RM Photographer Frustration

Posted on 8/23/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Today, Peter James made comments on my Facebook page to several of the stories listed there. I can understand his frustration. Here are links to the stories he looked at and the comments he made.
    Uberization of Stock Photography – April 26

    The implications of the take over of the stock photography business by amateurs and part timers who don't value their own work and give their pictures away.

    Is subjects that aren't popular enough to get lots of downloads at 25 cents each won't be Photographed anymore and sent to the peanut paying agencies.

    The Photographers that are not out of a job will sell via other own websites while watching the 25 cent agencies destroy themselves in their race to sell images for 1 cent each.

    How Low Can Prices Go – April 14

    How low can prices go? At the moment the lowest average is 25 cents the Photographers selling their images for 25 cents will happily sell their images for 1 cent.

    Why you may ask? Because the Photographers selling their pictures for 25 cents don't value their own images. And they do not realize they are in a race to the bottom and will happily sell their images for 1 cent each.

    Anybody with any sense at all knows what the ending will be, and the sooner the Agency leading the race to bottom goes bust the better everything will be.

    Does RM Licensing Still Make Sense – Jun 15

    Fewer and Fewer customers are buying RM because the Stock industry is in a race to the bottom and Photographers are giving their pictures away.

    If somebody is offering similar pictures to RM for 25 cents why would they buy RM?

    RF Limitations    July 20

    Correct we are opposed to RF for that reason, a Holiday firm producing Brochures can purchase one image and use that image forever across all its brochures.

    If they purchased an RM image that would have to pay a fee every time they used it. RF is a terrible license for photographers.?

    Decision Time for RM Photographers    August 8

    RF is an absolutely terrible license for Photographers but great for customers. Lots of Photographers selling pictures as RM have read (How Stock Photography eat itself). And they don't want to part of that, and don't want to join in with the race to the very bottom where all pictures will sell for 1 cent.

My Thoughts

Yes, it would be better for photographers if they could be paid a separate fee for each unique use of an image (RM) rather than a single payment that allows unlimited future use of the image (RF). But for the most part, and for most images, the time when the RM licensing model worked has passed. For most subjects there are just too many good images available as RF.

Customers are not limited to RM licensing in order to find great images. If a customer sees an RM and RF image side by side, and in the customer’s opinion the RM image is better, more than likely they will buy the RF image, not only because it is cheaper but because there are less restrictions on use of the image. They have less to worry about if later they decide they do want to make an additional use of the image. By any calculations you want to use 97% or more of the images licensed today are RF and less than 3% are RM.

Yes, RF images are being sold for $0.25, but the sad fact is that RM images are sometimes being sold, by some of the major agencies, for less than RF or Microstock prices. Microstock prices actually tend to be going up while traditional RF, and particularly RM prices tend to be falling dramatically.

James is right that if a holiday travel firm purchases an RM image for use in a brochure they would normally have to pay an additional fee each time they use the image in a new brochure. But the reality is that customers have a lots of choices. First, they can just go get a different RF image. Today, there is hardly any RM image that is so unique and outstanding in its ability to sell travel to a particular location that it cannot easily be replaced with something else. Secondly, the customer can simply go to the RM seller and negotiate rights to make all the possible future uses they can think of for a one-time price. This happens all the time.

Agencies Destroying Themselves

Yes, agencies selling at low prices may destroy themselves. But Shutterstock seems to be doing just fine. Gross revenue this year will be around $500 million. (That doesn’t mean that all the photographers contributing to Shutterstock, or even a significant percentage of them, are doing fine. The average Shutterstock photographer earns about $1,200 a year and has about 700 images in the collection.)

For the most part the agencies that seem to be “going bust” are those that have focused on trying to continue to sell their images as RM. The ones with an RF offering tend to be doing better. I’m not sure how this is going to make it better for those who want to continue to sell their images as RM.  

Own Websites

As agencies offering only RM licensing disappear photographers that want to continue licensing their images based on usage may “sell via other own websites.” But, I haven’t heard of many photographers without years of experience, a major reputation, and years of building a client base that make many stock sales via their own website today.

The big problem is in making customers aware that your site exists, particularly if most of what you shoot is people, lifestyle, recreation, children, travel, scenic, etc. There is so much of this material available on the major, inexpensive sites that it is hardly worth anyone’s trouble to seek out different, privately operated sites that may have very fine images that are more expensive.

