The Big Players

Posted on 12/18/2002 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

    The following article was first published in the Picture Magazine published in New
    York. In it Pat Hunt surveyed and reviewed eleven of the world's largest stock photo
    archives. Pat is a Stock and Marketing Consultant, former owner of Light Sources Stock in
    Massachusetts and currently VP, Sales at Index Stock Images.

by Pat Hunt

When the publisher of Picture Magazine, Brock Wylan, asked me
to do an article on the ten largest stock agencies in the U.S., I

explained that there are no longer ten large domestic agencies. Due to the mergers and
acquisitions of the last decade, there are a few very large agencies, and many small,
medium and specialty companies or portals. In the era of global communication and cross
continental marketing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at the
largest agents in the WORLD.

Therefore, I came up with the following eleven companies to survey and review. If you
were to unravel all the affiliates, sub-agents, and foreign offices of this group, you
would have a giant web wrapped around the entire planet. In this era of e-commerce and
digital imaging, this is a very poignant observation. We are all greatly intertwined. - Spain - Alfonso Gutierrez, General
Manager - US - Traci Torres, Marketing - US - Marc Osborn, Communications Manager - UK/US - John Macfie, Director - US - Bahar Gidwani, CEO - US - Peggy Willett, Corporate
Communications - Canada - Steve Pigeon, President - Germany - Jonas Boentgen, Public
Relations - Japan/US - Chuck Plante, Visual Leader,
amana Am. - US - Geri Weisman, Director of Visual
Content - Germany - Susanne Mendack, Public Relations

To start, it seemed appropriate to compare how these companies are
structured and how they market their work. Then it was important to hear how they relate
to the artist community and how they visualize the future of the industry. All
companies were very gracious and helpful with response. Depending on the company, the
information came from the head of the company, the marketing or PR departments or the
art department.

Among these agencies, there is variety in the products they carry
and the type of markets they serve. All of course, market "Still Imagery." Certain
companies broaden the definition of that still imagery, as SUPERSTOCK offers "vintage and
contemporary photography, and fine art from museums and galleries". AGE carries images
with stories (text) to the Spanish market. CORBIS offers news, fine art and film
footage, and images with templates for business use, such as Power Point presentations.
To all of the above, GETTY IMAGES adds audio, fonts and services to manage and
present imagery.

All of the companies offer rights protected (RP) and royalty free (RF) imagery, some under
different brand names, such as MASTERFILE and WONDERFILE, ZEFA and IMAGESHOP, AGE and
PIXTAL. All companies serve the B2B market and offer imagery for advertising as well as
editorial uses. The SoHo (Small Office, Home Office) market is a little harder to pin down.
Most claim to sell images to this market. INDEX features , especially designed to offer
small digital files for this need. SUPERSTOCK, IMAGESTATE, GETTY, CORBIS, and COMSTOCK
also serve this area.

Few specialize in the consumer market. GETTY, CORBIS and
INDEX have products targeted to this market. PHOTONICA claims:
"our parent company, amana IMAGES, in Japan is multi-brand with
wider market penetration that includes all of the above."
Some companies are now offering subscription sales: GETTY, CORBIS and INDEX having a
particular focus on this area. GETTY'S subscription service is targeted to publishing

In trying to decipher the domestic and international web of
affiliates and offices for these companies, the following information was offered. GETTY
IMAGES states: "in the US, all of Getty Images are wholly owned. We work with a
global network of agents and distributors in more than 55 countries." Getty Images has
five offices in the United States, and 25 offices worldwide. CORBIS states that they
have 5 domestic offices and 8 international offices. They also have a full service agency
in Japan with Japanese language web site, catalogs, and sales staff. MASTERFILE
states: "all sales in Canada and the USA are handled directly by Masterfile, with sales
staff in Toronto, New York and Seattle." They also have a new strategic alliance with
ZEFA. Internationally they are in 35 countries, 25 operating "Masterfile" divisions or
subsidiaries. SUPERSTOCK states that they have 36 international affiliates and 2
headquarter offices in Jacksonville, FL and NYC (sales office). Internationally they have
offices in the UK, Spain, France, Canada, Poland, Germany, and Italy.

PHOTONICA reports 44 international agents and 10 offices internationally with 3 offices
in North America. IMAGESTATE reports: "in the US we are only represented by ourselves
on the RP side, though we have numerous RF channels. Internationally we have over 150
partners due to different partnerships developed by each acquired company." They have 1
office in the US and 1 office in the UK. ZEFA has 30 partners including 2 domestic
offices in Germany and wholly owned offices in key European markets. INDEX offers:
"domestically we redistribute through many channels, but none are full sub agents.
Internationally 43 agents cover 50 countries." There is 1 office in the US. MAURITIUS
4 domestic offices and 1 international office. AGE claims offices in Barcelona, Madrid,
and Bilbao, with a subsidiary corporation in New York: "agefotostock america, inc".
COMSTOCK is "represented world-wide by a number of re-sellers and distributors and has
one office in the US, one in Canada and one office in Luxembourg." WHEW! I would say
that there is some global mass marketing going on!

