There is growing concern among Stock Artist Alliance photographers and many other Getty Images’ contributors about the company’s Premium Access Subscription strategy. Increasingly, Getty’s premium rights-managed and royalty-free images are licensed for fees of less than $10, with the photographer’s royalty share a fraction of that.
These subscriptions are only available to high-volume customers; however, according to a number of photographers say their sales reports suggest that Premium Access is responsible for 5% to 10% of all images licensed by Getty. What customers pay for these subscriptions is unclear, but it seems to be negotiable in each case.
The customer is charged a fixed monthly fee and allowed to download up to a certain number of images. Whether any restrictions are placed on how these images can be used is not clear. Are there any medium restrictions or limitations of file size? If Premium Access clients have access to all file sizes, prices charged are often less than current microstock prices.
Duration of licenses is similarly unclear. Royalty statements describe the licenses as perpetual, but sources within Getty say images can only be used for the duration of the subscription license, which is commonly one or two years. Can customers who renew their subscriptions after two years continue to use all the images downloaded during the first subscription term, or do customers need to re-download the images?
Premium Access might cost $10,000 or more a month, and the customer could be allowed to download up to 1,000 images per month. Customers may download more than they use, storing images for possible future uses. If a customer downloads the maximum allowed, the average price per image is $10, and the photographer’s royalty is calculated based on that number. Although Getty executives have pointed out to suppliers that the lower the number of subscription downloads, the higher the average price per image, photographers we spoke with have not seen high commissions on Premium Access sales.
SAA board of directors says: “SAA does not question the need for new types of licensing products to meet the evolving needs of stock image users. We also understand that large-volume customers have long been granted significant discounts off published rates.” However, there is a significantly larger percentage of low-priced sales now than there were in the past.
The SAA press release elaborates: “Independent photographers have entrusted their imagery to Getty Images and granted the company a contractual right to determine pricing. Regardless, they never signed on anticipating that major clients would be offered use of their imagery for such token fees. Photographers who are already dealing with declining returns now see a growing number of low-dollar Premium Access licenses appearing on their royalty statements. … Offering its major clients use of these top-tier images for those same bargain rates undermines the business upon which Getty and contributing artists both depend. If Getty Images does not maintain the value of its highest quality collections in the marketplace, all stock imagery is at risk of being devalued to the level of microstock.”
Just over a year ago, Getty suppliers objected to the company’s $49 Web-use license. After strenuous negotiation, led by the SAA, Getty added some limitations of image use, making the price more acceptable to suppliers. Now, Premium Access makes premium images available at, or below, microstock rates. As stock-photo pricing is further undermined, $49 seems like a great deal for image suppliers.
Getty has options that might lessen supplier objections to this subscription program. The company could adjust pricing and number of allowed monthly downloads, raising the lowest possible fee per image above microstock prices. Getty could also exclude certain premium collections from this scheme or, at the very least, allow photographers to opt out of Premium Access.