VII to Corbis is like Magnum to On-Request and falls into the “what where they thinking ( drinking?)” category. But hey, who are we to judge. If they think it’s better for their business then let’s give them a cheer. Up to now VII has always been quite savvy in their business decision so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt ( we couldn’t do that with Corbis, could we?)

But, this is not the important part of this news. What is important here is what we wrote about a few years back. More and more producing photo agencies, those that have a sizable roster of  producing photographers, have reduced their own internal sales team in favour of agreements with mega suppliers. Earlier we saw what is left of Gamma drop all of its images into the hands of  Getty images and we could go on with other examples.

Having started mostly in the RF area , then extended into Commercial Stock RM collection, it is now entering the editorial world. The ‘Wal Martisation’ of the photo industry. Here are the reasons :

  • The full  automation of sales is not happening, not in  RM. As much as one could take pictures for an entire life without ever talking to a customer in the RF world, the RM world still needs a lot of hands on attention.
  • As licensing prices are dropping worldwide, maintaining a human based sales force is more costly  and less profitable.

So, what do these small to medium photo agencies do ? They allign their collection with existing large to extremely large sales platforms and distributors, like Getty, Corbis or AP who already have a huge sales force . These benefit from an economy of scale that the little ones cannot afford; thousands upon thousands of staffers that can answer phones, negotiate, discount, read endless contracts and optimize.

It is ironic that those who are responsible for the depreciation in the value of images are actually the ones benefiting from it. The more licensing prices fall, the more the Getty’s and others will see collections coming to them for sales distribution.

Until when? Until the market will be separated in two. The creators and the distributors. Small entities of photographers regrouped in common interest units on one side and large to extra large sales platforms on the other. It all benefits the sales platforms since they have no cost of production to cover in their prices. Think iStockphoto. Think Wal Mart.

So, next time you see another agency sign up for sales distribution with one of the big ones, think how much photography will become concentrated in the hands of a few that will able to set any condition they feel would benefit them. And only them.

About the author

This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians”  Roger Therond, legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.

Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses