Spotlight on Corbis

Spotlight on Corbis – news

Kevin Lo

SEATTLE — In 1989, in the age of Apple and Commodore 64 computers, Corbis was on its way to making its name synonymous with acquiring and licensing digital fine art and photography.

Originally founded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, the company was placed in the hands of Corbis C.E.O. Steve Davis. Davis was responsible for building a company from a prophetic notion of what the future of digital imaging technology would be. Public Relations Manager Marc Osborn said, “Gates had a hunch digital imagery and digital media would be a big thing in the future. As it turns out, he was right.”

When the company started, its primary business was in the stock-photography industry. Corbis licensed imagery to commercial and editorial markets, which applied those images to various products and services. While licensing is still the primary business, Jill Ambrose, vice president of consumer products said, “Through that evolution, the vision was to extend this type of offering into other types of product industries whereby imagery could be incorporated into consumer products. So, more licensing efforts directed towards publishing companies that produced wall decor, stationary, greeting cards, textiles and home furnishing goods where imagery and art can be included into development of those products was needed. Hence the creation of the consumer products division.”

Innovative in getting images to its consumers since its inception, Corbis is continuously looking for new ways to do so. The company has chosen the wholesale market as part of the next evolution. “The licensing and wholesale markets are one exciting way that images not only get put into your lives but also onto a product or a thing that you use regularly,” said Osborn.

Clients can select an image, and Corbis can size it and produce the image on demand. “We really believe our relationship with our customers is an important component of what we do. So a lot of the activity that occurs is really one-on-one” said Ambrose.

Much of the year 2000 was spent doing proprietary research for their consumer products division. By 2001, Corbis had created five broad segments of end consumers to better understand the needs of their clients. The first segment they came up with those uninterested in decorating, which Corbis contends is fruitless to work with. “Other markets range from those with limited incomes but have a propensity to decorate because it makes them feel good in their home to those who use the imagery to create identity for themselves. All have different discretionary incomes, purchasing behaviors, motivations and different types of content they’re interested in,” said Ambrose.

Corbis wishes to keep in step with the trends and themes of the industry. Ambrose said, “We spent a lot of time looking at the types of imagery we would need to be able to satisfy the markets. We are in an ongoing process to fill out that collection.” Ambrose reported that since the launch of the consumer products division, requests for images have doubled every week.

Quality control is important to Corbis’ business, especially in keeping up with fast-paced technological advancements. The company feels a responsibility to protect images for posterity, while offering the best and highest resolution print. Each image has what they call meta-data attached to the digital file profiling the image. “There is a real concern, especially in the photography community, that the images created 200 years ago when photography began are deteriorating. We are going to be able to provide a great benefit to the world by making sure that all this imagery will be available forever,” said Ambrose.

Corbis’ digital C-print uses the latest in laser technology that produce high-resolution scans that can be sharper than conventional photo prints and have an apparent resolution of 4,000 dpi. Digital photographic prints are exposed digitally but processed as traditional photographs. Digital fine art prints are printed with special archival pigmented inks that offer the widest color gamut possible on a range of fine archival watercolor papers.

Next, Corbis will launch a digital home gallery at DECOR expo–New York in 2003. Art, illustrations and photography will be featured on a plasma or flat screen televisions. “People are putting frames on these screens and they can change the artwork to fit their moods,” said Ambrose.

For Corbis, the advancement of new technologies means the advancement of the company. Yet, leaders of this company that started from just a notion of the future believe, “We are, and we certainly strive to be the global leader in digital media,” said Osborn.


* Bill Gates is the founder and sole investor of Corbis.

* Corbis has its headquarters in Seattle but also has offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Dusseldorf, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Vienna, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

* For more information, visit

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