Corbis channel team shares tactics

Last week I published 10 tips for indirect sales management and 10 questions to ask yourself before signing a reseller. As a follow up I talked to the channel team at Corbis. Having worked worked in the team I knew the potential of this businessmodel and was aware of its strong track record to grow revenues.

Over the past years this team has applied a number of innovations. It’s managed by Paul Harraghy at the Corbis offices in London. Besides Paul I was joined by Chris Tole, a veteran manager of the Corbis representative network and Chad Clarke who came from Veer and now manages the EMEA  and AMR reseller network. I talked about their criteria for good partners, the challenges and the revenue opportunities they see developing in their network.

Representatives versus resellers

The division between representatives (reps) and resellers is not arbitrary. Just like Getty Images distinguishes between master delegates and resellers, so does Corbis. Representatives (and Master delegates) act like offices in a country where there is no direct sales operation. They are the exclusive representative of Corbis rights managed content. While they can also sell other content directly competitive material is generally excluded. So as a rule a Corbis Rep does not sell Getty Images content and vice-versa. Resellers on the other hand have non-exclusive relationships.

Corbis has many more resellers than Representatives. These companies get a more ‘light touch’ approach when it comes to managing the relationship. This difference shines through in most activities, from a smaller number of phone calls each month to more targeted and specific marketing for Representatives. The team does not feel that one model has a more lucrative future. Especially the Rep model will not change as there is a strong need for local sales people in a market; e-commerce alone is not always enough. When Corbis does not have the detailed knowledge of a market a rep relationship will be better suited.


The team also believes it’s sustainable in principle to have more than one reseller per market. While there may be some natural consolidation among these companies there is still room to have more than one. The team hasn’t seen many new companies coming into the market and they have signed only a small number of new resellers in the past year or so. This is seen as a good sign. The low barriers to entry can be damaging and the team does believe some attrition will happen over the coming months and years.

So when it comes to resellers, does Corbis sell different products through specific companies? The answer is, not really. Generally each reseller sells a similar portfolio of Corbis collections. Unless they are a niche provider, for example a company only focussed on selling food pictures or ethnic pictures in which case they may ask for an edit of the Corbis collection that only contains that subject. This happens for a small number of companies and is driven more by the need of the resellers.

The team does not feel they have signed on every reseller there is, nor do they want to. There is a sweet spot somewhere and while they could sign up more companies they would rather hold back. There are other ways than signing new partners to grow the revenue, by shortening the time it takes for products to reach the partner for example, or by launching new products and services into the existing network.

Another key element in growing revenues is by helping partners get better. Not all companies have optimized their market share and the team tries to help by finding smarter and quicker market opportunities. They do this with incentives, marketing programs, prioritizing search results and generally helping them to compete with others in the market.

What makes a good representative?

A well run business with stability, agility and the ability to provide good client service are key elements that a potential Corbis representative needs to show. The team would also like to avoid seeing too many different collections on offer. While they do understand the need to spread revenue over several providers they certainly wouldn’t want to see any major direct competitors on offer. Another important element is staff loyalty; a team that has been around for some time points to a stable company and equals experience and an ability to have a clear vision for the future. It’s also important not to be seen as just another image supplier or vendor, they want a partnership. A final and important element is a good base of local content that attracts a domestic client base.

And when a company does get signed? Expect to see the team 3 to 4 times a year. Whether it’s on an industry event like CEPIC, a visit on location or on an event organised at Corbis’ London offices.

What makes a good reseller?

Potential Corbis resellers need to have a good understanding of the industry and must have been in it for a while; they need to show a track record. If a company sells across both editorial and commercial clients that’s even better. What doesn’t help is an overcrowded market. It’s very unlikely the team will sign on new resellers if this is the case. The team also aims to establish the credit rating of the company to ensure prompt payments.

New channel opportunities

There are a number of new models out there, non traditional channel partners who work on a revenue share basis. Corbis has looked at a number of opportunities (and signed a few). Models are emerging, but have yet to prove that their way of business can be monetised.. If a company sells the model well the team will consider it, but even at the yearly CEPIC conference most of the companies were resellers in the traditional sense. At the PACA conference in Miami there was more of an emphasis on social media. These sessions were not focussed on revenue opportunities, but on promotion through these new channels and models. It seems there is still a way to go before these new models become mainstream.


There used to some apprehension around the Representative network of Corbis going direct. The concern was stronger 5 years ago than it is now and probably led companies to take on more collections to reduce their dependency on Corbis. This in turn can result in dilution, which is a problem as Corbis wants to be a significant part of the offering and turnover in order to be successful. This is less of a problem now as the bear market has weeded out many weaker and non pro-active companies. The network is stronger now. Corbis wants every long term partner to be a sound business with strong decision making and management.

Challenges in the reseller network are more practical; from content not showing on reseller websites or being buried in search returns due to a lack of tech knowledge or limitations with the reseller’s platform. These issues are dealt with on a daily basis. This includes establishing payment terms and clear branding guidelines to ensure consistency


The rise of Microstock has not been going at the same speed in all regions. The view is that many of the partners are not currently set up to meet the Micro challenge head-on. They need to focus on their strengths and look to grow market share in the premium stock photography market. While Microstock may take a % of traditional revenue the opportunity for growth remains huge and the team urges their partners to deal with pricing pressures with ‘responsible flexibility’. That said, the Corbis team takes microstock seriously and sees potential opportunities in the market in future.

Biggest challenges

Microstock is recognised as a challenge the Corbis partners will need to adapt to. The goal is to get ever closer to clients and build differentiation through representing unique collections i.e. content that is impossible or hard to replicate and exclusive to Corbis. Sometimes the team is surprised not more companies have gone out of business, especially with some big companies pulling their collections, on the other hand they recognise running costs of many image businesses are low and they can shift to other collections quickly.


The team has had a scaled down team attending both conferences for the past 2 years. In fact, PACA can’t be scaled down much more with only two people attending the 2009 conference. There is less of a drive to sign new resellers as the network is not in a growing phase. The team now uses these events to gauge the temperature of the business and attend some of the workshops which it feels have gotten better.

Fast Media Magazine will continue to report on the Stock Photography reseller network.

Picture: Stock exchange | Network neurons 2 | Gerard79

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

2 thoughts on “Corbis channel team shares tactics

  • November 25, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    This sounds like a Borg invasion. Who cares what a non profitable agencies does ?

  • November 27, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Hi Stephanie,

    You do have a point about the profitability of course. The thing about the channel teams of the big companies is that they make up a bit part of the revenues of independent companies all over the world (rightly or wrongly). This is the appeal of the model as it brings together the very different experiences of all these entrepreneurs. This is why I wanted to give a brief insight into this teams working practices.


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