Getty Images Comments on Creative Stock Layoffs

Updated October 21 (see below)

This afternoon, photographer Greg Ceo wrote on his blog that Getty Images is shutting down its wholly owned creative stock operation. Ceo is a Getty contributor, so he’s in a position to know.

Getty isn’t giving out any layoff numbers, but confirms some sort of restructuring is taking place. In a statement from spokesperson Molly McWhinnie, Getty says it is “evolving” its creative stock business:

“Getty Images is in the process of evolving our Creative business, which has been affected by the many changes in the traditional stock photography business over the last few years.  With growth being seen in digital uses and declines in print advertising, as well as the emergence of microstock and other lower-priced alternatives, the demand for highly produced stock photography has reduced from the levels we knew a few years ago. Therefore, we are evolving our business to align with these ongoing changes.

“As a private company, we are not able to share any specifics as to the number of employees. However, suffice to say, the roles are global in nature and that it is a very small number of people. Overall, an extremely small percentage.”

Here’s our quick analysis:

It would be no surprise if Getty moved away from shooting its own stock pictures in-house.

Wholly owned content refers to stock that an agency creates and owns itself, rather than licensing on behalf of a photographer or a third-party agency (with whom it shares any licensing revenue). Getty’s creative stock collection is a mix of wholly owned and third-party content.

A few years ago, wholly owned content was a big buzzword. It was a key strategy at Jupiterimages, which thought owning images outright would make it simpler to include them in subscription products. Jupiter struggled with this strategy and was eventually acquired by Getty, which implemented significant cuts at the company.

Wholly owned or not, Getty has found ways to be more flexible with image licensing, offering subscriptions and low-cost online licenses for most of its vast library. Photographers haven’t exactly greeted this strategy with cheers—some photographers have sued Getty over it. But then, lots of stock photographers hated wholly owned content too. (Flashback to this PDN story from from April 2006: Less Money for Photographers as Stock Agencies Move To Wholly Owned Content.)

Wholly owned content means the stock agency assumes more risk, and could lose money on pictures that don’t sell. With the traditional creative stock business suffering (as microstock sites lure customers away) that risk might have become too much for Getty to tolerate.

Update, October 21: A former Getty staffer tells PDN this is the second wave of cuts to the company’s creative stills division this year. In spring 2009, according to our source, Getty let go Amy Steigbigel (director of photography, New York), Zoe Whishaw (director of photography, Europe), Rolf Sjogren (deputy director of photography, New York), plus additional creative staff in Los Angeles, Sydney and Paris.