Corbis Inks Print-on-Demand Consumer Deal

Corbis and warehouse retailer Costco have announced a deal to offer print-on-demand photographs, posters, and giclée canvas prints through nearly 600 Costco stores around the world. Corbis has made more than 20,000 travel, nature, landscape and other images available for the program, which has alarmed some of its contributors.

Costco and Corbis expect customers to purchase images as decor for homes and small businesses, including restaurants and hotels.

Corbis described the deal as a “large new market opportunity for contributors” because Costco has “tens of millions of customers.” Spokesman Dan Perlet says Corbis has licensed images for posters in the past, but the Costco deal is the agency’s first print-on-demand deal.

Prices range from $1.49 for 8×10 prints to $8.99 for a 20×30 poster print, and $79.99 for a 24×32 giclée canvas print to $99.99 for a 16×48 panoramic giclée canvas print.

Perlet says he’s barred from disclosing revenue sharing details. But he says  the terms are “more advantageous for Corbis and its contributors compared to traditional up-front merchandising agreements in the past.” Even so, he warns that small payments from $1.49 sales will be “potentially unsettling” to photographers who soon see those payments on sales reports.

Corbis contributors have expressed some concerns about the deal, according to Shannon Fagan, a Corbis contributor who also chairs the ASMP Stock License Committee. One concern is that the inexpensive Costco prints could undercut Corbis contributors who sell fine art prints on their own, Fagan says.

Another concern, he adds, is that Costco customers may not understand intellectual property–and the limits of the rights they get when they buy a print from Costco. For instance, some customers might scan the images and use them on their small business web sites, Fagan says.

Corbis and Costco give the impression that customers can do that–and more–with the prints they buy.

For instance, Costco photo manager Glen Hutchinson says in a joint press release from Corbis and Costco: “Through our arrangement with Corbis, we provide our members [customers] with the security that they have the copyright permission to use the images as they like, and that the images are all properly licensed for their use – even for resale.”

But an FAQ that Corbis issued to quell the fears of photographers contradicts that. “Costco members do not get access to the digital file of the image, and can only purchase physical product from Costco. Any other uses require a license from Corbis,” the agency says in the FAQ.

Perlet says of the discrepancy that the press release “is not as clear as it should be.” He explains, “the word ‘image’ is used generically to mean ‘merchandise.’ It should say, ‘We provide our members with the security that they have copyright permission to print the merchandise and that the merchandise can be for resale.'”

He goes on to say that Costco customers cannot scan the images for other uses, such as web sites, and adds, “Our piracy team will be looking for instances like that.”

Meanwhile, Fagan has cautiously endorsed the Corbis/Costco deal, at least in principle. “Photographers have to move into the consumer space to survive, and this deal falls into that micropayment model: a little money from a lot of people,” he says. He doesn’t think, however, that the Costco deal will add up to a lot of money for most photographers. “But I could be wrong,” he adds.

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