Getty's Pay to Play
Posted at November 17, 2006 03:53 PM in Sales .

The 800 lbs gorilla, Getty Images, roars again.

Getty makes a very small fraction of photographers a lot of money. In fact, a handful (i.e. <10) even make over $500,000/year from stock image sales. They can do this because they consolidated collections and provided a one-stop shop to the image buyer. They took massive commissions, but also spent money on advertising the service, so now they can rightfully claim that they do more image sales business than their next two competitors combined (Corbis and Jupiter Images).

But times are tough, and the fact is that the three largest stock agencies represent less than 1% of professional photographers worldwide. The rise of sites like Alamy and iStockPhoto (owned by Getty) suggest that there is a larger market for images both on the supply and the demand side. In an effort to cash in on this, they have introduced Getty Open.

Of course "Getty Open" is a moniker akin to the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Well friend, there ain't nothing democratic about North Korea, but a little marketing will hopefully go a long way.

Getty Open is an effort to allow anyone who wants to sell an image to do so. The catch is that you'll have to pay Getty $50 per image to submit, and then give up 70% of the sale with a two-year exclusive. Their value proposition is that if the image does sell, you'll make up that money. And of course, there is some psychology going on. If I have to pay to play, then I will self-select more critically. And for some people, spending money makes them feel like they are exerting control.

But think about this. If you're a good photographer, you don't have to pay to submit to Getty. They just take your images because they know it will sell. So Open is more about monetizing the fact that more people want to be "with Getty" than they really want. Sure, they will find a few diamonds in the rough, but for the most part, this gives them a revenue stream by preying on those who don't know better. This is like putting a non-refundable deposit to get on the waiting list for a hot new condo development, and not being able to put a deposit on any other property.

There is incredible upside for Getty without much risk. Piss off photographers, but who cares. As long as they can keep their image buyers happy, who cares about photographers? After all, whining photographers don't drive the business, revenue does.

Getty didn't get to be #1 by being stupid. I would even argue that they removed inefficiencies in the market that created a larger market for stock imagery.

But don't be seduced by this one. Close the door on Open.