Out of Focus: Corbis Digital File Policy

Posted on 12/20/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Corbis' decision to remove huge numbers of images from its collection makes its database easier to navigate. But the company's unwillingness to return digital files to photographers, shows little concern for image creators.

Just because images have never sold at Corbis does not mean they would be un-alable in a different database. Being at the bottom of the search order may explain a lack of sales. There's ample reason to reduce inventory,  but if these same images were higher up on other sites they might generate revenue for the photographer.

When Bill Gates established Corbis, one of the goals was to digitize and preserve the photographic history of the world. Granted, reality set in when the numbers were calculated, but now it seems the strategy is to throw away the best of 30 years of history.

Where's the logic? If Corbis' strategy for deleting images was the same as Getty's, they have deleted everything shot before 2004 that hasn't sold. Still, when they went into the collection they were a tightly edited group of the best of millions of images. Thus, they represent important work in the last 30 years or so. Most of these images were shot on film, but given the current state of technology, film images that are not digitized will never be seen.

All these images have been digitized, but the cost of digitizing them again will be prohibitive. Given the economics, it is highly unlikely that photographers will re-scan any of these film images. In some cases, the actual film has already deteriorated. In many cases the only record of the subject matter likely to be available in the future are the existing digital files. Are they to be lost forever?

Business Decision - Saving Money

Of course, this is a business decision. It would cost Corbis money that they don't want to spend, particularly when they are trying to make the company profitable.

Corbis has offered photographers the following explanation: "These are raw scans on tape that have never been cleaned or cropped since they have not sold, so probably wouldn't do you much good anyway." This doesn't seem credible. Is Corbis trying to tell us that the high-res files were not available online, and that whenever a customer ordered a hi-res image they pulled the hi-res off the tape, sent it to a technician for cleanup and cropping and hours or days later delivered it to the customer? If that's really what happened then it's understandable that Corbis is not profitable.

However, even if that was the case, the existing hi-res scans still have value for the photographer. The cost of cleaning and cropping will be much less than starting from scratch, finding the original transparency and going through the whole scanning process.

At the very least, the company could offer photographers the option of shipping a hard drive to them. Corbis could then download the images and return the drive to the photographer at his expenses. They already have lists, by photographer, of all the images that are to be removed from the site. They could easily transfer these images to the hard drive. Since someone would have to administer the process, it might be necessary for Corbis to a small additional fee. But the true overall cost of such a job can't be that much. Thousands of images can be uploaded to a hard drive in a few hours with one simple command.

If properly structured, the photographers who want their images will be paying all the costs. For many photographers this option would be preferable to having the scans disappear entirely.

Copyright © 2007 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Stephen Frink Posted Dec 21, 2007
    As a Corbis contributor, I got my slides back years ago, after they were scanned by Corbis. They are safe and accessible.

    I now have the Corbis file numbers of the images being deleted, and can scan and submit elsewhere if I choose. Granted, it would have been easier to have a visual reference (thumbnails) of the deleted images, rather than just a text file. That would have made the re-edit at my end easier. But, the reality is that most of the images being taken off the site are dated and have not been marketable to Corbis. We all have to wonder whether these kinds of images are marketable elsewhere. I'll take a very hard look at each of the images, and some may get scanned again, but certainly not all.

    I have no idea what percentage are worth revisiting, but probably no more than 1/3rd. Plus, technology has marched on since those images were scanned the first time. I can probably do better scans now on the slides I choose to digitize. I personally don't have an issue with how Corbis handled things.

  • Wolfgang Kaehler Posted Dec 21, 2007
    Corbis is removing more than 25,000 of my images. Being a travel and wildlife photographer about 99% of these images are timeless. I would have loved to see an offer by Corbis to get the scans. In my own agency I am selleing images almost every day which are older because nothing has changed in the scene I photographed 20-30 years ago. Just this week I had two sales from 1087 and 1988.

  • Fred Voetsch Posted Dec 21, 2007
    I disagree with the some of the logic here, not with the overall questioning of Corbis' decision to remove images that were supposed to "preserve the photographic history of the world" but with this:

    "Is Corbis trying to tell us that the high-res files were not available online, and that whenever a customer ordered a hi-res image they pulled the hi-res off the tape, sent it to a technician for cleanup and cropping and hours or days later delivered it to the customer? If that’s really what happened then it’s understandable that Corbis is not profitable."

    In regards to scans, it does make sense to simply store the raw images and only retouch the ones that sell when and if they sell than to retouch them all up front. But no, it does not make sense for a company like Corbis to not put these online. The cost of storage would be minimal and at the very least they should allow the photographers the chance to retrieve these images.

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