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May 16th, 2012

Shutterstock IPO Prospectus Reveals Market Value of Stock Photos

Microstock photo agency Shutterstock has filed a business prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission, announcing its intention to sell shares through an initial public offering “as soon as practicable.” The filing sheds light on Shutterstock’s revenues, and the surprisingly low average price for the millions of photos in its database.

The business prospectus is incomplete, so Shutterstock has not yet specified the number of shares it intends to sell or the price. But for the purposes of its filing the company estimated it would raise no more than $115 million.

Founded eight years ago by CEO (and majority shareholder) Jonathan Oringer, Shutterstock was one of the first microstock agencies to offer subscription-based pricing. That allows users to download up to 25 images per day for a flat fee of $250 per month, or $2559 per year. Users can also license image on demand, for prices starting at about $10 per image.

Last year, Shutterstock’s total sales revenues were $120 million, a 45 percent increase over 2010 revenues of $83 million and nearly double the 2009 revenues of $61 million. The average price users paid per image download last year was $2.05, according to Shutterstock’s SEC filing.

Meanwhile, net income–which is income after administrative, marketing, and research and development costs are subtracted from total revenues–has hovered around $20 million for the past three years. Income has remained relatively flat despite the rise in revenues because Shutterstock’s operating costs have increased by about 50 percent per year since 2009. Operating costs were $97 million last year.

The company says it plans to use the IPO money for operations. Shutterstock says it plans to invest in new technology, and in its sales and marketing efforts to attract more contributors and customers. Most customers are small and medium-sized businesses, but Shutterstock says it hasn’t fully tapped that market. It also wants to increase revenues from large businesses, which currently account for just 10 percent of its revenues.

Shutterstock claims an image database of more than 19 million photos and illustrations and 500,000 video clips, provided by more than 35,000 contributors. The vast majority of contributors are amateur photographers.

January 24th, 2012

Comparing Notes, Photographers Turn on Retna

An apparent administrative slip-up has stirred an uprising at music and celebrity photo agency Retna, with photographers complaining that the agency is failing to report sales, pay royalties, or respond to calls and e-mails from frustrated contributors. Retna’s CEO acknowledges the problems, but blames them on his predecessors, and has told contributors he is correcting them.

Photographers started comparing notes last week after an agency employee sent notification about the agency’s change of address in New York City. Instead of copying photographers in the blind carbon copy (BCC) field of the e-mail, the agency employee distributed the names and e-mail addresses of dozens of photographers so all could see who had received the e-mail.

Read the full story on PDNOnline.com.

November 18th, 2011

Getty Cuts Pay for Editorial Contributors

Getty has announced a take-it-or-leave-it rate cut for its editorial contributors under a new contract that specifies 35 percent royalties for all sales. Under current contracts that will soon expire, Getty pays photographers 50 percent for some sales, and 35 percent for others.

Photographers who don’t sign the contract will be terminated when their current contracts expire.

The agency notified photographers of the changes on November 9, giving them 30 days to sign the new contract. The agency told photographers that the new contract terms will enable Getty “to more easily modify content use across more and new license models, products, services and selling environments, including subscriptions, high-volume customer deals and new or emerging pricing, licensing and payment models.”

In other words, customers will be paying less for images in some cases. By cutting photographers’ rates, Getty will be able to offer images at lower prices with less negative impact on its own bottom line.

Asked whether Getty has found itself unable to compete for low-priced business without asking for concessions from suppliers, agency spokesperson Jodi Einhorn said, “No….[W]e are developing new ways for customers to use more of our content and as a result, new ways to pay contributors must be created in these situations.”

One way photographers benefit from the new contract, Getty says in the November 9 memo, is that photographers will now be paid in 60 days rather than 120 days. Einhorn also told PDN that Getty is “making changes and improvements around how we share and license our content, which will benefit our photographers,” by providing more exposure and more potential for sales of their images.

Einhorn did not say how many photographers are affected, or whether they are resisting the changes. But she did say, “It is totally normal for those affected to have questions. So we are responding to questions we receive and our team are always available to discuss any changes with our photographers, to help them understand these changes.

August 26th, 2011

Friday Pre-Hurricane Fun: Blog Reenacts Silly Stock Photos

It’s Friday and everyone here in New York City is more than a little on edge because of this supposed “Storm of the Century” that’s headed our way.

