Marketing Strategies: Rights Managed

Posted on 5/12/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

There are four basic strategies to consider when trying to decide how to market stock images. These are rights-managed, royalty-free, microstock and subscription. Most sellers favor one strategy and are often adamantly opposed to the others. Some, however, argue that there is merit in using several of these strategies.

One important thing to consider is the annual percentage of total images—not revenues—licensed for commercial uses using each of these licensing models. Such estimates should separate commercial and editorial uses, because the vast majority of editorial images are made available through subscriptions with far less than half licensed using some type of rights-managed strategy.

For commercial images, rights-managed licenses account for 3% of the total number of annual licenses. Traditional royalty-free images make up 6%; 20% goes to subscription services and 71% to microstock.

Starting with rights-managed licensing, this series of articles will analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each model.

Rights-managed model: advantages

1 – The biggest advantage to rights-managed licensing is that if offers the seller the potential of receiving greater compensation when the buyer’s planned use is very extensive.

2 – Because price is based on use, it is possible to price both large and small uses appropriately, which is seldom the case with other licensing models.
3 – The average price at which an image is licensed is usually much higher than with the other models.
4 – The royalty share paid to the image creator is generally higher than with the other models (usually 40% or higher).
5 –Use-based pricing allows creators and sellers to understand how images are being used and to aim for certain segments of the market.

Rights-managed model: disadvantages

1 – The complexity of defining a given use in order to establish a price tends to turn customers off when compared with other available models.
2 – Buyers generally perceive rights-managed as the most expensive.
3 – In contrast, negotiable fees frequently lead to pricing that is lower than that for royalty-free images. Image creators lose in both cases 2 and 3, because fewer buyers check out rights-managed images or end up obtain low prices by negotiating.
4 – Given the focus on getting higher fees for uses, rights-managed sellers only address about 9% of the market. They are unwilling to sell to 91% of the potential customers, because these people cannot afford to pay anything approaching traditional rights-managed prices.
5 – Due to changes in the market, the number of customers that can afford to use rights-managed images is declining.
6 – Worldwide rights-managed sales are declining.
7 – The number of competing images available is increasing dramatically, reducing the odds that any given image will be licensed.
8 – Rights-managed prices are dropping at an ever-increasing pace as a result of discounting in an attempt to compete with the other models.
9 – Image producers trying to license their images as rights-managed tend to get fewer images accepted from a given shoot than is the case with the other models.
10 – Agencies that represent rights-managed images tend to want exclusive rights, so they can assure customers that no one else—in a particular industry or for a certain period of time—will use the image. This limits image producers’ options to market images. It could work to the photographer’s advantage if he were to make a lot of exclusive sales, but in the vast majority of cases, it works to the photographer’s disadvantage.
11– There are very few big sales where the ability to guarantee exclusivity might be necessary.

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:  


  • Tim Mcguire Posted May 12, 2009

    You should break down your advantages and disadvantages for customers, distributors, and producers seperately. Some advantages for a customer may be disadvantages for distributors and / or producers.

    The concept of Rights Managed (price based on use) needs a major overhaul and reinvention. The term "Rights Managed" needs to be tossed out the window and never used again but not the concept which it stands for, pricing based on how an image will be used. Many of the disadvantages you've listed (from a customers POV) could be overcome with some innovation that lets go of long held "sacred cows" of Rights Managed's past.

  • Anonymous Posted May 13, 2009
    Just up until recently traditional RF sustained nearly 40%-50% of the commercial market, right? Is microstock's new claim of 70% due to the increase of new total buyers? If so, it would be interesting to see a chart breaking down the total number of traditional buyers represented in these percentages compared to new buyers. Meaning, of the 70% who is new and who is traditional and why has RF and RM decreased in commercial market share so rapidly - all due to the volume of buyers in the microstock space?

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