Corbis, the photographic library owned by Bill Gates, is considering signing up illustrators and expanding its business to offer digital images to domestic consumers.
Speaking to Design Week in New York, Gates (pictured) says Corbis ‘will also have imagery for the mobile phone that you think is neat to have or that you think is cool. You are also getting a lot of high-resolution displays around the home, and the idea is that you could pick images and mix those with images you have taken yourself’.
It is understood that Corbis is about to launch a major mobile initiative, but it is not yet clear if imagery will be sold directly to consumers or via telecoms providers or on-line retailers. But senior executives confirm that Corbis is looking at diversifying into illustration.
Corbis represents and assigns photographers, and this model could be expanded to illustration and animation, which is particularly suitable for the booming mobile content market. Corbis estimates demand for visual content for mobile phones is 15 per cent of the ringtone market.
Plasma screen and high definition TV screens, new portable devices such as ultra-mobile portable computers (launched by Microsoft and Samsung this month) and digital tablets, would provide other platforms for imagery.
Gates denies that Corbis and other image libraries are building a monopoly on digital imagery. He says. ‘The digital world has created a whole spectrum, from amateurs sharing on Flickr.com to top artists being able to put stuff up on a website like Corbis. It has created freedom of choice and greater access.’
Gates founded Corbis in 1989 as Interactive Home Systems, to offer digital images to consumers in their homes, before changing strategy to become a conventional photo library. Gates says he was initially ‘wrong to think that the consumer market would be able to grow fast enough to pull together its archive’.
The latest thinking marks a return to Gates’s vision for the company, which has been subsidised since its inception and has yet to make a profit.
Gates’s business interests:
• Bill Gates is chairman of Microsoft, Corbis and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the world’s largest charity
• Corbis is the second largest image library after Getty Images
• Corbis has been in the Japanese mobile market since 2000
• Corbis purchased Zefa, the third largest photo library in 2005