Alamy White Paper: 21st Century Image Licensing

Posted on 6/28/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Alamy has published an 11-page white paper that examines the challenges current pricing and licensing models face. The paper summarizes a round table discussion where key industry decision makers, including picture buyers, photographers, journalists, commentators and stock image providers, examined the issue.
The paper, which should be a must read for everyone in the industry, provides a clear and concise explanation of the problems and challenges the industry faces. It makes clear that the status quo is probably unworkable in the long term. However, it offers little in the way of practical solutions for how individual participants should move ahead.

The key findings from the report are:

  • Photographers are finding the current market hard
  • Complicated pricing structures are a disincentive to first time picture buyers
  • Conventional licensing models are complicated and outmoded
  • Online image sharing is endemic and there is no sense of the commercial value in an image
  • Technology has failed to solve the problem of unauthorised image use so a simplified system is needed
The consensus is that these are challenging times for the industry; especially for photographers. Commenting on the conclusions of the event James West, CEO of Alamy said, “While photographers’ production costs have increased, their day rates have decreased, and getting a good price for pictures is more challenging. The question is whether our industry adopts a strategy of reacting to events or becomes more proactive, by introducing new and innovative business models and licensing systems. By adopting the latter strategy, our industry stands a better chance of controlling quality and maintaining revenues.”

The white paper also questions the reasons why image rights may sometimes not be properly acquired. And as Roy Clark, digital media and photography lecturer explained, "The generation that’s coming up, grew up with the internet, and the idea that the stuff is free is pervasive. It’s a huge problem and I don’t think we’ve reached the apex of the situation." The three most common reasons why rights are not obtained are:
  • Dishonesty – the perpetrator knowingly breaches the owner’s rights.
  • Ignorance – the perpetrator is unaware of image rights.
  • Misinformation - the perpetrator is aware of image rights but thinks that, for example, if you credit the original picture source or use the image for non-commercial purposes, then it can be used legitimately.
The report also goes on to identify a fourth category, which can be described as the “honest but hampered” customer. This type of customer wants to purchase images through legitimate channels, but finds the existing licensing system complex, confusing or cumbersome. The stock photography industry needs to ask itself: are we making it too difficult or complicated for customers to purchase image rights? And do we need to adapt to the needs of a new breed of customer?

There are signs that this is already happening. Microstock photography has emerged to offer customers a simplified licensing system for Royalty Free images, involving subscription or micropayment. These relative newcomers have thrown down the gauntlet to established stock photography companies and achieved impressive sales in the process. But this is at a price point that is not viable for the specialist photographer.

As Giulia Carnera-Secchi, senior picture editor Good Housekeeping, said, “Whenever I see a complicated pricing structure, I go elsewhere to get that picture.” And Marco Oonk, editor, Fast media Magazine and co-founder of Picturemedia agreed, “Our clients find it increasingly frustrating, because it’s hard to predict what you are going to pay when there are 40,000 price options.”

The report went on to state that “An effective image licensing system balances the needs of the photographer, supplier and client. Photographers want to get the best possible price for their pictures, especially if shooting them has been difficult, dangerous or expensive. Stock photography companies want to service the needs of both photographer and purchaser, and maximise their assets. Picture buyers are concerned with quality, rights usage and price.”

Whether it’s adapting the current licensing models, improving web interfaces for easier purchasing, or providing more information to buyers, few would argue that the existing image licensing system needs to adapt to today’s fast-changing imaging market.
Alan Capel, head of content at Alamy commented, “The stock photography industry has felt the impact of dramatic changes in technology, culture and economics. Digital photography has transformed the way images are created, stored and distributed. The internet is a global shop front that makes it easy to access and share images, but is also difficult to control and regulate. Image sharing is a pervasive online activity, made popular by social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Pinterest. The result is a generation of young people for whom image sharing is second nature and image rights are an alien concept. These so-called “freenagers” consider almost anything online – images, music, video, games, text – to be freely available and theirs to share.

"The global financial crisis has seen many companies reduce their picture budgets, increasing the pressure to drive down prices. Added to this, print media – one of stock photography’s biggest customers - is suffering from declining sales, reduced advertising revenues, and readers switching from paper to screen for news and comment. Faced with this, we, as an industry have to react to this new reality. It seems to me that the present image licensing model is outmoded and it is up to companies like Alamy to work with photographers and image buyers to fix it,” Capel continued.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Lester Lefkowitz Posted Jun 28, 2012
    Blah, blah, blah. These people are talking like they just discovered the wheel. Tell me something I don't know. And what are these terribly concerned people going to do about it other than continue to lower prices?
    Ironic that James West seems concerned that for photographers "getting a good price for pictures is more challenging." Challenging? Mr. West, your agency brags of having 31 million images. How can any of your photographers make any money?

    Lester Lefkowitz

  • James West Posted Jun 29, 2012
    Mr Lefkowitz

    With no content of our own we are 100% reliant on the goodwill of our contributors to keep us in business. I may not have all the answers and you may not agree with all my decisions, but my concerns are genuine and you are lowering the tone of the debate.

    James West

  • Sonia Wasco Posted Jun 29, 2012
    How can we find out which individuals were part of the think tank?

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Jul 2, 2012
    There are bios of the people who participated in the round table discussion at the end of the report.

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