To take our mind off fast approaching Hurricane Irene, we’ve been getting a few laughs from this Tumblr blog entitled “Stocking Is the New Planking” where stock photos are reenacted for fun and general amusement.

We really know what the point of it is but that’s probably the point.

Stay dry, friends.

(Via psfk)

August 23rd, 2011

Associated Press and Corbis Combine Collections in Distribution Deal

The Associated Press and Corbis Images have announced a partnership to distribute each other’s images. Customers will have access to a combined collection of more than 10 million news, sports, entertainment, archival and commercial stock images at the web sites of both companies.

The partnership “provides a perfect marriage of choice for our customers,” said Tom Curley, AP president and CEO, in a prepared statement. “It means unprecedented access to the most far-reaching, complete collections available anywhere.”

The complete news story, including reaction from AP Images VP and the workings of distribution deals such as this one, is now on PDNOnline.com.

May 23rd, 2011

Time to Quit Using TwitPic?

Twitpic, the picture sharing service of Twitter, has signed a deal that allows a third party agency called World Entertainment News Network (WENN) to license images posted on Twitpic, according to The New York Times.

Under the terms of the deal, the celebrity news and photo agency would be allowed to authorize uses for photos it doesn’t own, and take legal action against anyone who uses Twitpic images commercially without the agency’s permission. Whether or not WENN will share revenues with the owners of the images is unclear, but it apparently has no obligation to do so. (CEO Lloyd Beiny did not immediately respond to questions about whether WENN would share any revenues.)

How could this be, you might wonder? Well, the Twitpic terms of service–which users agree to when they sign up for a Twitpic account–give the photo sharing service “a worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the [images uploaded to Twitpic] in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business.”

In short, if you upload your images to Twitpic, you are are agreeing to make them available for license without any promise of compensation, or control over how they might be used or distributed.

For the record, Twitpic account holders retain ownership of their images. And WENN says that it is primarily interested in pictures uploaded by celebrities with Twitpic accounts, according to the Times story. But as the Times story notes, the Twitpic terms of service “do not distinguish between the rights of celebrity and non-celebrity users.”

Coincidentally, the Twipic terms of service are at the center of a legal dispute between photographer Daniel Morel and two other photo agencies: AFP and Getty Images. They distributed Morel’s exclusive images of the Haiti earthquake without his permission, after he uploaded them to Twitpic. They claimed they did nothing illegal on the grounds that Twitpic terms of service allow Twitpic users to reproduce and distribute images uploaded by other Twitpic users. Morel’s lawyers counter that the Twitpic terms of service give only Twitpic and its business partners the right to reproduce and distribute Twitpic images, and AFP and Getty are not Twitpic business partners. That case is still pending.

April 29th, 2011

Getty Acquires PicScout

Getty Images has announced its acquisition of PicScout, an Israel-based company that developed image identification and tracking technology that is widely used by stock photo distributors to prevent unauthorized use of images.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, and the company declined to comment on a report that the deal was worth about $20 million.

Getty said in a statement announcing the deal that it will “leverage PicScout’s technology in developing new image identification tools for customers.”

The company says it will continue to make PicScout’s services available to its competitors. And Getty CEO Jonathan Klein says, “Getty Images does not plan to change pricing as a result of the transaction.”

Corbis, a PicScout customer and one of Getty’s largest competitors, said through a spokesperson, “We don’t really have a comment on this [acquisition of PicScout] as it was just announced.”

April 27th, 2011

Mother Claims Defamation Over Daughter’s Image on Billboard

The mother of a six-year-old New Jersey girl whose image appeared in controversial anti-abortion ads has sued the advertisers in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan for unauthorized commercial use of the girl’s likeness. The lawsuit calls the ads “offensive, defamatory, and racist.”

Tricia Fraser is suing an anti-abortion group based in Texas called Life Always and its ad agency, Heroic Media, on behalf of her daughter, Anissa Fraser. The claim is over the use of stock photos of Anissa–shot when she was four–that appeared on billboards near the entrance of the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan, and in Jacksonville, Florida. The billboards included text that said, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” The billboards are intended to drive traffic to the defendants’ web sites, which solicit donations for their cause.

