Taking Stock: Adventures in the World of Stock Footage

How Getty Images outmaneuvered the competition

Recently, I was speaking with Larry Urbanski of Urbanski Film. I was ordering some film storage supplies, and we started talking about the state of the stock footage business today.

I told Larry that I was with Getty Images, and I was making money each month. He seemed mildly surprised and speculated that the one way you could still make money with stock footage these days was to do what I was doing: ally yourself with Getty.

He seemed slightly nostalgic about the all of the stock footage houses that existed before Getty came along and gobbled up the market. There’s an element of truth to that, but I see things slightly differently.

I’ve been with Getty since 2002, and I’ve watched them do two things: buy up competitors and integrate their technologies into Getty’s site. Call Getty the Borg of Stock Footage.

However, from my perspective as a contributor, it doesn’t seem that banal and sinister. For instance, they bought up istockphoto and began to incorporate that site’s ability to provide previews of all of its still photo and film clip offerings. This was revolutionary back in 2009, and it’s exactly what customers wanted.

It was also a much better experience for everyone. In the old days, a customer would phone a rep at Getty and ask them to make a tape filled with clips of, say, a boy eating a sandwich at the kitchen table. Then Getty librarians would pull tapes from films that they knew contained shots like that and make the compilation tape. They would send it to the customer, and six days later, the customer could move forward with his video project.

This process was clunky and horrible. It had to change. Cue the internet.

With video previews and prices for clips available directly on their web site, Getty has totally streamlined the process for researching, inserting a watermarked preview clip into your edit timeline, and purchasing the clip online. I can’t begin to tell you what a giant leap forward this was for stock footage.

Competitors couldn’t keep up, and that’s why they’re either Getty contributors now, or they’ve simply disappeared.

As a contributor, it also meant that I could make more money, because customers could find my clips more easily. They no longer had to go through the Getty gatekeepers. (It’s also a sly business move for Getty, because they shift the responsibility of finding a clip back to the customer so that they can focus on speeding up transactions and making more content available.)

So where am I going with all this? Simple. You can be nostalgic about the good old days all you want. That’s fine. But don’t ask me to go back. The way stock footage was handled in the past was slow and frustrating. Today, thanks to Getty’s technological prowess, it’s as fast as a retail transaction. And that kind of innovation keeps Getty’s internal customers (contributors like me) and external customers satisfied.

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