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Upstart challenges digital image giants

An alliance plans to take on two well-established digital imaging companies, Bill Gates' Corbis and Getty Images.

An alliance announced today plans to take on two well-established digital imaging companies, Bill Gates' Corbis and Getty Images.

Software maker ArcSoft and photographic supply firm Photo Systems have formed a new company, NewsMediaExchange.com, to license digital photographs to national and international news outlets, the two companies said.

The new outfit will enter an intensely competitive industry. Corbis and Getty Images--bankrolled by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and oil fortune heir Mark Getty, respectively--have been gobbling up competitors in the estimated $2 billion digital image market.

Last week, Corbis paid an undisclosed amount for Saba Press Photos, an international stock photography agency. Days earlier, Getty Images bought Visual Communications Group for $200 million in cash.

In terms of size, Getty is still the market leader with 70 million pictures and 27,000 hours of film. Corbis owns 65 million images.

Media outlets will be able to download the digital images from the Web site. Unlike most photo agencies, which charge subscription or membership fees, NewsMediaExchange will charge on a per-photo basis.

NewsMediaExchange will allow individuals to store images--up to 100 megabytes--free of charge with nominal archiving fees for additional space, the company said. Media outlets can view the low-resolution photos and receive high-resolution digital copies over the Net once purchased. Sellers will set their own price on images.