“While Life Always and Heroic Media certainly have the right to engage in such offensive speech, they do not have the right to exploit the likeness of an innocent child to do so,” Tricia Fraser says in her claim. She asserts that the campaign is “designed to shame African-American women from exercising their constitutional rights to reproductive freedom.”

Fraser and her daughter are African-American. The billboards in question provoked an angry reaction from some people, and drew widespread media coverage before they were finally taken down.

Fraser permitted her daughter to pose for stock photographs in 2009, and admits to signing a “take-it-or-leave-it” model release during the shoot. But Life Always and Heroic Media used her daughter’s likeness illegally, she maintains, because the model release she signed expressly excluded “defamatory use of any photos taken on the shoot.”

“Ms. Fraser was led to believe that the photo would be used by the photographer to publicize his own work. At no point was she told they might be used to illustrate a controversial message or as political propaganda,” the lawsuit says.

Life Always did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The images were allegedly distributed by Getty subsidiary Image Source, and were shot by a photographer identified in the lawsuit as C. Camarena. Neither the agencies nor the photographer are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

According to Fraser’s claim, Getty informs its licensees in writing that they may not use licensed images “in connection with a subject that would be unflattering or unduly controversial to a reasonable person” and that the agency’s license agreement “strictly prohibits” defamatory or otherwise unlawful uses.”

Fraser is seeking an injunction to stop the defendants from using the image in question, and unspecified monetary damages.

March 31st, 2011

Adolfa Peeling Potatoes (and 59 other unusable stock photos)

©Marcel Steger

Stock agencies frequently boast about the size of their image collections. Just yesterday, in fact, a well-known agency announced that its collection had reached 23 million images. It’s impossible to know how many images make up the entire stock photo universe, but suffice it to say the number runs into the hundreds of millions, at least. And the laws of probability dictate that some bad images–and I mean, really bad–are going to slip past the gatekeepers.

BuzzFeed.com has compiled a gallery of some of the worst examples. It’s hard to imagine how many of these pictures were even conceived, much less approved by photo editors. In fact, some are so outlandish that it occurred to us they might be hoaxes. We can’t vouch for the authenticity of all the watermarks indicating where the images came from, but Corbis confirmed that the image at above is indeed from its collection. It was shot by photographer Marcel Steger, and a Corbis spokesperson sent a link to his portfolio, presumably to help mitigate the shock of this particular image by giving it some context.

The BuzzFeed gallery also includes a dozen or so images from Getty, including the one shown at left. Asked whether this and the other images with Getty watermarks are really from Getty, an agency spokesperson said she’d get back to us. We’ll update the post if we get more  information.

To see the rest of the gallery, click here at your own risk.

March 23rd, 2011

Sygma Archive Update: Kiss Those Images Goodbye

Several weeks ago, a trustee in charge of millions of old news images in the Sygma archive tamped down rumors that the archive would be destroyed. That quieted the general outrage, and may have left photographers who still have images in the archive with some hope that they might be able to reclaim the images.

But no. The trustee has told PDN (and various photographers who have also inquired) that it is too late to claim the images. The trustee is mum about what will become of the archive, though.

“I inform you that rights of photographers to make claims for their pictures and slides has expired,” a spokesman for the trustee, Stéphane Gorrias, told PDN in an e-mail last week.

The images have been under the control of Gorrias since Corbis, which bought Sygma in 1999, walked away from the collection in May, 2010. Corbis abandoned the collection because it was fed up with financial losses and lawsuits over missing images.

When rumors began circulating at the end of February that Gorrias had said he would destroy the images, photographers and their trade groups began circulating word on Twitter and elsewhere to encourage former Sygma photographers to claim their images.

But it is too late to do that, apparently, and Gorrias’s spokesperson informed us that the “pictures and slides will be simply archived.” She added, “Remaining at your disposal for further information.”

We certainly asked for further information: Who is paying to archive the images? And for how long? Surely there must be a plan to dispose of the archive somehow, because it makes no sense to archive the images indefinitely. So what is the plan?

We received no answer to those questions. The images have apparently gone to picture purgatory, out of reach of the photographers who own them, and headed for some unknown fate. Will they be destroyed after all? Put out on the curb with the trash or recycling? Hocked at a pawn shop in Paris? Put into a cave where future generations can rediscover them, and marvel at them?

Only one man knows, and we await his call.

Related:

Did Twitter Just Save 10 Million Sygma Images?