying, "We're looking at ways to accelerate our
growth, and then we'll make hard decisions to trim staff as appropriate, in order to
ensure profitability. We've got to get more productive as a company, but we know the
approach we're taking, with more services, will require a different staff level."
While such high-touch service helps grow sales, providing it comes at a cost in
overhead. Corbis has about 900 employees worldwide compared to Getty's 1700. That means
that proportionate to sales Corbis has roughly twice the staffing level of Getty
Images. Some insiders question whether it is possible to generate profits in this
industry with such high staff costs.
Industry insiders also ask how this "new business strategy" differs from what The Stock
Market was offering when Corbis acquired them. Many observers believe that one of the
hallmarks of the TSM operation was knowledge of their customer's needs and hands-on
personal service. They say that after the acquisition Corbis' initial push was in the
direction of a site where there was less need for "personal service" because it was
simple for customers to do their own research. The theory at that time was that
technology would reduce the need for people and save money. During the integration many
of those at TSM who had developed personal relationships with their customers moved on
to other opportunities and are no longer part of the Corbis family.
Michael Croan said, "The TSM legacy is a valued part of Corbis culture, but your
comparison is quite a stretch. First of all, the collection is so much more
comprehensive than TSM's ever was, which has huge implications in terms of meeting the
needs of the largest global image customers. Secondly, Corbis services go far beyond
what TSM ever had, both in depth and scope [rights clearances, asset management, global
research expertise, etc.].
"In short, our customers have access to world-class imagery covering every imaginable
subject and style, as well as a suite of consultative services that are powered by
people, empowered by technology. The payoff is the relationships we now enjoy with some
of the biggest global image clients in the worlds - a claim that TSM, for all of its
strengths, could not make. In fact, it differentiates us not only from TSM, but from
any other model-past or present."