Corbis sold. Getty and Visual China Group expand

Creating a monopoly

As rumoured Corbis Images (Corbis breaking up) and related business have been sold and the entertainment adverting and representation business is being rebranded. Visual China Group (VCG) has acquired the assets of Corbis Images through their affiliate, Unity Glory. We got it wrong, in the short term at least, about the end of the megaa-library.

The sale includes the Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and Veer licencing brands and their associated archives and trademarks. VCG and Getty Images already operate a reciprocal agreement where  Getty Images distribute VCG content globally, except for China where VCG distribute Getty Images content alongside their own. This will continue and the Corbis Images assets will be added to the VCGp portfolio and be distributed by Getty Images outside China. As a result it appears that Alamy will be managing some 280million items, at least until it starts to cull the Corbis collections.

For Corbis contributors this means considerable uncertainty. Initially Corbis content will continue to be licenced through Corbis. According to a Corbis email to contributors the intention is this will only be during the transition period. Selected content will be migrated into the Getty Images and contributors for the chosen material will be offered contracts as contributors to Getty Images. Existing Getty contributors will be asked to sign a letter assigning their Corbis content to their Getty contract. Material not migrated will either continue to be represented by VCG or the rights in the material will revert to the  contributor.

It should be noted that there is no mention of Demotix, the crowd sourced news agency, owned by Corbis. All links to its site are redirected to the Corbis front page, there have been no tweets or other announcements about its future. Contributors had no warning and are notable to submit news stories. It had felt like a marginal business for some time so Corbis may have simply taken the opportunity to close it, presumably because Getty/VCG were not interested in it. Getty has its own strong news service so it would probably have added little. Until there is an announcement we can only guess.

This is going to create turmoil in the stock photography market for some time. Certainly the Corbis contributors we have had contact with are either not expecting to be invited to accept a Getty contract or have no intention of joining Getty even if asked. To what extent that position will hold when Corbis contributors lose a major income stream may only become clear later in the year. Certainly one or two of our contacts are concerned that they will lose a significant income stream; it is not clear where one would go to get representation to replace it.

The other big imponderable is what it will mean for prices. There has been a concern that they have been falling for several years. Will taking a major player out of the market strengthen prices of weaken them further? Even if prices do recover will contributors benefit or will a dominant supplier continue to squeeze margins and demand more rights; just like the large supermarkets do with farmers and other suppliers. This further consolidates a market into the grip of large corporates where the inherently small suppliers carry little clout.

It will be interesting to see how the EU and US competition authorities view this further narrowing of choice. Will they regard the micro-stock libraries as part of the same market, it is arguable, or as offering a sufficiently product to a different market.

Over the past year it has been reported that Getty has been burning cash, will having an even bigger collection allow them to stem the out flow of cash? As with many acquisitions and mergers there is always a challenge to maintain the combined market share as customers of the acquired business move their business elsewhere. Some will stay because they are customers for the particular archive or even photographer; others will leave because they used the acquired business because they did not like the acquiring business. With Shutterstock and others growing rapidly the newly enlarged Getty Images will not have it all its own way. However, as others have pointed out, might this actually be a precursor to Visual China Group buying up Getty Images? There have been mutterings in the recent past that Getty might be for sale. VCG are already a huge media outfit and it would fit with the pattern of China buying into other western based global industries. So in a few years might it just be Shutterstock, Getty/VCG and a few niche players left in the stock photo and video market?

Rather than simply rework the press releases (kinks below) we have tried to interpret the impact this change will bring, or at least to start readers thinking about the consequences for themselves. Please feel free to add

As we have said before photographers to take increasing control of their work (Blow your own horn).


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