Use-Based Pricing: Corbis Moves in Right Direction

Posted on 3/1/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

The stock photo industry needs a change in strategy so all images can be made available for all uses at a reasonable price based on the value the customer will receive from using the image. We need to get away from the whole idea of rights-managed and royalty-free and recognize that, in all cases, the price is based on use.

Rights-managed licensing has always been much more about pricing based on use rather than on managing rights. The vast majority of rights-managed customers are not concerned with rights control or exclusivity.

Royalty-free licensing, particularly in the microstock arena, also establishes its prices based on use. To some degree, the file size controls how an image can be used, and most sites now offer seven different file sizes. In addition, there are many image uses that are not legally allowed, unless a higher fee is paid. Uses in online print-on-demand products and in logos or trademarks are totally prohibited. Fees must be negotiated separately for:

  • More than 499,999 impressions in any printed product such as magazines, newspapers, brochures, catalogues, greeting cards, postcards and posters.
  • Items for resale, including prints, posters, calendars, mugs, mousepads, t-shirts, games, etc.
  • Electronic templates for resale on Web sites, brochures, business cards, e-greeting cards, etc.
  • More than 499,999 DVDs.

Thus, to move from current strategies to one focused on use is not really that big a leap. The real distinction between royalty-free and rights-managed licensing is that the former generally uses fewer variables than the latter to establish a price. At the same time, the number of royalty-free variables keeps growing, while rights-managed sellers keep trying to find ways to simplify their pricing structure.

A few years ago, Getty Images instituted the rights-ready category, which had nine different prices that basically covered every type of use. After trying that for a couple years, the company abandoned it without explaining the reason. I suspect there were two main problems: the strategy did not offer enough variables and only applied to certain images in the collection, not all rights-managed images. My 2007 recommendation of a modified rights-ready strategy had a few more variables, but remained simpler than the complex rules of microstock agencies. It did not gain traction.

Corbis simplifies price calculator

Corbis has introduced a new approach that is certainly a step in the right direction. When the customer goes to price an image, she is presented with “quick licenses” for three different broad categories of use: advertising, publishing and online (see table).

Table. Corbis pricing by category
Category Use Description Fee
Advertising Brochure Interior (Up to 5,000) Up to 1/2 page $615
Brochure cover (Up to 5,000) Up to 1/2 page $920
Print Ad (Up to 5,000) Up to 1/4 page $755
Indoor Display Small (1 only) Up to 1/2 display $770
Outdoor Display (1 only) Up to 1/2 display $1,665
Publishing Editorial Magazine Interior (Up to 25,000) Up to 1/4 page $215
Editorial Web up to (150x150px) Up to 3 months $130
Editorial Newspaper (up to 50,000) Up to 1/4 page $140
Textbook Interior (Up to 10,000) Up to 1/4 page $170
Online Web - singe page up to 180x150px Up to 3 months $275
Web - Ad/Banner, one site Up to 3 months $70
Email - Promotional (Up to 10,000) Up to 1 month $40
Mobile App Promotional   $75

There are 4 or 5 variables in page size or length of time for each type of use. If the customer’s use fits within one of these categories, she can go to checkout and complete the purchase with one or two clicks. If the customer’s use doesn’t fit the category, she can go to “custom license” and get a template with all the variables of Corbis’ previous pricing model.

While this strategy is on the right track, the current implementation has a lot of flaws that need adjustment.

The first major issue is that the real advantage of such a structure is to reach out to the royalty-free and microstock buyers with the pricing simplicity they want while converting them to thinking in terms of use rather than file size. Instead of doing that, Corbis made the decision in January to move all rights-managed imagery off Veer and market it through the Corbis site. When the transition is complete, the Corbis site will only market rights-managed and royalty-free content to traditional customers, and Veer will focus on royalty-free and microstock customers.

The Corbis site will not attract microstock customers, because its prices are too high for that buyer segment. If the pricing variables offered were circulation rather than size of the image on the page, and if the company offered some lower prices for very small uses, it might have had a chance to attract the micro buyer. The company could have limited the size to 1/2 page or less, since nearly all uses are in that range, and forced the buyer to go from quick to custom licenses for larger uses.

Instead, Corbis has decided that the site should just be address the very limited market of traditional professional customers—a market which, incidentally, is declining in size and importance all the time.

With indoor and outdoor displays, Corbis would have been better advised to forget about the size of the image on the display and focus the variable on the number of copies. No company of any size will only print one copy of anything important. It is also not worth the asking price of an image license. Does Corbis not want to sell to the small mom-and-pop store that wants to put a poster in its window to promote a special offer, or to the PTA president promoting a school event? The prices are too high for any such buyers to consider. If Corbis was thinking of billboards when it established its outdoor category, it should not even have included them in the quick license scheme; there are comparatively few such uses, and they can be addressed through custom licenses.

A textbook use limited to 10,000 makes no sense at all, because those who print so few copies are a very small percentage of the market. Again, it would be better to make print run the variable, and make the image size 1/2 page or less, forcing those who need to print the picture larger go the custom route. And, Corbis ought to charge a lot more for high print runs than it charges in its custom license template.

In the online area, categories and lower prices are needed for personal uses on blogs or Web sites, educational PowerPoint presentation and other non-commercial applications. Rather than focusing on how long the image is going to be online, it would make more sense to have the variables deal with the multiple different ways images might be used on the Web. 

Quick licenses are a good idea if for those who want to sell rights-managed, royalty-free and microstock images on the same site. It would also be a great way to gradually migrate microstock’s extended licenses to a real use-based strategy, but this application has missed the mark.  

Copyright © 2010 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 Mar 2, 2010
    File size has very little to do with use when media is moving so fast to online electronic uses. Coca Cola and the local PTA President could license the same size image for the same online use and pay the same amount (main image on home page of website). One use is worth much more than the other. Size does not equal use.

    I'd say it's a big stretch to categorize Micro and RF as "use based pricing".

    I applaud Corbis for moving in this direction and encourage them to keep going.

    "Better late than never"... or is it, "too little too late".

  • Lester Lefkowitz Posted Mar 3, 2010
    "Based on usage" sounds swell, but that assumes users know and abide by the limits of the license. Because agencies have done almost NOTHING to police license terms, and now the internet has created a Wild West mentality among users, no one is/will pay attention to restrictions. The Corbis chart, above, has many 3-month constraints. And who do you think is going to police that? The microstock restriction you site: my guess is they are TOTALLY disregarded except by a few paranoid large companies and one or two religious orders. Your ideas are viid, but enforced implementation is just pie in the sky.

    Lester Lefkowitz

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Mar 8, 2010

    It is a big stretch to catagorize micro as "use based pricing", but it is trying to move in that direction because the site owners know the only way they can grow revenue find a way to get more money for some of the larger uses.

    @ Lester

    Policing uses is, and will always be, a problem. But a certain percentage of customers will be honest and abide by the rules. If you tell them they must pay more for billboards or magazine covers most will. In the new environment we're not going to be able to segment our use based pricing as narrowly as we have in the past, but even broad categories is better than one-price-fits-all. And broad categories with a little segmentation is even better yet.

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