Rights Control & Royalty Free

Posted on 1/6/1998 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



January 6, 1998

Paul Light had some questions after reading Henry Scanlon's major piece on

Royalty Free photography. This article first appeared in PDN and the full text

is available on Selling Stock Online Story #106 in the

Archive. Other photographers may be confused by the same issues.

PL - What is a rights-control database? I understand the basic idea, but

would like to know more about this?

JP - As I understand the way this term is used by Scanlon a

"rights-control database" would be any image database where rights to use images

found in the database are licensed through a fee structure based on usage. This

is the opposite of the "royalty free" philosophy where a one-time (usually low)

payment gets the purchaser unlimited use of the image, forever.

Prime examples of "rights-control database" are Stock Workbook Online

(www.workbook.com) or Stock Market's database at (www.stockmarketimages.com).

Users can locate images by using the database, but to license rights they must

call the stock agency representing the image and negotiate a fee based on usage.

Rights control is any database where there are limits on usage (see Survey


PL - Should we all be thinking about taking some of our less than the

best stock images and marketing them as RF images?

JP - There are two questions here. Yes, we all should be thinking about

marketing some of our images as RF. But, it is probably not worthwhile to try

to put your "less than the best stock images" on such discs. More and more it

is becoming clear that the quality of images that are selling as RF is the same

as the quality of those appearing in print catalogs. RF producers are not

interested in less than your best.

If you find a disc producer who will put your "seconds" on his disc, the discs

probably won't sell well. If you are being paid a royalty the only way it pays

off is if the disc becomes a good seller. The whole idea that was originally

expounded that clip discs were a way to sell some of your lesser quality images

has never proven true.

When Getty and PhotoDisc merged (see article 105 online) we learned that

PhotoDisc's average earnings per image on their discs in 1997 will be about

$800. If you can get 20% of that figure and you are only averaging $1.00 per

image in the general file of any agency it may be worthwhile putting a good

image on a royalty free disc to try to get $160 per year. But also keep in mind

that we know of several PhotoDisc photographers who are not achieving this


On the other hand, the average figures from the images of TSI's Master Dupe

Collection a year ago were $1,340 per image with the photographers getting 38.5%

or $511 per image, per year.

If there is any chance of getting select image from a general file in a major

catalog, or a major master dupe collection, it is probably better to keep it out

of RF.

Yes, you should be thinking about it, but the decisions are not easy.

PL - Can small agencies and individual photographers even be players in

the RF portion of the market?

JP - Index Stock put some images on RF discs for some of their

photographers four years ago. As far as we know they may still be doing it. We

have no idea what the return has been. West Stock was a small agency when they

started putting images for their photographers on the early PhotoDisc products.

They are certainly a much larger agency now, and many of their photographers

have done very well.

To be successful in Royalty Free it takes huge marketing expenditures. So far

the only companies that have shown much success are those that distribute a line

of discs rather than one or two.

The small agency probably can not be successful producing one or two discs and

trying to market them itself.

Copyright © 1998 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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