Editorial & Business
Gary Shenk, the Future of Corbis !
Gary Shenk © Geneviève Delalot
On the occasion of his visit to France, Corbis President Gary Shenk held this exclusive interview with La Lettre’s Michel Puech. The day before the interview, Gary Shenk declared that he “hoped to accompany the transformation of world media thanks to a partnership with the Associated Press to enhance its news strategy.” Then he repeated what everyone already knew, Corbis acquired Splash News, an agency specialized in what is know as the “red carpet”, celebrity photography. Corbis also invested in Demotix, an associative website that relies on “more than 5000 professional and amateur photographers in 190 countries… with “700 correspondants in the Middle East and 50 in the Gaza Strip…” Professional photographers will appreciate that!
We will start with the future and will finish with the past. Yesterday, during your presentation, you referred to Corbis’ latest acquisitions, but I was frankly very disappointed ... I didn’t quite comprehend why you decided to return to news ... Can you explain?
Gary Shenk: "Yes of course ... We have been legitimately working in this market for twenty-five years. For the longest time, Corbis based its activities primarily on archival work, but if you look at how the market has evolved, you cannot base sales entirely on archives, it is essential to respond to our client’s requests."
If I re-read Steve Davis’ 2001 press release, that someone sent to me as a joke, and I listen to what you said yesterday, I feel that it is the same speech.
Gary Shenk: "I cannot comment on what Steve Davis said in 2001 because I was not at Corbis at the time. The only thing I can say now is that there is great opportunity for us today. All sorts of challenges are open. We can earn money from archival sales, but we can also work on the "wired" market like AFP and Associated Press.
The difficulty is that we held a focus group on the press market, but the market has changed. Ten years ago opportunities were different. The various media we can now sell to are far more numerous. There are new energies.
You said that Corbis had one goal: photographer to client in eight seconds ...
Gary Shenk: "No, in seven seconds ..."
The question is how is it possible in seven seconds to verify the information, write a good caption and include good keywords in the file?
Gary Shenk: "It is the photographer’s responsibility to write the caption. It is the photographer’s responsibility to take the picture, write the caption and transmit. Key words won’t be necessary at first, but the pictures will still be available immediately. And speedier transmissions open windows to new opportunities. The first is towards real-time news. A major event occurs, such as Bin Laden’s death or the Arab spring ... we must immediately be able to distribute the photos. The second window, once the keywords are defined, will allow us to deliver a complete reportage, full coverage. But we must be capable of delivering information immediately. "
Do you really want to return, or perhaps start, competing with the major wire services?
Gary Shenk: We would like to be faster than them! With the acquisition of Splash News, we will learn to function like they do, which means delivering material faster than the wire services.
So that means more work for the photographer, and if I read your new contract correctly, a decreased percentage of sales?
Gary Shenk: "I think there is more work for everyone in today's market. Photographers and agencies must all work together. The photographer sends us the photo, but we have developed the right technology to send it to the client. We all have to work faster. "
And the photographer earns less?
Gary Shenk: “In the Corbis network, our editorial photographers earn a higher salary than photographers at other agencies, and copyright negotiations are higher. There are economic realities that force us to make investments in technology and marketing. They are substantial. We try to provide our photographers with the best working conditions..."
In France, there are rumors that you will be closing your offices in Paris, and perhaps in London or elsewhere ...
Gary Shenk: "It is true that since my arrival at Corbis, we closed some offices in smaller markets such as Singapore and Malaysia ... These are small markets that can work by phone but in the larger markets such as England, France or Germany, no. These markets are important enough to require a sales force in direct contact with customers. "
We can rest assured on this?
Gary Shenk: "We want to keep these offices, but the there has been a staff reduction to take into account the administrative regrouping in Seattle, but we intend to keep the current offices in Europe."
Time for the tough questions. There are five photographers who have filed complaints about contract transfer conditions from Corbis Sygma to Corbis Corporation...
Gary Shenk: "We haven’t received any complaints! We know only what has been reported in the press, but we cannot comment on something we know nothing about."
But the complaints are real, we published them after having acquired receipts from the prosecutor!
Gary Shenk: "We are not aware of these complaints, we will make a comment in the event that we should receive them. "
The photography world is worried about the future of Sygma’s archives, you have put under contract a few hundred of the best Sygma photographers, but millions of photographs still remain in the hands of the administrator in charge of filing the Corbis Sygma bankruptcy. Will you be able to recover them?
Gary Shenk: "No I don’t think so! We don’t have any intention of recovering those pictures! We are very happy about the very, very, good relations we have with former Sygma photographers. They are still productive. We even have former photographs that are returning to benefit from our valuable archive program. "
Has your announcement to rekindle the news department sparked a renewal of Sygma contracts that were set to expire next year?
Gary Shenk: "Yes, I was very pleased to see some former Sygma photographers in the room. The fact that we have become more aggressive on the news market helps not only production but also the current value of the archives. Our customers will see the arrival of new material and will be inspired to rely more on our archives.
I was shocked by the sentence in your new contract that excludes all French journalists from Corbis. What is the reason for this ostracism?
Gary Shenk asks Stefan Biberfeld to answer.
Stefan Biberfeld: What sentence are you talking about?
“ In addition, if you reside in France, you hereby represent and warrant that you are not a (photo) journalist nor a press card holder and do not INTEND on becoming a (photo) journalist nor will seek to hold a press card. In the event That you reside in France and have a press card, you are not eligible to enter into this agreement. "
Stefan Biberfeld: Indeed, our goal, which is similar to that of most agencies - especially the major ones - is to have independent freelancers because French law provides special protection to journalists in treating them as employees.
When a company the size of Corbis writes this, it enters the debate ... It's almost a political statement.
Gary Shenk: “Corbis is trying to provide the best services for its clients and for its photographers, we are not being political. Indeed, contributors have a choice. They can choose to either come to Corbis or not. We believe we offer the best contracts for photographers, we do our best to promote their works.”