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Getty Images goes public… again

Getty Images will return to the stock market as a publicly-traded company, with it valued at US$4.8 billion on the New York Stock Exchange.

To go public, Getty Images is forming a parent company, which has been acquired by CC Neuberger Principal Holdings II, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). SPACs are a popular alternative avenue for a private company to go public, and Getty Images is by far NeuBerger’s largest and most recognisable company.

Getty Images, co-founded in 1995 by Jonathan Klein and Mark Getty, a descendant of multibillionaire Jean Paul Getty, and a year later the company debuted on the NASDAQ exchange. More recently, the company’s corporate history has been constantly changing.

In 2008 private equity firm, Hellman & Friedman, acquired Getty Images for around US$2.4 billion, resulting in the company going from public to private. At the time CNET described Getty as ‘powerful but financially troubled’, although shareholders were paid out a price that was a 29 percent premium.

In 2012, the company was handballed over to The Carlyle Group for US$3.3 billion. According to GeekWire, the company has been ‘weighed down in debt’ since then, however US$576 million of the US$1.38 billion from the SPAC deal will go toward paying off debt.

In 2016 Getty’s primary competitor, Corbis, was sold by owner Bill Gates to Chinese-owned, Visual China Group. Upon announcing the sale, Corbis new owners announced Getty would take on distribution of its library outside China, meaning there was one less competitor. Visual China Group, meanwhile, handles Getty’s library in the Chinese market.

Getty has made other notable acquisitions, including companies that devalue and damage the photo industry such as microstock agency iStock in 2009, and free photo agency Unsplash in 2021.

Geekwire tracked down Getty’s recent financial statements filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and found the company’s revenue dropped to US$814 million in 2020, from US$846 million in 2019 and US$868 million in 2018. However the net loss improved to US$39 million in 2020, from US$51 million the year before.

Getty’s projected major growth areas include video and international markets, according to an investor presentation, and the company aims to continue building its subscription business.

‘We invested in Getty Images more than three years ago because we were convinced the company was at an inflection point in its transition to a recurring, subscription-based service with a sustainable long-term growth profile,’ said Brett Watson,president of Koch Equity Development, in a press release. ‘Behind the leadership of Mark Getty and Craig Peters, the latest phase of this transformation is complete, and we look forward to continuing to support the company as it pursues new growth vectors with a public company balance sheet.’

One of Getty’s biggest competitors, Shutterstock, went public in 2012 on the New York Stock Exchange with a market capitalisation estimated of around US$760 million.

It listed at US$17 per share, and that figure now sits at US$111.07 with a market capitalisation that’s more in line with Getty’s current valuation, at US$4.06 billion.


  1. Robert Winkler Robert Winkler January 1, 2022

    Please substantiate this statement, which as an exclusive contributor to iStock I resent. My photos appear frequently in many of the largest and most prestigious photo venues in the world. How does that devalue and damage the photo industry? It is irresponsible for an organization that supposedly practices journalism to say this without citing evidence. I would say that you devalue and damage journalism. Do I expect an answer? Afraid not:
    “Getty has made other notable acquisitions, including companies that devalue and damage the photo industry such as microstock agency iStock in 2009…”

    • Will Shipton Will Shipton Post author | January 5, 2022

      Hi Robert, Thought I’d surprise you with a response!
      There is no denying some of the biggest entities in the world use iStock to source image content. But this doesn’t change the fact that microstock agencies set some of the lowest prices for an image licence. Ever.

      An advertising agency working for with major global corporations (and being remunerated accordingly) can pay $159 Australian dollars for 750 ‘essential images’ per month, which equals .21c per image. A 20 percent cut of that, .04 cents, goes to the photographer. This paved the way for free stock photography, and if that isn’t the definition of devaluing photography, then I don’t know what is.

      While microstock agencies have been paying out pennies for quite a while now, I don’t think it’s controversial or inaccurate to assert these rock bottom payments have devalued photography.

      • Robert Winkler Robert Winkler January 19, 2022

        You’re a brave man, Will. Some photographers earn their living from iStock. They may have 15,000 or more photos there, but they’re doing it. I shoot just what I feel, my work is out there, and I sell photos every day. Getty markets my photos in many languages, has relationships with search engines that improve search results, and promptly reviews my submissions and changes. Their third-party submission database works great. I can caption, keyword and submit photos quickly, and go right back out to shoot. I’ve sold stock photos on my own for $1,000, but the prodigious marketing involved made that a losing proposition. In the old days, stock photography was dominated by a club of contributors at small companies that closed the door to newbies. Now some of those oldsters are bellyaching about how greedy Getty is, never thinking that maybe they’re the greedy ones and just can’t cut it anymore. My nature photos are used by environmental websites and scientific publishers who could never afford the rates you (or those whispering in your ear) long for. Getty isn’t leading the market, it’s responding to it. Capitalism. Supply and demand. It’s not a charity for photographers who can’t compete. If contributors feel cheated, they can leave and sell their incredibly valuable work elsewhere. Good luck to them. Your mistake, Will, is to define value in monetary terms only. When the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, or Fox News publishes my photos, I let people know about it to build stock sales and secure assignments. I’ve been a writer, editor and photographer, and like actors, musicians and virtually all other creative professionals, I’ve always struggled. As Herman Melville said, “Who ain’t a slave?” Despite a career of exploitation and insulting treatment, I’m still alive. And for me, iStock works.

