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Getty Images rides digital photography wave
THE figures vary a bit, from a low of 800 billion to an upper limit of one trillion. However, whichever number you choose, it represents a ginormous number of photographs that were clicked in 2014.
Thanks to digitalisation of camera technology, more people are taking photographs than ever before and posting them online.
A proliferation of digital storytelling channels all over the world means that images are entrenched in our lives. Today, people spanning all demographic groups and geographies are producing and sharing images online, via their social channels.
Kumi Shimamoto of Getty Images, which has one of the world's biggest digital libraries of stock photographs and does business worth nearly US$1 billion in selling and licensing these images, observed that the social network "sharing" phenomenon has had a significant impact on the content and photography industry.
Photographs are being shared on social media sites and blogs by (non-commercial) users at an exponential rate and accounts for the huge number of photos taken in 2014.
Should a company such a Getty Images, whose business model depends on selling and licensing photographs taken by professionals, be concerned with this explosion of citizen photography? Ms Shimamoto, who is Getty Images' commercial vice-president for Asia and country manager for Japan, thought, on the contrary, that this presents a great opportunity to the company.
"The development of digital technology and equipment is definitely an opportunity for Getty Images. Besides professional photographers, we can now also source content from amateurs who happen to be in the right place at the right time," she noted.
When Getty Images was founded in 1995, it was completely analogue. "We sold images for print, and had big filing cabinets lined up," Ms Shimamoto recalled.
That business model has changed dramatically. As digitalisation progressed, the business of selling rights to images has shifted.
The way that people take images, edit, distribute and use them has also changed, Ms Shimamoto added. In the past, they were to be printed but now they are for multiple platforms.
"Images and videos existed around the periphery of communications between people before, but now they have become the most frequently used 'language' in the world," she pointed out.
Ms Shimamoto said that Getty Images currently serves over 1.5 million customers in more than 185 countries through its global sales force of 600 individuals and self-serve websites available in 20 languages.
"Fifteen years ago, we represented a few thousand artists and licensed less than 100,000 images a year. Now we represent 200,000 artists and license over 60 million images a year. At the same time, customer numbers have exploded from 30,000 to 1.5 million with a revenue of almost US$1 billion."
She noted that everybody is a potential publisher, and it is "incredibly easy" to find content online and simply right-click to utilise it. "Over the past few years, we have found that our content is increasingly being used in this way. Bloggers are finding our images via an image search and posting unauthorised pictures to their sites. However, the vast majority of infringers in this space do so either unknowingly or due to lack of a viable alternative."
To address this issue, Getty Images announced a new tool with which individuals can embed and share the company's imagery at no cost for non-commercial use on websites, blogs and social media channels.
"Through the embed tool, individuals can draw on Getty Images' latest news, sports, celebrity, music and fashion coverage; immense digital photo archive; and rich conceptual images to illustrate their unique passions, ideas and interests. This innovation opens one of the largest, deepest and most comprehensive image collections in the world for easy sharing," Ms Shimamoto said.
Embedded images include photographer attribution and, when clicked, link back to Getty Images website from where the image can be licensed for commercial use.
This provides people with a simple and legal way to utilise content that respects creators' rights, including the opportunity to generate licensing revenue, she noted. "It also ensures that our content is attributed to our photographers and carries links back to our site for commercial licensing opportunities. Photographers benefit by having their images seen in more places with attribution, amounting to increased exposure when currently images are lifted illegally without any indication of origin."
With over 55 million images available to embed, and more added every day, the embed capability is supported anywhere that HTML can be posted. Users are also able to share images on major social platforms including Twitter, and partnerships with blogging platforms such as WordPress, Embed.ly and Storify let users seamlessly access millions of embeddable images directly, she added.
Ms Shimamoto noted that Asia-Pacific is Getty Images' fastest growing region. "As advertising spend increases for the region, so does our business. The media market is also healthily supported by the large growth of the middle-class population in many countries in the region.
"We are seeing a shift in the type of content that is being used. No longer are customers in this region interested in Western content, there is an increasing appetite for local content."
Ms Shimamoto added that the proliferation of mobile devices accompanied by the democratisation of publishing and content creation is nothing but great news for Getty Images. "Millions of people now have the tools and networks to generate massive amounts of content, and the competition for attention has never been fiercer. Our unparalleled content and curative services are ever more in demand as visual content is the proven media type to drive engagement and loyalty."