Royalty Free, Rights Managed, Micro Stock - Stock Photography Pricing

Royalty Free - Rights Managed - Micro Stock - the World of Stock Photo Pricing

There are several ways to buy stock photos

Looking for a photo for your business?  Maybe you need an image for an important national campaign, maybe for a flyer or perhaps a photo to liven up your web site.  Whatever you might need a photograph for…there are millions of them out there waiting for you to choose.  In the world of stock photography there are three major categories to choose from.  You can license images as Rights Managed, Royalty Free or Micro Stock.

Rights Managed Stock Photos

Rights Managed images are tracked by the licensing agency.  The fee for licensing takes into consideration a number of factors including the size the image will be used, the length of time it will be used, the industry or market it will be used in, whether it will be local, national or even international, and the degree of exclusivity desired.  Supposedly the degree of difficulty in producing…or perhaps re-producing…the images is also taken in consideration…but I have never personally seen any evidence of it. 

Royalty Free Stock Photos

Royalty Free imagery is priced by size…a pricing structure that I find does not really make much sense (a small image used on the internet can have a huge impact and be seen by millions but cost almost nothing)…but there it is.  Royalty Free is actually a misnomer…one does pay a royalty…but then one is generally free to use the image indefinitely and pretty much for anything…though there are usually some restrictions.  In most cases, if one reads the fine print one will find that it is not permissible to use Royalty Free images to create new stock images…and neither is it permissible to use the images in a way that degrades the model or models in the image.

Micro Stock Photos

Micro stock is a new category of stock photographs.  Micro Stock came into being with photo-sharing communities that then morphed into stock agencies.  Istockphoto is the largest and best known of such agencies…and was recently bought by Getty Images…the largest of all stock agencies.  Micro Stock agencies are characterized by images mainly supplied by amature photographers and pricing in the $1.00 to $5.00 range.  I have even seen advertisements by some Micro Stock agencies advertising free stock photos…can’t get much lower prices than that!

When deciding whether to choose an image from one or another of these categories of stock agencies there are several factors to take into consideration.  Whether or not one needs exclusivity, whether it is important to know who might have used the image before and for what, and price of course.  Let’s take a closer look at price first.  I have spoken with a number of people who never include Rights Managed images in their stock searches.  They believe that Rights Managed images are too expensive.  I think this probably shows a lack of understanding of the Rights Managed business model more than any real need to avoid RM images.  Every time I get my sales report from Getty I think to myself about how Rights Managed images can always undercut the prices of Royalty Free!  While Royalty Free images have a minimum price Rights Managed do not…and often are either priced lower than some Royalty Free images or can be a better value. 

In the meantime…Micro stock prices are the lowest…so if super-low prices are ones most important criteria…Micro Stock might just be the way to go. 

Quality Considerations

I propose that what is most important is not price…but the quality and appropriateness of the image.  At one time Royalty Free images were considerate of lesser quality than Right Managed stock images…as Micro Stock is currently considered by many to be inferior.  The truth is that there are wonderful images in all three models…and any quality differences will continue to narrow over time.  If one does need exclusivity then obviously Rights Managed stock is the only way to go.  However, exclusivity is rarely used by most purchasers of stock…it is said that only 1% of images are licensed with exclusivity restrictions.  But Rights Managed images do give one the chance to see if any competitors have used the image already. 

Another consideration is service.  With Rights Managed images the agency will involve a sales person who knows the collection and can offer suggestions and advice to help one get the best image for a given application.  This can be important when one considers how difficult it can be to find the perfect image when faced not with a scarcity of images but rather with millions of images.  Few people have the time to spend searching through millions of stock images.  It is important to consider how important one’s time is versus the extra cost of licensing the right stock image. 

Amateur Photography Becoming a Factor

The often Herculean task of finding the right stock photo is only going to get worse as more and more images find there way into the market place.  The floodgates have opened as photo sharing and Micro Stock sites open up the stock world to literally millions of armature photographers. That isn’t to knock armatures either…with the advent of digital capture and Photoshop, many “amature” images are the equal of or even better than those shot by professionals.  Where professionals do have an edge is in those shots that require special expertise, large budgets, or subject matter not readily available to non-professionals.

When faced with the task of finding the right image for one’s needs, I believe it is best not to rule out any category of stock photography. It is important to understand the importance of having the right image and understanding that value outweighs price every time!