Whither Microstock?

In today’s New York Times article by Katie Hafner, A Photo Trove, a Mounting Challenge, there are a few interesting excerpts:

What Corbis did not foresee was the rise of so-called microstock agencies like Fotolia and iStockPhoto. These sites take advantage of the phenomenon known as crowdsourcing, or turning to the online masses for free or low-cost submissions.

True. Corbis was somewhat blindsided by this, but it was Getty whose acquisition of iStockPhoto gave the model credence. You can slap a dress and some lipstick on a sow, but a pig’s a pig, regardless of the shade of lip gloss.

Mr. Shenk said Corbis would announce its plans for the microstock business sometime this quarter. As for the question of how a high-end company enters that business without cannibalizing its more expensive products, Mr. Shenk said the idea was to find a new kind of customer, people who would never envision buying pictures from a Corbis or Getty.

This will be most critical. Getty executives have been challenged on recent analyst calls over this issue — how the company will protect its high-revenue licensing from price erosion. Getty has seemed to think it would not be a problem.

However, this excerpt is telling:

Mr. Shenk, a Hollywood veteran who is an expert in what he calls “new ways to sell media,” said he believed Corbis was offering something unique in building a worldwide network of rights experts.

What’s interesting here is that, in the midst of the uproar about less rights restrictions on images, Corbis is rights-focused. Corbis is looking to secure, and then preserve the rights to the images from which they are charged with generating revenue. This focus is, in part, a directive from the top. Again from the article:

Mr. Gates’s involvement in the company is minimal … Yet it is clear that he makes the big decisions. He has no interest, for example, in treating the undigitized portions of the image collections like one of his charities by, say, donating them to a public entity.

Yea Bill Gates! Wait, did I just say that?

[tags]Corbis, microstock, Getty, John Harrington[/tags]

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