The Sub-Agent System Lives

Posted on 5/24/2000 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



May 24, 2000

The sub-agent system is alive and well at both Getty and Corbis. The exact

parameters of the deals are unclear, but both organizations are clearly

signaling that they will make images available on their on-line databases from

specialist collections that they do not wholly own, and they will use sub-agents

around the world. The following deals were announced this past week.

Getty Images

Getty Images, has announced an exclusive deal with the National Geographic Image

Collection (NGIC) to make their images available on, beginning in

the third quarter of 2000.

The National Geographic Image collection has more than 10 million images and

represents over 100 world-class photographers who shoot assignments for National

Geographic magazine, National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic

Adventure, National Geographic World and National Geographic Books.

Jonathan Klein, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Getty Images. "Making

this rich resource of photographic material available on will

result in a vertical portal that is even more valuable to creative

professionals, providing the right image at the right time."

Through, the Company has aggregated hundreds of thousands of images

from its leading professional brands and, along with its partners, offers the

largest commercially available collection of photography and illustration, in

one place, on one invoice. The site will soon offer related products such as

film and video.

Maura Mulvihill, director of the NGIC said, "We are delighted to make our Image

Collection available to professional image buyers on It expands

the reach of our respected brand."

In addition to its wholly owned collections is also acting as a

third-party sub-agent for certain collections, including The Bridgeman Art

Library, one of the world's most comprehensive sources of fine art images,

Illustration Works, a leading provider of illustration art, and FoodPix, a

leading source for food photography. It is believed that the arrangement with

all these companies is that Getty will be their exclusive worldwide

representative for on-line e-commerce sales. The one exception that the

companies would still be allowed to license their works through their own

company site that they wholly owned and operated.

NGIC is best known for photographs of travel, wildlife, adventure and scientific

imagery which are currently featured in over half of the articles in every issue

of National Geographic magazine. The

National Geographic Image Collection on will initially

contain 2,000 images, and the number is expected to grow to between

6,000 and 10,000. With the addition of the Collection, customers

will have access to thousands of photographs taken all over the world.


Corbis Images has announced partnerships with First Light and MAGMA Photo News

in Canada to provide digital images from the Corbis Collection to creative

professionals in the rapidly growing Canadian market. These partnerships

demonstrate a further move in Corbis Images' strategy of pioneering a global

network of digitally enabled partners to meet the growing needs of creative

professionals worldwide. The agreement is an exclusive agent contract.

"By working with First Light and MAGMA we expect to significantly enhance our

service to both editorial and commercial clients in Canada," said Bruce

Chesebrough, vice-president of worldwide sales, Corbis Images. "Clients will now

have one point of access for the entire Corbis Images' collection through local

offices in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, as well as the ability to transact

in either French or English and to work in Canadian dollars."

First Light and MAGMA will now provide professional clients in Canada with

access to Corbis Images' one-stop-shop offering, made up of more than 2.1

million digital images ranging in content from historical and celebrity to fine

art and contemporary photography.

First Light (, based in Toronto and Vancouver, leads the

industry in providing high-end commercial photography to advertising and graphic

design clients. MAGMA ( is the leading editorial photo agency

in Canada. It provides assignment and stock photography to a broad range of

editorial clients.

Corbis' relationship with First Light and Magma as photography suppliers are not

changed. Magma supplies images to Sygma on an ongoing basis. First Light has a

selection of images at Corbis from a previous agreement with WestLight that

Corbis will continue to represent.

First Light and Magma have formed a partnership in Canada for the purpose or

exclusively representing all Corbis products in Canada.

A client will work with a specific point of contact and receive access to all

images, and all Corbis products. Canada is the first country to receive

one-stop shopping from Corbis.

We reported in February

(Random Thoughts 15)

that Corbis also has similar

arrangements with Grazia Neri in Italy and Picture Press in Germany.

Things For Photographers To Consider

The most important thing for photographers to consider is how the percentage

deals are structured. What are the supplying agents and the selling agents

contributing to the mix and what percentage are they getting for their efforts?

A supplying agent like Geographic will probably provide editing, scanning and

keywording services for Getty. It is believed that Getty will retain a

traditional agents share of 40% to 50% of the gross fee collected for simply

managing the marketing network? This probably means that the photographer

will end up with 25%, or less, of the gross fee collected.

It is believed that if the sale is made overseas -- in Germany for example --

the Getty German office will take 50% off the top before submitting the

remainder to Getty corporate. Getty corporate takes its share before submitting

the remainder to National Geographic which gives half of what it receives to the

photographer. In all likelihood two additional agent cuts are being deducted

from the gross fee compared with the former situation where National Geographic

would make a direct sale to the German buyer.

Both companies will argue that even though the percentage the photographer

receives on an individual sale is less, that the photographer's bottom line will

improve due to the additional volume of sales. Maybe, maybe not. The bottom

line is important, but it is also important for photographers to have a

realistic understanding of how revenues are being divided.

In the Corbis situation, do First Light and Magna get 50% of the gross sale

price in Canada, or is their percentage less? In exchange for their percentage

are they contributing marketing dollars, or are they simply handling

negotiations and collections for any images found on the Corbis site? Are they

supplying images they have collected from Canadian photographers to the Corbis


Is the percentage different in such cases?

If the selling agent gets 50% of the gross sale, and then Corbis keeps 60% of

the remainder, does that mean that the photographer is getting 20% of the gross

sale price for any image sold in Canada?

Photographers represented by these companies should be asking questions and

expecting answers.

Can Photographers Sell Directly In Foreign Countries?

It is also interesting to note that with all their marketing resources, Getty

and Corbis still recognize that they need local agent support. Both of these

companies have the resources to easily handle worldwide sales from their

headquarters. Nevertheless, they are contracting with local agencies in various

parts of the world to handle local sales for them, and they are also contracting

with specialist agencies to provide certain specialized content.

Many photographers think the internet is going to enable them to market their

images directly around the world and avoid sub-agent relationships. Getty and

Corbis are not giving up a percentage of sales to other agencies out of a sense

of charity. If they think they need such relationships, photographers might

want to think again about how much they are going to be able to accomplish

operating solely on their own, and trying to deal directly with every client.

Copyright © 2000 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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