The marketing of a personal web site can be a very expensive proposition. You have to build a client list, and it often requires direct mail to get a new customer’s attention. You can also spend money on Google Adwords to try to draw customers to your site. And how many high priced sales will all that generate?

Finally, photographers who want to continue to earn money from the images they produce may have to accept lower prices and hope that they make up some of the difference in volume. Realistically, much more work will be involved in selling images than was the case a few years ago. And, the gross revenue generated will probably be much lower.

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 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.  


  • GEORGE MCGINN Posted Aug 23, 2016
    Jim said at the end of the first comment: "Secondly, the customer can simply go to the RM seller and negotiate rights to make all the possible future uses they can think of for a one-time price. This happens all the time."

    I used a delivery memo as my contract. It described the specific usage, when I must receive the slide/negative back before incurring additional fees, and general contract verbiage about unauthorized use and copyright, and how I wanted my name next to the photo, or if omitted the client will be billed at treble fees.

    However, in the digital age, I have changed the verbiage of my delivery memo, such as they are allowed to store the image if needed for second or third printing, as I put in the fees for each.

    Also, the last page I decided to make it "Future Useage."

    After talking with the customer, they said that they may want to use it also in an annual report, or as part of a sales presentation, or in a company brochure. One client wanted to submit it to a contest within their industry.

    So I used the last page to take their suggestion and add to it all other popular usage, such as website, in blog posts, and so on, and I assigned a fee to each. What the page and the client's signature on it says that within the next 3 or 5 years (unless we negotiated an inflation percentage) that for any use listed on this page, the client has the right to use it as long as they send me my fee within 20 days after usage.

    Since I never had a staff, I was inundated with these calls. So I proposed that, based on pricing from a certain guide, if they wanted to put it on a brochure, they did not have to ask as it was already in the delivery memo and the price was previously agreed to.

    I received more sales from each client because they knew they could use it, and know much it would cost, including initial printing run and reprint fees.

    I did this mainly to help generate additional sales by empowering the customer. Since you can never know if they deleted the image from their system, instead I let them keep it and as long as they paid the licensing fee, all they had to do is send me a check.

    To this day I still get a check from a newspaper with a million+ daily circulation for a travel assignment I shot for them. The assignment was photos from Lido Beach to Anna Marie Island, and I sent the client 100 images with my back page for usage fees.

    Two years ago I got about $1,100 for an assignment I shot in 2002.

    Sometimes to keep customers from looking for other photos, we must provide them with more of a selection (I could have sent them the 10-15 they wanted) and give them a way to use the photo, any photo you send as long as they know what the costs will be ahead of time, they do not have to look outside for other photos when they have 100 from me to use.

    Something for some of you who do assignments to think about.

  • GEORGE MCGINN Posted Aug 23, 2016
    Jim, is there a way to make the post comment box larger?

    A correction at the end: I said I could have sent the the 10-15 but what I do not think I made clear is that I always, for every assignment, I send at least three times the number they ask for. It also depends too on what I am shooting. If a newspaper wants 10 photos of a high school football game, I give them 30, with the the first 10 what they asked for.

    If I shoot a NFL game, I generally send them 100 images, for they do use images during the week, and in special issues, and if they have my images on file and know how much it costs them, I've had photo editors chose my image over AP. The reason is the personal reputation I have with them, the lunches we go to.

    I know Jim did mention that if you want to sell from your site you need to continually market yourself, and even when I worked freelance, I always sent 5-10 new images in a folio to keep me in their mind, even of they are giving me 10 assignments a week.

    I then will drop it off on their desk and it is always work I am doing on my own. And that is key. If I give them 5-10 images from an assignment they gave me, they'll be asking "what else has he held back from me."

    Sometimes my self assignments become something they are interested in publishing and want more information.

    And while I was doing only assignment work, I bought a software package ImageFolio E-Commerce for about $1,200 in 2000, and it is both a portfolio website and allows a client to purchase a download and pay based on usage. Many times an editor will need some wild art to fill space, and if I did my marketing right, they would check my site for an image to use.

    The trick is not to overdo the marketing to your client or potential clients.

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