Getty Images is perfecting the art of knowing what advertising, publishing, and media companies need even before they do—reading the zeitgeist and creating pictures to evoke it. "Essentially, we're predicting tomorrow's visual aesthetic," says CEO Jonathan Klein. And with stock images making up 80% of his business, his competitive edge depends on having the future on hand when a researcher comes to find it. "The number-one draw for us is that they're on top of trends, and their imagery is the best," says Jacki Angeletti, an art buyer for DDB Chicago.
Recently, Getty and Klein have moved aggressively into breaking-news photography, teaming up with Agence France-Presse and a growing roster of staff photographers. That helped them win a 2005 nod from American PHOTO magazine as the number-one "Most Important People in Photography" (edging out even Annie Leibovitz).
Klein, a South African media banker, and Mark Getty, grandson of tycoon J. Paul Getty, founded the company in 1995, turning a fragmented and tech-illiterate business into a modern digital machine. A decade later, with more than 40 million images and 2.3 million monthly Web-site visitors, they expect annual revenues in the range of $820 million to $840 million from a business that's growing 14% to 17% per year. Bear Stearns predicts that the market for creative and editorial imagery, which is currently pegged at about $2.5 billion, will grow to $4.4 billion by 2012. Now that's a pretty picture.