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Are Getty Images and Corbis getting too big?

On the day Getty Images announced the $200m purchase of Wireimages, to strengthen its position in multimedia material (Press Gazette), Lewis Blackwell, group creative director of the giant photo library, was defending their policy of acquisitions.

Last month Eamonn McCabe, former picture editor of the Guardian, wrote about the move of the Sygma picture library from its central Paris base. Sygma was bought in 1999 by Corbis, owned by Bill Gates of Microsoft.

McCabe was worried about the concentration of pictures under the control of Getty Images and Corbis. He wrote:

Today, the small family structures that still exist, and the mergers of photographers or co-ops, are faced with a colossal challenge: to convert quickly to digital in order to sell across the internet, or be reduced to the status of a museum. In the late 1990s, Sygma did not have the required money, but Corbis had the investment capital at a time when the work of over 10,000 photographers had to be digitalised to compete with the other major player in the global photography library business, John Paul Getty Jnr….
Getty and Gates are buying up photo libraries by the day, in order to one day own every photo used on the web. They already own between them a third of the world’s images, a fact that has to worry photographers. Gressent, the archive manager, is reassuringly passionate that the photographer will be king in his new library. At least the images by the 10,000 photographers who worked for Sygma are safe and in order, thanks to his team.

Yesterday, Blackwell responded in the Guardian saying that in the “vast, globalised net marketplace, photographers and collection-holders alike gravitate to companies such as ours because they offer the expertise to deliver image content into the right hands”.

He pointed out that Getty Images was not owned by John Paul Getty Jr, denied that the two giant companies owned a third of the world’s images and concluded:

Consumer choice now rules the market. Large players can only be successful if they offer something better than what is easily available in numerous places elsewhere on the web. The photographer remains king in this new environment – in fact photographers now have more options for sharing or making money from their work than ever. That’s something that anyone who cares about photography, and the impact it has on our lives, should celebrate.

There is no doubt that giant libraries made life easier for picture researchers and their employers but global dominance worries me.


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  1. The Irish Photographers' Website says

    after reading the important post, join one of the user groups. Doing so will allow us to better serve you in the future. IPWS is aimed primarily at Professional Photographers but all are welcome to join our forum and mailing list. more… [IMG] Are Getty Images and Corbis getting too big?