Blend Images To Close Operations

Posted on 4/13/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Blend Image, at one time the leading stock photo production company in North America, has announced to its image creators that it is “winding down” operations, “trying to negotiate deals that might provide members with the option to move their content without having to resubmit it,” and making plans to otherwise return content  by October 2018.

Blend was founded in about 2004 when a group of about 20 “founding partners” decided to join together and create a company that was focused on the production of high quality stock images. Rather than dealing with the marketing of those images through a company owned website they decided to rely on image distribution companies around the world to handle the marketing and licensing of the the images for them. At one point, I was told that there were more than 150 distributors of Blend Images around the world.

Rick Becker-Leckrone was the motivating force behind putting the founding group together and named CEO. In October Leckrone resigned, In November Blend stopped accepting new footage submissions and in March they stopped accepting new still image submissions.      

Among the initial producers including Becker-Leckrone were Jack Hollingsworth, John Feingersh, Tom Grill, Jose Luis Pelaez, Stewart Cohen, Jonathan Ross, John Lund, Walter Hodges, Trinette Reed, Colin Anderson, Terry Vine and Ariel Skelley (apologies to those I have forgotten to include). These photographers were among the most skilled and successful stock producers of the time.

In the intervening years, and particularly since 2008, the industry has changed dramatically. There has been a huge influx of new imagery. Usage fees have dropped dramatically. Some of the founders are earning less than 10% annually of what they earned a decade ago. In the early years Blend photographers tended to invest whatever it took in time, effort and actual revenue to produce images of the highest quality with the best models, best props, best sets and best locations. Given current usage fees, it is no longer possible to spend anything near what they used to spend on production and realize a profit from their efforts.

Now, the focus of most stock producers is to focus on subjects that are easily at hand, and keep costs as low as possible. In 2004 many photographers were able to earn a reasonable living devoting their full time efforts to producing stock images. Now that is very rare and almost impossible. Most photographers produce stock images as a part-time, sideline business and depend on some other activity as a means of support.

Why Closing Down Completely

What is hard to understand is why the Blend managers have chosen to completely close down the operation. It appears that no other organization wants to buy Blend, or even take over the operation of the company if it were made available at no cost.

It appears the current last hope is Getty Images, but would that really be in anyone’s best interest?

I don’t know the number of images in the Blend collection, but it is certainly in the hundreds of thousands. Those images are already in many distributor collections. The number of distributors is certainly many fewer than 150 because many companies have consolidated or gone out of business in the last few years, but there are still a number of companies regularly licensing rights to Blend images.

Getty is certainly the largest single generator of cash for Blend. Photographers I have talked to estimate that 50% of Blend revenue may come from Getty and the other half from all the other distributors combined. If something near that is the case, then it would seem that it might be advantageous to the image creators to keep the revenue from those other distributors flowing.
Certainly, Getty is licensing images for the lowest prices of any of the other distributors. The “other distributors” may not make as many sales, but the average price per image licensed is likely to be higher.

If Getty were to take over, based on past history (look at the recent Corbis acquisition), the first thing they would do is tell all the other distributors to stop licensing Blend images. Getty would hope to force customers to come to to get the images they need.

Past history indicates that when Getty takes over a company the images from that company never generate the same volume of revenue as they were generating before Getty took over. Either the customers don’t come to Getty, or when they do they find different images. When Getty sells at lower prices the revenue generated for the image creator is lower.

In addition, Getty will want all the photographers to sign new contracts, probably at lower royalty rates. They will cherry pick the photographers they want to keep. Many are likely not to be offered contracts (as was the case with Corbis).

One advantage for the images owner of keeping the existing company operating would certainly be that they wouldn’t have to deal with the costly hassle of re-submitting their images to someone else in order to try to generate some future additional revenue. The images may not earn much in the future, but going to an additional expense to try to insure those future earning doesn’t seem like a good bet.    

Another Alternative

One would think that a better strategy might be to cut Blend operating expenses to the bone, leave all the images where they are and let each one earn some money as long as possible. Since the distributors are handling all the sales operations the only thing Blend has to do is cash the checks when the distributors send royalty statement, and distribute the royalty shares to the individual creators.

Assuming the process is somewhat computerized, this could be handled be a single person working out of a home office. The required time might even be so minimal that the person could also engage in some other part time work. In this way the images could continue to create a stream of revenue for their creators.

I believe Blend has exclusive contracts for the images it represents with the individual creators. I would suggest that they convert each of these contracts to non-exclusive so the individual creators, if they choose, could also market those images independently through other sources.

The only exception would be for images that have been previously licensed to a user for exclusive use. This should be a very small number of images.

In today’s market requests for exclusive rights to use an image are very rare. In the event that a customer requests exclusive rights to use an image, the distributor can check with Blend to see if that right can be granted (as the distributor would have had to do before because the same images were with multiple distributors). Blend can then check with the photographer. Or, going forward the distributors could simply assume that while Blend images can be licensed for non-exclusive use they can never be licensed for an exclusive use.    

In many cases older images that haven’t been selling might find new life if they were placed in a different agency, on a non-exclusive basis, and allowed to stay near the top of the search return order for a while. Much of the older high production quality content will still sell if it can just get near the top of the search return order where it can be seen. It would be up each photographer individually as to whether they would like to spend their own time to test this theory, but no one is producing much of this type of content anymore because no producer can justify the expense. Nevertheless, there are still a few customers who need it.

Thus, for the vast majority of images the creator would have the opportunity to continue to receive royalties from any licensing by current distributors of the creator’s images. In addition, if the creator chooses, he or she can license the same images to customers directly or place them with any other licensing distributor.

The Blend share of the monies paid to them by distributors would now likely far exceed the costs of operating the payment system and the company. Once annually, after costs were covered, I would take the remaining profits and distribute them proportionally to each creator who had licensed an image during the year based on the percentage of total royalties paid out to that creator during the year. In this way those who produced the most in demand images during the year would received an additional share of the profits of the company.

The time may have passed when Blend can continue to grow, but there is no reason to give up a small amount of additional future revenue that images already produced and placed in the market might generate.

Copyright © 2018 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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