A Puffer Fish is a fish that blows itself up to dramatically change its appearance and size: not unlike Getty-Images (GYI), Corbis, and Jupiter-Images (JUPM) in the imaging market. All three have hybrid business models that disguise the money they make in the exchange of digital photography. But we know better, we’ve analyzed empirical data and studied their reports carefully.
That does not mean these “Three Bandits” are failures: Getty-Images is very successful as a photography agency (doing about $805M in revenues per year), Corbis is a very rich catalog of historic photographs stashed away in a bunker in Pennsylvania, slowly being digitized at the cost of about $25 per photograph (revenues around $250M). Jupiter-Images is the division of Jupitermedia, formerly a magazine publishing and events company, now morphing into a content acquisition company.
But they are not a successes either. Organic growth of these companies is well below the growth of the image exchange market, and their combined market share is less than 10% of the image exchange addressable market. So, while the $1.5B asking price for Getty-Images doesn’t sound outrageous (less than 2x revenues), what you’re buying is an outsourced photography agency. Getty-Images is, in essence, a people factory with ever eroding profit margins.
Twenty years ago, Getty-Images started with a $20M investment from grandpa Getty and had continued to purchase a wide array of photo agencies (hence the Puffer Fish) and large libraries of photographs that, over time, become stale rather than increase in value. The average sales price of those, primarily editorial, photographs are declining steadily (more so than creative photography), leaving the company with a large family of complacent celebrity photographers and mainstream content only the select few publishing agencies are interested in.
With publishers (of all kinds) looking for original content, the imaging Super Store approach from the Three Bandits is fundamentally flawed. But the reason why we don’t believe in the longevity of their business models (and their asking price) is that they ignore and suppress the massive influx of new digital photographers that create phenomenal high quality and original content most publishers would be dying to get their hands on.
So anyone buying these companies will soon find out how small Puffer Fish are.