Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rights Managed, Royalty Free, or Micro Stock?

The Choice Between Rights Managed, Royalty Free, and Micro Stock

Recently a friend of mine, Greg, a man who owns a house painting business in my town, requested that I create photograph for him to run in a direct mail piece. Greg was familiar with my Animal Antics® series of images in which I anthropomorphize cats and dogs putting them in funny human-like poses. He asked that I photograph his own two dogs and utilize them in a similar way…put paint brushes in their hands, and have them
appear to be actually painting a house.

Greg told me that it was the first direct mailing he ever did in which not a single person requested to be removed from his mailing list. He was ecstatic with the results. Why do I bring this up? Because it is an example of how the right picture can make a huge difference for small and large businesses alike.

Are people willing to pay for quality?

As a stock photographer this is a huge issue. I know the right picture can indeed make a significant impact. But perhaps a bigger question is, are people willing to pay the premium for such pictures? I suspect that the answer is that knowledgeable people will recognize the value, and those who do not realize the cost benefits of quality imagery will opt for the less expensive options.

I firmly believe that as time moves on more and more images will be searched for and found on the web outside of the traditional channels of the stock industry. I want to be prepared for that. As I plan for the future I run into the question of whether to put my images into the Rights Managed category, the Royalty Free category, or the Micro Stock category (which seems to me to just be a lower priced Royalty Free model). I believe that the Rights Managed category is most appropriate for the bulk of my stock photos. Yet if I stick to that category I might be shooting myself in the foot. If it does come to pass that eventually the majority of picture sales come from individuals outside of the traditional stock industry, I don’t see them calling up Getty and negotiating rights for an RM image. The most compelling reason to put images in Micro Stock, for me, is the sheer number of people who are looking at those images. But, if people are searching and finding my images via Google (or some yet-to-appear search mechanism), then the appeal of Micro Stock simply becomes one of lower price.

At this point I am counting on creating stock photos that are strong enough that a potential buyer who sees them is willing to either pay Royalty Free rates, or to pick up the phone and negotiate for an RM image. I am not yet ready to put material into the Micro Stock business model. The recently abandoned (modified?) Rights Ready model championed by Getty seemed interesting to me in that it created a higher-priced category that also seemed reasonably simple to license. There still seems to me to be merit in that strategy so perhaps we will eventually see it evolve to the point where it truly works. I would love that!

Where to put stock images?

At least one industry pundit has suggested to me that the migration of sales outside of the normal stock industry channels means that it would behoove me to quit submitting my images to the agencies and license them all myself over my web site. Maybe someday that would be a good strategy, but I think that day, if it ever comes, is still a long, long way off. Despite the industry problems, my stock sales remain strong. Buyers within the stock agency channels are still willing to pay for a quality image. Every month I have multiple sales in the $1,000.00 and up range (and yes, Getty sales in the 40 cent range too). Hey, apparently one of the great things about RM is that it can actually undercut RF and Micro prices! However, for now I am going to concentrate my web site stock efforts on increasing the exposure that my “agency” images have and directing potential buyers to the appropriate agency where they can license the image without my having to get involved.

If any photographers who might happen to read this have any stories of images that have made a difference I would love to hear about them. It might help us all if we help educate the market place and the consumer to the true value that a great image can provide.

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