The companies reporting to be largely a product of acquisitions and mergers are INDEX,
IMAGESTATE, CORBIS and GETTY. All companies run sophisticated e-commerce sites, and
all market via catalogs, email, and telesales. Some add direct mail and advertising to
this mix. ZEFA "runs industry events like customer parties to introduce catalogues,
sponsorships, etc." INDEX promotes banners and partnerships. A few agents extend their
visibility through other company's portals. COMSTOCK uses Random Eye, 1Stop Stock and MAURITIUS makes use of portals, but specified none. IMAGESTATE and INDEX
use PictureQuest. GETTY "contracts through certain sports agencies, such as The
National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League."

Well, now that we've discussed what makes these agencies tick,
let's look at them from the artist's point of view. One of the greatest concerns of
artists these days is what they see as the erosion of the pricing scale, as compared to
pre e-commerce days. One should consider when discussing pricing, that there are many new
business models available, such as we mentioned earlier - SoHo, Consumer,
Subscription, etc. Also selling images in bulk or by contract is becoming prevalent, as
the Internet allows for clients to do their own research. The client can benefit from
multi image turn over and the agencies are competing for this business with price deals.
All the agents reported that they sell at "average" price or "high-average." GETTY
uses the phrase "fair market value" AGE says, "our prices seem to be the right ones for
our clients." PHOTONICA reports "a bit higher than the others due to "unique

The only agent to expound upon this was COMSTOCK who promotes their "Flat Rate" licensing
option. Traci Torres, Marketing Director for Comstock states: "this option
incorporates both the hassle-free aspect of the 'royalty free' license model that the
industry has embraced - as well as the reduced likelihood of competing usage that makes
the 'rights protected' model so attractive - but at a fraction of the cost of traditional
rights protected imagery. With Flat Rate, as with rights protected, the specific
end-user of the image must be identified, but in contrast to rights protected, the image
may be used in an unlimited fashion by the designated end-user for a single Flat
Rate price ($399 for a generous file size of 72 MB), similar to a royalty free
transaction." All of this information doesn't give us much insight into pricing, but we
see that it is an evolving issue as new selling models are created.

As mentioned each company functions off a sophisticated web
site. MAURITIUS provides search capabilities, key wording
categories, light boxes, and a multiple language search. Others boast the same, plus high
res downloads and large comps. Some
companies offered more specific information. CORBIS claims to
"fulfill more that 80 percent of orders digitally", and
offers "protection against abuse of copyright with digital
watermarking and a team of intellectual property experts." GETTY offers the "ability to
purchase using the US Dollar, British Pound, or Euro, and use keyword searches
specific to French, German, UK and American dialects, and Spanish." INDEX describes their
search capabilities as having four modes: simple, advanced, Boolean, quick narrow
and filters. They offer 8000 major keywords and shopping carts that have an automatic
application of discounts. One can purchase with credit card or to an invoiced account.

COMSTOCK boasts a search system named "Ask Angela", a patent pending search system with
revolutionary visual-based image search capabilities. They offer another system
titled "Image Path", which provides visitors the ability to go from category to
sub-category. Their "College of Photology" holds useful information for the stock-buying
novice and seasoned professional alike.

With all of these elaborate selling systems, why would anyone need to ship chromes to
clients anymore? That question was posed to each agent and all said they would still
ship chromes, but 80% to 90% of their business was being done digitally. AGE said: "we
still supply chromes and produce new dupes when requested by clients and affiliates."
"We still see segments of the market and countries of the world that require dupes,
SUPERSTOCK said. "When needed we will produce an LVT from the digital file."

Most of these agencies reported to represent somewhere in the
neighborhood of 700 artists. CORBIS and GETTY claiming several
thousand. MASTERFILE represents 130 - "all are exclusive
to the company", but that model is changing, with alliance
relationships. PHOTONICA'S "worldwide group has about 3,300 in
total." COMSTOCK has a different business model as "the majority of Comstock's
photography is produced by our in-house photographers."

Fair and readable contracts, in the light of changes in the last
decade, are always an important issue with artists. A trade organization, The Stock
Artist's Alliance, was formed within the last year for the purpose of monitoring these
business practices. All the agents assert that their contract is good. AGE calls theirs a
"very friendly contract." IMAGESTATE says theirs is "short, simple and easy to
understand." GETTY claims theirs is "lengthy, but comprehensive so that every aspect of
the business relationship is covered." CORBIS boasts: "it is designed to give our
photographers more control over their agency relationship by offering items such as
payment options and multiple-channel options." INDEX quotes: "one of the shortest in the
industry. Everything reciprocal."

In the last couple of years, the commission percentage to artists has been in flux. The
cost of doing business in the digital era has necessitated change for most agencies.
The variety of business models has created new needs for percentage arrangements. AGE
offers "50% and no fees whatsoever." PHOTONICA, MAURITIUS and ZEFA also claim 50%. The
others vary from 40% to 50% depending on the type of images being sold, and lower for RF.
COMSTOCK points out: "many times we buy images outright from the artists."

