Bidders line up for Getty images

The world’s biggest source of pictures is up for sale.

Getty Images, which provides thousands of pictures daily for newspapers, magazines and advertising agencies, is on the auction block. It could, it is estimated, fetch more than $l,500 million.

Already there are several possible buyers who have expressed interest. They include the private equity firms of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Bain Capital.

Getty, which was founded in l995 in Seattle, by Jonathan Klein and Mark Getty, of the J Paul Getty oil family, has grown rapidly over the years by various acquisitions.

IIt now claims four million visitors a month to its website. It has over 3,000 million images in its files. Most of them from professional photographers around the world.

It also has pictures from the libraries of such publications as Time, Life and National Geographic.

The high-quality of its pictures are its main selling point. It is a big supplier of pictures to such papers as the New York Times. It also these days provides video footage for movie studios, television stations and the internet.

Last year Getty bought out its biggest competitor MediaVast for $292 million – and has since been in talks with the JupiterMedia Coirporation – which is one one of its biggest rivals – but so far no deal has been made. Its other big rival is the Corbis Corporation which is owned by Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

Lately it has faced new competition from amateur photographers using cell-phone cameras to take pictures of big news events such as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and the misadventures of Britney Spears. Although not so high quality, they are nevertheless big sellers – which is a reason, some say, why Getty’s shares have lately been in decline . To counter this the agency has lately lowered the prices it charges for its less exclusive pictures – in some cases to under $50.

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