Next Step For Corbis Photographers

Posted on 2/12/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I’m getting a lot of requests from Corbis photographers that basically ask, “What should I do now!”

Indications are that fewer than 20% of Corbis photographers will be offered Getty contracts. The actual number may be significantly less. Knowing who will and won’t be selected may not happen quickly. Eventually, Getty may approach those with unique content that has been generating significant revenue for Corbis in the last couple of years. Small to medium size players should not expect to receive an offer.

One way to figure out if you might be approached by Getty is to look at the subject matter of your best selling Corbis images in the last few years. Then go to and do a search for the keywords that identify that subject matter. If Getty already has 500 or more images in their collection with the same keywords, even if none of them are as good as yours, you probably won’t hear from them.

In general, it seems that all Getty wanted from Corbis was the customer list. They seem to feel that they already have more than enough images to supply the needs of the Corbis customers. Since those customers no longer have the option of going to Corbis, Getty feels they will have to be satisfied with what Getty has to offer.

Getty doesn’t have the staff, nor want to spend the money, to do a careful comparison of the images in the Corbis collection to those they already have. For a long time, Getty’s strategy has been to eliminate the competition and sell at a lower price, not spend money improving the overall quality of their collection.

Even if you are lucky enough to have Getty accept your images, you need to consider if that will really be to your benefit. I recently talked to a Getty RM contributor. Two-thirds of his royalties were less than $100 per image and over one-third were for less than $25. There was a time a few years ago when lots of his sales were for more than $1,000. Now he hardly ever sees a sale of that size. Another significant producer told me that in 2007 his monthly royalty check from Getty was in the range of $30,000. Now it is in the range of $2,000.

RM contributors should also be aware that the latest rumor is that in future first time Getty buyers will only be shown Creative RF images. Customers who have used Getty previously will be shown a 50/50% RM/RF split in their search returns. This will make it less and less likely that customers will even see RM images, let alone buy them.

I recently had the opportunity to review all the 2015 sales for one of Getty’s larger RF contributors. In his case 65% of the sales were for gross fees of under $25. The top 17% of sales were for fees above $200, and the average for these sales alone was $395. But the average gross sale price for all sales was $86. And, of course, the photographer received 20% of that number. One of the things that made this overall figure so bad was that a full one-third of the year’s sales were for gross fees of $1.25 each.

This photographer did earn some other revenue from Getty because Getty licensed a significant number of uses to his images through Thinkstock. In this case the average royalty the photographer received was $0.37 and the royalty for most of the sales was $0.25. It takes a lot of sales at this price to add much to the bottom line. For this photographer the Thinkstock sales added about 8% to his overall royalties.

Corbis photographers who do not receive a Getty offer will need to either find another way to market their images, or accept that their work will no longer be in a place where it can be easily found by stock photo buyers.


The first step is to deal with your contract. It is my understanding that over 90% of Corbis photographers have exclusive contracts. It is unclear, but those contracts will probably eventually end up in the hands of Visual China Group (VCG) as VCG would need some type of authorization from the image creator to legally license the images in China. Sources indicate that there has been very little contact between VCG and Seattle since the January 22nd sale. There seems to be no rush for a transition. Things seem to be moving at glacial speed.

It appears that VCG’s major goal was to become the largest stock photo provider in China. Imaginechina has been representing Corbis. VCG’s first order of business will be to stop the licensing of Corbis images by Imaginechina. Integrating the Corbis images into their collection may not be a major issue for them because they already have the Getty collection. Now Chinese customers will be forced to come to them when they need any of the non-Chinese subject matter that Getty and Corbis have provided in the past.

It also appears that a major reason for closing the deal between VCG and Corbis when they did was Bill Gates’ concern that the Chinese stock market might collapse. That could have made the deal worth less or it might not have gone through at all. Thus, a lot of the due diligence that might have normally taken place prior to such a deal, may not have been carefully considered. Now there seems to be some confusion among the three players as to where they go from here.

Photographers who expect to move on and market their images in some other way should check the termination clause of their contract. Many contracts may have a 90-day termination clause, but that may vary from contract to contract. If you plan to terminate it would be wise to notify Corbis immediately.

At the very least a letter from the photographer should force VCG or Getty Images to clearly state their intentions.

Other Marketing Options

Considering, the declines in Corbis sales that most contributors have seen in the last few years, and the fact that Getty has been licensing images at very low prices, it is entirely possible that many Corbis photographers may be able to earn more money from their images by placing them somewhere else.

It is important to recognize that while Getty still makes significant sales many buyers are becoming increasingly distressed with the time required to search through large collections in the hope of finding something usable. Virtually any keyword search term delivers thousands more images than they have time to review.

More and more buyers are looking for carefully curated collections.

The big collections, Shutterstock, Alamy, AdobeStock, and Getty don’t really provide curation, just more images. In theory, they have developed algorithms that show some of the best selling images near the top of the search-return-order, but they also place heavy emphasis on newness.

What buyers want, and are willing to pay extra for, is a collection that has been carefully edited by experienced art directors who understand the market. They want collections that will deliver a few hundred great images with most searches, not tens-of-thousands.

More and more buyers are going to these small well curated collections first. If they don’t find something they can use they can always go wade through one of the larger collections. Often they find a useful imaged in the curated collections and that saves them time.

Here are some options that I like.

When first submitting images to these collections concentrate on a relatively small group of your best sellers. Don’t try to overwhelm them with the size of your collection. Show that you have produced, and can continue to produce, the kind of images that customers buy.

Copyright © 2016 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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