The year has not been kind for the editorial space and as result, photo agencies have continued to suffer. The market continues to see decreasing space rates along with print publications shutting down. Once the kingdom of Rights managed and exclusives, it is now a vast flat plain of yearly unlimited subscriptions and royalty free. Yet, not one but 3 new photo agencies have recently put their stake in the ground, ready to conquer and revive a market now mainly dominated by Getty and Shutterstock.
From ex-Splash founder Kevin Smith is the Mega Agency. With a team vastly spread out over the world ( the CEO is in Danmark, the CCO in Miami and the COO in Los Angeles) it launched with over 20 million images (all from Newscom, an aggregator of photo agencies) and the promise of super fast delivery of content ( an app is supposedly in final stage of development). The speed is certainly aimed to seduce both the breaking news websites worldwide and UK newspapers ( who still have a healthy photo budget) while the vast content, even if already available on the marketplace, a key to competing in the subscription model ( one needs to offer large amounts of content to be appealing). From this foundation, The Mega Agency plans to attract the top free-lance photographers ( some from the now sold-twice Splash News photo agency) with the promise of higher returns, thanks partly to wholly owned offices worldwide ( instead of commission eating subagent model). The agency has a formidable roster of battle weary executives and certainly has the elements to succeed. What remains to be seen is if it has the capacity to reverse the negative pricing trend of the market and resist marketing and pricing pressure of both Getty and Shutterstock.
From ex-Getty Images COO Nick Evans-Lombe is the Silver Hub. Born in the UK, it has already acquired Action Press ( in Germany) along with a group of smaller UK photo agencies. It also just recently acquired what is left of Splash News from what remains of Corbis Images ( renamed BEN). [Update] In documents just released by Selling Stock, it appears that Shutterstock helped finance the acquisition of Splash via its subsidiary Rex Features in exchange for exclusive worldwide licensing rights. Obviously, Silver Hub does not want to take the arduous and expensive road of building its own independent sales channel but rather prefers to concentrate on generating content, in this case solely for Shutterstock. In will not be surprising to see them solely concentrate on building a strong paid assignment division, probably helped by some of Getty’s most recent departures. Not a bad strategy, as assignments not only offers higher rates but much richer content for later licensing. The danger here is that if relations with Shutterstock get difficult, Silver Hub has no owned sales channel to fall back on. But the longer term strategy might just be to become more fully integrated with Shutterstock over time, becoming its assignment arm, the one that will cut deals with sponsors, Hollywood studios or sports leagues, for example.
From UK as well and emanating from WENN is Cover Images. Run by ex-Rex Features Glen Marks ( and supported by ex-Rex owner John Selby), Cover Image also claims 20 million images, with half being from the production of Wenn. Unlike the two others, Cover Images benefits from the vast sales channel Wenn has built over the years thus will suffer no delay to reach a large client base. Same as the two previously mentioned, it is staffed by seasoned executives that not only have a keen understanding of the marketplace but far-reaching relationships. It does appear that have plans to acquire further companies which is not surprising, considering the substantial amount of editorial content and agencies for sale. It’s a buyers market.
For those three newcomers, the challenges are the same. Compete with deep pockets and very well established Shutterstock and Getty ( although to a lesser extent for Silver Hub) and up and coming editorial entrant, Adobe Stock. They will have to accurately position themselves in a highly saturated market that is now accustomed to licensing content via a flow rather than on an individual basis and whose budget are poorly adapted to expensive exclusives. One of the bet is that some of these publications reverse their cost cutting strategies and start reinvesting in original, high quality, exclusive images to attract more readers. Not an impossible evolution but if they do, nothing prevents Shutterstock, Adobe or Getty to follow suite.
The other is to be best calibrated to respond to Getty soon ( 2017) to be launched consumer offering model, which might take them out of the pro buyers market. Getty has been very busy in putting together the foundations that will probably see their images handed out for free against advertising rather than for a license fee. Their long-term strategy, it appears, is to rebrand themselves as a tech company with content, much easier to sell (which is owner The Carlyle Group’s priority). If so, this might leave the door wide open to some publishers not willing to follow that path.
Finally, all three companies are investing while the rest of the playing field is devesting. A great majority of mid to smaller editorial photo agencies have either shut down or have been forced to merge. Either way, they are in poor financial health and hardly capable of competing, letting photographers, staffers and sometimes clients go. For the newcomers, the opportunity to aggressively recuperate both assets and market share is obvious. From today’s vantage point, there is opportunity . But as we all know, success lies in execution. And a little bit of luck.
Photo by Moyan_Brenn