Talent spotter

By: David Hutt - Posted on: December 7, 2015 | Business

The world’s largest photo agency, Getty Images, is shifting focus in the region. Local photographers are the future, according to Kumiko Shimamoto, the company’s vice-president in Asia

Just last month, one of the founders of the world’s largest photo agency stepped aside. Jonathan Klein co-founded Getty Images with Mark Getty in 1995 and, following years of aggressive acquisitions, he handed over the chief executive role on October 12 with the company in rude health, boasting an archive of more than 80 million photographs and 50,000 hours of stock film from around the world. While the new chief executive, Dawn Airey, will be based in New York, the company’s eye is being increasingly drawn to new opportunities further afield.

Kumiko Shimamoto, getty images
Kumiko Shimamoto studied economics at Kobe University and has a master’s degree in media studies from the University of Manchester. She was global sales director of publicity portal ImageNet in the UK before it was acquired by Getty Images in 2004. Kumiko was then appointed Getty’s senior director of news photography in the UK and Germany, before becoming vice-president of Getty Images Asia.

“In Europe and the US, the industry is pretty saturated, but here in Southeast Asia there are still so many opportunities,” says Kumiko Shimamoto, vice-president of Getty Images Asia for the past six-and-a-half years. It is the region’s economic growth, the expansion of businesses and new startups, along with a rising awareness of how important good photography is, she says, that makes Southeast Asia a dynamic and exciting place to be. 

Since its conception in Seattle, US, the company has used the same licencing policy: customers pay a rate for each photograph or image, which they can use either once or multiple times depending on the agreement, and the photographers or designers receive a certain percentage of the takings. In recent years, Getty Images has sparked controversy for taking legal action against websites and business, both large and small, for using its content improperly.

Although most of those proceedings took part in the West, Shimamoto states that copyright issues remain a problem in Southeast Asia. “There are still some countries in the region where people think its fine to search on Google for images and then use them [without paying],” she explains. “However, as we’re mainly B2B, our clients are usually more educated about and aware of copyrights, as it can impact on their reputation.”

Another issue is that many companies and individuals in Southeast Asia don’t want to pay the big money sometimes required for photos. “However, that will probably change once people start seeing others use high quality content, so we’re at a transition stage,” she adds.

One of the company’s biggest Southeast Asian successes is currently its iStock catalogue. Comprised of crowd-sourced images, this content is thus more affordable than the photo agency’s more exclusive stock, and it is available to purchase as part of a subscription, rather than per image.

iStock also allows Getty to access increasing amounts of local content which, Shimamoto adds, is one of the company’s major goals in the coming years, as it allows them to offer an even greater range of photos to clients. As an example, she says that if a publication requested an image of a Cambodian child in a school, she wouldn’t know if Getty had one in its stock. However, if she was working in the UK, she could be certain that the company had a photograph of a British child in a school. So the more local content Getty receives, the greater the chance it can fulfil photo requests.

“We’re seeing a very big trend. People take more snaps nowadays than they’ve ever done, such as on smartphones, so people are used to seeing a lot of [amateur] photos,” she explains. “For example, mothers taking photographs of their babies. People are drawn to them, they want content like that, so a lot of brands don’t always go for that professional photo that looks like it was shot in a studio… This is driving our need for more content from amateur photographers.”

So after years of acquisitions of other photo agencies in its quest to offer one of the world’s largest photo archives, the future of Getty Images seems to lie in “authentic” content from local photographers and designers.

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