Use Based Pricing Revisited

Posted on 2/10/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

A recent proposal a use-based pricing model generated many subscriber comments, which this article endeavors to address.

A key element of a use-based pricing model is licensing all images for non-exclusive uses. Photographers who choose to use this model would give up all hope of licensing exclusive uses to their images—just as those who license rights to royalty-free images have done.

However, the simplified pricing structure of the use-based model is an equally important point.

Betsy Reid of the Stock Artists Alliance suggests that the PLUS Packs developed by the Picture Licensing Universal System are a “streamlined and flexible form of use-based licensing” that could offer a viable solution to the industry’s problems.

PLUS has two separate and distinct aspects: the PLUS Coalition’s approach and PLUS Packs. I must confess I have been confused by the differences between the two for some time.

The PLUS Coalition’s approach is similar to current rights-managed licensing strategies, except that it also provides a unique identifier for each specific use type. This identifier can be printed on invoices and embedded in the IPTC header of the file delivered, to hopefully prevent unauthorized uses of licensed images. The identifier is designed to give customers a clear understanding of the exact rights purchased and to embed that information in the image file, so anyone accessing that file later can easily determine the extent of the license.

A much bigger issue that should take priority is licensing more images at reasonable prices, as opposed to, for example, the pricing of Getty Images’ Premium Access. If anything, the PLUS Coalition is making rights-managed pricing more complicated rather than less, with a very elaborate set of variables.

To license more images, the industry needs a pricing strategy that is simpler than the current rights-managed strategy. As Tim McGuire said, “the big problem is the perception/image problem the ‘rights-managed brand’ has among a sizable portion of the buyer side of this industry.” The rights-managed philosophy of adjusting the price for every little variable is becoming less and less useful in today’s market. Something that has totally separate and distinguishing characteristics from rights-managed is needed to catch the attention of buyers.

The PLUS Coalition’s offering is still a beta version of the full PLUS rights-managed matrix; it has not been implemented by any organization. In its current form, the matrix structure is too complicated for most customers—certainly those with low budgets—but the developers are finishing up a calc-builder that will allow agencies to remove submenus from any media code and thereby simplify, perhaps greatly, the choices. As is, to price a brochure use, the buyer is required to make decisions about: Usage, Media, Detail, Format, Size, Version, Quantity, Duration, Region, Region Detail, Language, Industry and Exclusivity. There are 8 choices of usage and, if you pick advertising, 12 additional choices of media just to get started.

PLUS Packs are a separate pricing system, similar to Getty’s rights-ready model and preferable to the PLUS Coalition strategy. PLUS Packs also use PLUS identifiers, but the number of variables is greatly reduced.

The basic PLUS Pack categories are well thought out, but several additional breakdowns for small and personal uses (see pages 10 and 11) should be included in order to reach the huge number of customers who have been attracted by microstock. I also believe the industry must abandon the idea of pricing based on duration, the geographic area of image use and license start date.

My preferred Modified Rights Ready strategy differs from PLUS Packs in that it would add several distribution/circulation variations to each PLUS Pack category, thus allowing for some pricing variables within each. If the user’s circulation falls between two of the specified prices, or there are other special circumstances, he is free to call to negotiate. Prices below $50 are non-negotiable and offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Finding a price requires two clicks at most, and only one in some cases. The rights allowed are for unlimited use, forever, anywhere in the world, as long as the use is within the category and with no greater total circulation than that authorized in the license.

I like PLUS Packs’ idea that the customer is asked to provide the end-user’s name, product or service name and industry, but those questions are only asked just before checkout, rather than before receiving a price.

One look at a user-based pricing system like the one described above, and buyers would immediately recognize that it is not at all like rights-managed licensing. Rather, it is more akin to the traditional royalty-free model, but with prices as low as microstock for many uses and with simpler overall system than most microstocks.

Rights-managed licensing needs to be retained for those few photographers with very unique images, or those who only want to aim for the top of the market. However, these sellers must also recognize that the demand for images that can command high prices is rapidly declining.

If pricing for small uses is competitive with microstock, then small-use customers would experiment with the new model given the broader selection of imagery offered.

Jake Wyman asked: “How are you getting this proposal in front of the decision makers?”
The answer is: by publishing it in Selling Stock. They are aware. I agree that if this idea is to go anywhere, it must be adopted by some industry leaders. If a few with large distributors and good customer bases were to adopt it, everyone else would quickly follow.

The problem is inertia. Industry leaders want to make small adjustments to something that is working halfway, rather than take some risk to think outside the box and go after something that might not work. The other problem is that perhaps, given the state of the economy and the state of the industry, they really do not have a choice.

Copyright © 2009 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:  


  • Peter Dazeley Posted Feb 12, 2009
    Dear Jim,

    While I absolutely agree that a simplified licence system for RM is the right way forward, I do not have any expertise in how this can be achieved. However, I am concerned in giving clients what they wanted i.e. Getty Rights Ready, it ultimately turned out to be not what clients wanted. I do not believe that a new licence should give the buyer another chance to drive down the cost as 'premium access in perpetuity' did, giving access to RM images as well as to RF. It seems to me like giving away the crown jewels for silly money.

    I am convinced that Rights Managed is going to continue being important to clients especially with the likes of the Dell/Gateway fiasco, with the female student RF image, that was used across many different and conflicting brands all at the same time.

    Lastly, I was interested to read in your January 22nd posting, that some sellers and customers argue that photos of a single object on a white background should be less expensive that a complex shot that require models, props etc. I feel that the customer should be paying a premium for an image with high production values, rather than a reduction for the simple shot. Either the picture does the job or it doesn't.

    As costs are driven down, high value production shoots are becoming less commercially realistic.

    Have a great day.

    Best wishes, Peter

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff