Image Companies Struggle to Integrate Sound

Posted on 10/30/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

“Adding sounds to interactive elements in your application can be a vital part of the user experience,” says St. Louis graphic-Web-Flash-print designer Joshua Jeffryes. He thinks it is easy to skip sound, because most Web sites don’t make noise when the user interacts with them. Jeffryes points to scientific research that says people see sound, which the designer says makes sound a must for contemporary digital media: “Skipping sound creates a disconnect between how our brain expects to interact with real-world things and how it interacts with your application.”

Among others, companies including Getty Images, iStockphoto and AudioMicro are betting that the rising popularity of multimedia content that includes audio—such as music, sound effects and ambient backgrounds—will spur the growth of stock music licensing. Whether diversifying out of necessity, as has Getty, growing beyond its original market niche or launching a new business, recent events suggest that executives, entrepreneurs and even investors see much potential in stock sound.

For example, AudioMicro, a 5-months-old California startup, managed to secure venture capital despite the unforable economic climate. The company will use the funds to enhance its online store, attract new content and as working capital. AudioMicro crowd-sources and licenses royalty-free music, sound effects, audio cues and production elements. It will need to establish itself quickly, since in a matter of months it will be in direct competition with the company that invented crowd-sourcing.

Getty-owned iStockphoto had planned an audio launch this fall but recently postponed it until early 2009, citing technical difficulties—or, rather, the inability to devote the attention needed to launch a new business while its core image business continued booming. Specifically, the company said it needed to add another data center, migrate the Web site and tweak the technology of the new audio offering, which already has over 7,000 tracks by more than 500 contributors. “iStockaudio is an incredibly important piece of the world’s leading stock destination that is iStockphoto. Customers are increasingly preparing multimedia projects requiring images, videos and audio,” the company told contributors in a forum post.

Judging by Getty’s $42 million acquisition of Pump Audio and Though Equity Motion’s integration of a music offering into its footage business, demand for sound is also growing on the traditional side of stock licensing. Large businesses are increasingly reallocating marketing budgets to online promotions, while smaller businesses that could never afford primetime television networks are producing and streaming video on their Web sites. Not all such new buyers are opting for microstock, especially where music by known artists is concerned.

Yet the high-end music-licensing business remains fragmented, both as an industry and at the corporate level. Though Getty Images has integrated Pump Audio into its Web site, it has only began expanding the catalog beyond its original, entirely independent content. Though music by a couple of popular bands and artists—such as Barenaked Ladies and Usher—and soundtracks from a number of shows and big-screen films are already available, the catalog does not have anywhere near the breadth or depth of Getty’s image collection.

With the music search and content still served off, the audio licensing business does not appear to have been fully integrated into the parent company. In addition, Getty is in the process of acquiring Jupiterimages, which had previously purchased a host of small royalty-free music retailers, including Flying Hands Music,, eStockMusic, and others.

Though last December, Jupiter CEO Alan Meckler claimed that Jupitertunes, the moniker under which the company united its music properties, was the largest owner of royalty-free music in the world, it failed to accomplish very much in terms of revenue. In fact, the music offering was so insignificant as not to even warrant a mention in the statements that announced the upcoming acquisition.

As such, how, when or if Jupiter’s music products will be integrated into the Getty empire is not yet clear. What is, however, clear, is that the Getty and iStock Web sites are well on their way to becoming one-stop digital-media superstores and primary destinations for their respective customer segments.

Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


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