Artists are concerned, in this digital era of high costs for
getting images on line, what percentage of their work will be
accepted. MAURITIUS accepts 15% to 20%, as does SUPERSTOCK and IMAGESTATE. ZEFA says they
take 10,000 new images per year. INDEX takes between 5% to 20%. GETTY offers: "we
accept between 30,000 to 40,000 new images into our creative photography collections each
year." MASTERFILE and AGE offer that they will take most of the work or barely any,
depending on the quality.

If you're an artist looking for a new agent, there is a variance
in how many new artists are accepted each year. PHOTONICA
and SUPERSTOCK estimate they accept about 35 to 50 a year.
INDEX takes about 5 to 10. ZEFA has the highest number of 70,
and MAURITIUS at 20. Some agents didn't specify, and MASTERFILE says they take 10 to 30
per year, and terminate 10 to 20 per year. GETTY claims to be always looking for new
points of view.

When asked if artists are charged any fees, all agents claimed none at all except some
catalog fees at PHOTONICA, ZEFA, and GETTY. CORBIS offers: "the only fees are for
sales made by Corbis-owned offices outside the photographer's home territory. There is
also an optional 2 percent fee for a 'fast pay option for royalty payment."' Everyone
claims to pay royalties on time. MASTERFILE says: "you can set your watch by them!"

Web sites for contributing artists are an asset to save time and
inspire creation. All agents claim to provide this. ZEFA and PHOTONICA say theirs is
coming soon, and AGE says: "all our artists can show all images they have with us using
a special link that they can incorporate in their own website."

As many photography studios are going "digital" now, most agents will accept digital
submissions, to their specifications only. IMAGESTATE says: they "prefer chromes so that
we can scan uniformly." COMSTOCK as yet does not accept digitally. All agents offer that
their managers will communicate with artists. MASTERFILE includes the President in
this mix, as does AGE and INDEX. Those companies who offer to subsidize production on
various levels are the following: IMAGESTATE, AGE, SUPERSTOCK, GETTY, MAURITIUS, and

In looking to the future and where growth will come from in this
competitive and volatile era, each agent had a different pearl of
wisdom to offer:

    Steve Pigeon, President of MASTERFILE feels "the industry is coming out of the most
    dramatic transition period in its history. (I've been doing this for 29 years, so I
    know what I'm talking about.) There is a tough road ahead, and most of the small players
    will become irrelevant. The large ones will try to dominate. The medium size ones
    (like Masterfile) will either thrive (by being more client/artist responsive) or die. We
    plan to thrive." ZEFA boasts, "we recently introduced an office in major European
    markets like the UK and France. There will be an expansion of our US interests soon.
    Furthermore we have an annual growth of 30 percent.

    CORBIS says it will continue to be a global leader by requiring: "great photography,
    connection to the customer, forward momentum and strong partnerships." INDEX claims to
    be a "major competitor in the RP market and a leader in the SoHo market." They are
    "artist oriented" and offer: "if our artists give us great images, we will do well."

    COMSTOCK feels that "the most recent examples of their industry - leader position are its
    development of the 'Ask Angela' search feature and the 'Flat Rate' image division.
    IMAGESTATE will build and maintain a strong RF and RP presence and expand the footage and
    music offering. SUPERSTOCK claims a better web site and better service. MAURITIUS
    will "stay independent and strengthen our position in the international market, Internet
    sales and RF." PHOTONICA "intends to expand our portfolio of unique photography
    offering more choice to more types of images buyers." GETTY
    feels they are "noticing that new generations of consumers are
    more attuned and more 'literate' visually, than verbally. Therefore, customers are having
    to be responsive to this by offering image-rich communications." AGE is "optimistic
    for a future in the industry, as the consolidation that has taken place has left
    tremendous empty spaces in the market that our images and technology are filling

One last effort I asked the agents to make was to offer advice for artists as to
conducting their business relations now and in the future. INDEX advises: "'be patient.'
takes at least two years to build a meaningful revenue stream from stock." ZEFA states
that they "are always looking for cutting edge imagery and we welcome photographers
who meet the high quality standards of the vmi group." MASTERFILE coached: "listen to us,
take our advice and use it. Concentrate on making images that the market wants and
needs - not on making images that impress other artists." SUPERSTOCK advises to "shoot
and diversify and have a primary agent and several secondary outlets." CORBIS says
they would have nothing to offer without their artists. They offer a number of services
for them including "affinity programs for discounts on certain products, information
on what's selling, events and workshops and print publication for photographers."

PHOTONICA wants "photographers to continue to show us their
vision as we impart useful direction to them as they create more
photography." GETTY claims a benefit to photographers as it has "designated an entire
department of creative researchers who pore over demographic treads, analysis, fashion
predictions, etc." COMSTOCK says: "keep informed and keep informing." AGE wants artists
to "produce new, fresh material with a modern look and updated aesthetics, and
IMAGESTATE concluded with: "keep in constant communication with your editor regarding
needs, niches, style and production opportunities."

All of these well thought out responses and generous advice should inspire us to look to
the future of the industry with optimism and excitement. Thank you to all agents for
their great efforts to promote the industry and make it into a global player.

Pat Hunt can be reached at and her website is .

Copyright © 2002 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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