Changing World Of RM

Posted on 6/23/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Photographers choose to sell their work as RM for three reasons:
    1 - They believe that everything they produce should only be licensed for prices higher than those charged for RF.
    2 - They dream that one, or a few, of their images will eventually be licensed for an extremely broad, major use. Customer who make such uses are willing to pay multi-thousand-dollar prices for exclusive rights to such an image.
    3 - Such high value sales can only happen if images are always licensed based on use.
There are several fallacies to these arguments.

1 – Very few RM images are ever licensed for fees in excess of $1,000. In addition, the number of such licenses and prices have been declining rapidly over the last few years.

I’ve analyzed the 2015 sales of a few of Getty’s major contributors. Less than 1% (about 0.8%) of the sales were for fees over $1,000, but they represented 29% of revenue. 1.8% of sales were over $500 and they represented 40% of revenue. These numbers may be representative of Getty’s total sales.

I believe Getty’s gross Creative revenue in 2015 (RM and RF) was about $280 million. Roughly $100 million of that was for RM. If the revenue from sales over $1,000 represents $29 million Getty certainly doesn’t want to lose that revenue. However, only about 14,000 images were licensed to generate that revenue and Getty has over 4,907,688 RM images in its RM collection. With these odds it is highly unlikely that even one or two of the images belonging to any individual creator will be licensed for $1,000 or $2,000.

Holding this number of images in a separate collection for the very few customers who occasionally want controlled, exclusive rights to an image works for Getty. It doesn’t work for creators.

– Of course, RM images are also sold for lower prices 98% to 99% of the time. These sales tend to be for prices that are about the same as RF. Often these RM images are licensed for prices that are lower than Microstock prices.

3 – RM images are reviewed by customers much less frequently than RF because they are in a collection that in theory is higher priced, and has a more complex licensing model. But, in fact, most of the customers currently searching for RM images have negotiated special deals for all the rights they need, for one fixed, usually very low price.

4 – Customers are willing to pay higher prices for RF images when they are uses as part of a product for resale or when the customer can prevent their competitors from using the image for a period of time. Stocksy’s “Market Freeze” program is a good example of this (See here).

The fact that someone has licensed an image previously, and is able to continue to use it, tends to not be a big issue for the new customer. The new customer wants to know whether any of the previous customers are direct competitors, and have an assurance that the image will not be licensed to anyone else for the period of time that they will be using the image.

For periods ranging from 6 months to 5 years Stocky will agree to take the image off the market and not license it to anyone else. The fees for this service range from $1,250 to $9,000. To date, the longest license they have granted is for a 3 year freeze for $6,000.
Shutterstock’s Offset has also indicated that they have licensed RF images for prices above $1,000, but they have not provided specifics. (For more about Stocksy’s prices and impressive growth, check out this story.)

5 – Distributors do not need exclusive rights to an image in order to be able to license a “Market Freeze” (MF). When the image is represented by several distributors licensing a MF can be more difficult. The distributor will need to be able to supply the customer with information about all previous RF sales, and be able to insure that the image is taken off the market by all other distributors during the period of the freeze.

Nevertheless, there are situations where this kind of transaction has taken place for both RM and RF images not represented exclusively by the distributor making the deal. It does make it easier if a distributor represents an image exclusively, but with declining prices and volume of sales it is becoming less and less practical for an image creator to allow a single distributor to represent his of her work exclusively. (In Stocksy’s case, they are the exclusive distributor of all images in their collection.)

6 – Customers are willing to pay more for images when they find them in curated collections. These collections save the customer time, which is important. It used to be believed that RM collections contained the best quality images and some were well curated. There was a period in the 1990s when the best of the images in RM collections were placed in curated print catalogs. Customers tended to search these catalogs for what they needed, not go to the general file.

But with the explosion of the Internet and the idea that “more is better” curation has fallen by the wayside. Stocksy, Offset and the new Adobe Premium collection are successful because they offer curated collections of RF images.

It is still possible to find great images in RM collections, but a lot of irrelevant images of marginal value have been added. In the early days of stock photography, a lot of this same type of irrelevant imagery made it into the file cabinets, but most of it seldom saw the light of day when it came time for researchers to submit images to customers. Today’s RM sellers are basically saying to customers, “There are great images in this collection. You find them. And when you do we’ll make it harder for you to buy them than if you were to go search an RF collection.”

For RM to be successful in the future there must be a move toward relatively small, professionally curated RM collections. There does seem to be a push to move a significant percentage of RM images into RF collections. This will probably give the RM images that are moved to RF a much better chance of being seen and selling. It should make the process of reviewing images in the remaining RM collections easier and might statistically grow the number of RM sales per-image-in-a-collection.

Copyright © 2016 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:  


  • Anne Rippy Posted Jun 24, 2016
    Don Klumpp and I continued to submit images as RM because it seems infringement of these images are more likely to be discovered by PicScout than RF where the end user is often unknown, and payments to us for these RM infringements are generally the largest sales we have, more in line with historical sales amounts. In regard to Getty, it has always seemed unfair that they collect a larger percentage on RF sales than RM, making us additionally reluctant to submit our images as RF when submitting to Getty. Anne Rippy

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