Use Pricing For RF, Microstock

Posted on 6/30/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

One of the biggest hurdles traditional RF and Microstock sellers face when confronted with the idea of switching from an RF pricing structure to a use-based one is how to explain such a switch to customers who've been told one price fits all and not to worry about usage.

The original purpose of extremely low pricing was to service customers who need images but can't afford traditional prices. In recent years, we've discovered there are a tremendous number of such customers, but not enough to offset the dramatic discounts currently offered. Now, the challenge is to supply these new customers with a greater variety and quality of images, along with top quality service, and still maintain low prices.

Image users range from students preparing a school report or building a personal Web site to companies using images to advertise their products. Any given image may be of interest to all classes of customers.

The one price fits all strategy is unfair to the vast majority of microstock customers who make very small uses of the images they purchase. If prices are raised across-the-board in order to provide a more comprehensive service, many of the smallest users will be priced out. This is exactly what happened with traditional RF, which originally started out as a service to small users for personal purposes, but has become much too expensive for such users. Thus, one of the industry's goals is to continue to price small, personal uses at a level the target group of customers can afford. <p>

On the other hand, a small percentage of customers want to use pictures in magazines, books and ads. If they are charged the same as small users, these commercial customers receive a tremendous price break, considering the value they receive from use of the image. In effect, the small users end up subsidizing the large commercial customers, and over time, this strategy will limit the variety of imagery available to everyone.

However, if commercial users are charged prices consistent with the value they receive and what they can afford, it will be possible to maintain low pricing for those with minimal budgets and still build the collections in terms of variety and quality.

RF has never meant that images were free. It simply means that for one fee, the customer gets the unlimited right to use the image forever. With a use-based pricing structure, it is still possible to purchase unlimited rights. However, since most buyers have relatively small and very specific intended uses for the images they purchase, they can get substantial discounts below the "unlimited use" price by only paying for their intended use.

The industry's goal is to find price points that all users can afford, that are fair to everyone and will not price some users out of the market.

Copyright © 2008 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:  


  • Don Farrall Posted Jul 1, 2008
    The problem with licensing models is policing the use. People are not inherently honest, they are inherently cheap. And I take exception with the statement "most buyers have relatively small and very specific intended uses". Maybe most microstock users, but not traditional stock users. From an ad agency standpoint usage often migrates across many end uses that were not initially anticipated. These buyers don't like having to go back and pay more, and many don't, and in many cases this happens with out malicious intent, the images just gets passed around. This is the appeal of RF, once they have it in their system they can use it as much or as little as they want. I too would like to see higher prices being paid for the use of microstock when the application warrants it. I am not sure what the answer is, but at the moment the pendulum is in favor of the masses and I agree with the statement "In effect, the small users end up subsidizing the large commercial customers, and over time, this strategy will limit the variety of imagery available to everyone." this is already happening.

    Don Farrall

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