Is Tony Stone the true founder of Getty Images?

April 20th, 2010 by

The media often feature Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein as the founders of Getty Images, but were they truly the company founders like Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard, or Steve Jobs who started up their companies from scratch in their garages?

Mark Getty and work colleague Jonathan Klein cleverly identified the potential for huge growth in the stock photo industry, sought out Tony Stone Images as the market leader, acquired the company, and left their careers at London-based Hambro’s Bank to become Chairman and CEO of the company. It was Getty Holdings, representing a consortium of Getty family interests, which bought Tony Stone Images (Tony had previously purchased Click! Chicago and my company, After-Image).

The two re-branded the business as Getty Images, and worked with Tony and his existing management to carry the company forward. So you could say that Tony Stone (who founded his enterprise in the loft of his home decades earlier) was the true founder of Getty Images.

I was insulted by Klein’s remark in the recent NY Times article, “When we began, stock photography or licensed images, preshot images being licensed, was perceived as the armpit of the photo industry,” said Jonathan Klein, the chief executive of Getty Images who helped found the agency in 1995. “No self-respecting art director or creative director would use a preshot image, because it wasn’t original, it hadn’t been commissioned by them, it wasn’t their creativity.”

I know from  direct experience as the president of Tony Stone Images/LA that the top creatives regularly bought stock photography including for high visibility,  big campaigns for major advertisers prior to the invention of Getty Images.  I submit that neither Getty nor Klein were responsible for elevating the creative level of the stock photo business. Those laurels go to Tony and the photographer/founders of the Image Bank (Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, Larry Fried as well as businessman, James Garcia). There is no doubt of the immense achievement of Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein – they continued the acquisition of companies which Tony Stone had started, and accelerated the move into the digital world. But the very least they should do is refrain from continuously insulting those whose shoulders they  stood on.

It was Tony Stone’s vision that kickstarted Getty Images’ position at top of the creative market. When I sold my company, After-Image, to Tony and became part of Tony Stone Images, we had over 400,000 photographs in the files in Los Angeles. Tony took one look at the dozens of meticulously organized file cabinets and asked me, “Why do you need all these photos?” He had recognized the highly creative nature of some of the After-Image collection but correctly realized that much was just ‘filler’.

Tony’s theory then and now, reinterated on Microstock Diaries, is that there is no point in wasting time and resources on anything except the best photos in a genre. He once told me that all the world needed was a dozen of the best photos of Paris as those were the images that would run as covers, chapter openers or full page spreads. Why have photos of every little burg in Provence when those images will usually only run small. Of course this was before the Internet and the decline of print. And prior to microstock’s long tail circling the globe.

In addition to the big news last week that Tony Stone has joined  former colleague, Lawrence Gould, at Vivozoom, I noticed news about a new microstock company specializing in images from Israel, with what seems to be an emphasis on religion. Is there a new era in the lifecycle of the microstock business, signaled by these two unrelated events? What do you think? Stay tuned.