        • Will Shipton Will Shipton Post author | January 19, 2022

          Hey Robert,
          There is no denying that microstock agencies perform a service to make photos reach new markets. This service isn’t worthless, but they couldn’t possibly pay their contributors less although I’m sure they’re toying with ways to do it.
          I’m not suggesting stock photographers deserve to be paid over $1K per licence, as you and many of the oldsters managed back in the day. But all the big clients you mentioned, (and Getty) are more than capable of creating a payment scheme where contributors earn more 10 cents per licence. Ah well, capitalism , eh?

        • Caroline Caroline January 24, 2022

          Hi Robert
          The way I read your comment is that for you, it is the exposure which is the most valuable thing about having your images in the micro-stock market. Is that what you meant? If that (exposure) was taken out of the equation, would it still be worth your while contributing your images?
          What about for someone starting out? Do you think a newbie could make decent money by contributing images to Getty or iStock or similar?

          • Robert Winkler Robert Winkler January 28, 2022

            Hi Caroline,
            Yes, exposure (or credits), supplemental income and reaching quality buyers who I would never know existed. As I said, the last has value to me that goes beyond monetary. On the Getty contributor forum, people say it’s their sole gig. One shoots whatever moves her, another “shoot to briefs,” which are specific commercial want lists from Getty clients that can command higher prices (this seems to be very competitive). Perhaps a very commercially oriented photographer (which is not me), who shoots to briefs, and is extremely creative and productive could make a go of it … EVENTUALLY. If you’re in it for the money only, I would think it’s such a steep hill to climb, and it would take so long to build the numbers you need to make it pay off (at least several years), that you may not want to bother. BUT I’M NO EXPERT! Decent money? I would say no, but doesn’t that also go for photography in general?

  2. Getty Gal Getty Gal November 8, 2022

    ‘An advertising agency working for with major global corporations (and being remunerated accordingly) can pay $159 Australian dollars for 750 ‘essential images’ per month’

    As someone who deals with agencies and licensing contributor images and video at Getty, this is not substantially true.
    An advertising agency has to purchase assets for their client which include a ‘pass through right’ – ie, images which are fully licensed to be passed to the client and stored by the client or agency as the work is done – a team of 10 all in all. The client gets to keep the end result… the finished work, plus the asset on their DAM.
    Check out the Getty Images EULA online if you’re unsure.
    The client owns the RF license in perpetuity once it is licensed to them. Rights Ready works differently and is a different conversation.

    iStock is a collection of imagery that occurs BOTH on the iStock site AND on Getty Images.
    The iStock site has the licensing stripped out of it and is what I call a ‘small business’ product. Single user, one computer, lowered indemnification, no pass through rights, no DAM storage, no team rights, no print run etc.
    Hence the price is much lower.
    If a purchaser wishes to add to the license, then they do so by adding what they need back in.
    If an agency added full rights back in on an iStock asset, they’d end up paying more for the asset than licensing it on Getty Images. (Agencies have an agreed rate based on their annual spend with us)

    On Getty Images, the iStock collection is fully indemnified, has all the rights and full licensing put back in.
    Hence the AUD $650 price.

    Whilst an agency CAN purchase from the iStock site, they are only ever entitled to give the final end work to the client. The client may never take the asset as their own and certainly can’t use it.
    The vast majority of agencies purchase from Getty Images at their rate because they deal with large clients who require full indemnification.

    If a client comes requesting a quote from the iStock site, then my first ask is what the use is and help educate them on why it’s not the correct product for an agency to be using. Some below the line agencies use it because they’re only ever giving the client the finished work, but generally any above the line work requires a full license and indemnification.
    Getty will not indemnify a client if they deliberately use the iStock site to create work. As you could imagine, a claim from a photographer could be huge for a large campaign.
    I’m pretty sure that some agencies use the iStock site incorrectly but we are not the image police and can’t check everything. If they choose to do that, it’s at the risk to their client and that is a dangerous game.

    Other than educating clients on iStock use, you may like to know that we always point out that we need to pay our contributors fairly. When we have a business who may have had profit in the millions for their financial year, who comes in for a huge discount, we ask a fair price for our contributors and push back against the client.
    If their budget is really low, the answer may be to remove some of their rights (perhaps they can use the asset only once and there can be no DAM storage or re-use if they’re paying less)
    We do value our contributors highly. Without their quality work, we are not GI. If we lose our contributors, then we lose our quality, something that our competitors can’t touch.
    There are options to shoot for Custom Content, or just shoot what moves you as mentioned above.

    Toying with ‘how to pay contributors less’ isn’t actually in line with GI’s leadership principals and it would be counter intuitive to the fundamental core business values and strategies.
    If you feel what GI is doing devalues the photographic industry, it would probably help to identify the strategy behind buying Unsplash and exactly how we work with agencies etc. What you’re saying just isn’t founded in fact so I hope this helps a little with your understanding.
    Warmest etc.

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