Saturday, 31 January 2009

Licensing images for sale - Royalty Free (RF) vs. Rights Managed (RM)

Right, it's coming to the end of January and I'm predictably not on-track to meet my target of £250 for the year. This is not unexpected of course, as at the start of the year, I'll have a smaller pool of photos in my microstock portfolio, than later in the year, as I start adding to them. In fact, as I have on average 20 photos uploaded on microstock sites, adding only 2 more each month should mean I'll hit my target (ok, so it's not that easy, but the principle holds!).

Anyway, one thing I've started to understand a little more in the last couple of weeks is licensing of photos for commercial use and whether it means there is a parallel way to generate income... (Thanks to Simon (an excellent wildlife photographer), who popped into my office recently and encouraged me to look at this in a little more detail.)

Microstock is licensed as Royalty-Free (RF) and this means although I retain the copyright, the buyer can pretty much do what they like with the image - other than sell it on. This potentially is a great result for the buyer, as they pay peanuts for an image. There is a lot of comment written about whether microstock has completely devalued the more traditional higher-priced RF business model. My view is that as supply of images has increased (amateur photographers have access to quality cameras and ability to upload), the price will inevitably reduce (as there isn't the equivalent increase in demand from buyers). No point in fighting it, as it's common sense.

Alongside RF though, is another licensing model, called Rights-Managed (RM). This is where the buyer is licensed an image for a particular usage, run (e.g. number of prints of the advert) and geography. This will work out significantly more expensive than microstock for a buyer, but they have the advantage of knowing how/if the image has previously been used (although, personally don't quite get this, as RM doesn't mean it has to be exclusive to a particular agency, so can't be that easy to track). Suffice to say, you can't license an image as RM, if it's ever been licensed as RF anywhere else... meaning my current RF microstock sales can't be sold as RM. But, I can split my portfolio across RF and RM.

The best way to try out Rights-Managed seems to be Alamy. So, as for all the other sites, a contributor has to pass their quality requirements, so I've submitted four images for them to review (ones which I always thought were a bit too special to flog via microstock!)... We'll see how far I get.

In summary then, my approach is now double-pronged:
  • Keep adding a couple of photos a month to the microstock sites as Royalty-Free - and hopefully sell at least a couple each day
  • Try and pass Alamy's quality control and then submit some images as Rights-Managed. I have no real expectation of making a sale... but a bit more hope than if they were on my hard drive!