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Rights Managed vs Royalty Free Stock Photos

The following article is written by Debra Wager. Please see the end of the article for more details.

Stock Photography

Stock photography can be a lifesaver for the designer looking for just the right image. At the click of a mouse, a whole phlethora of photos are available. Just a simple search for what you need in a picture and voilá, thousands of images at your fingertips. What could be simpler? 

Regardless of whether the project is large or small, you want your efforts to be distinctive, to stand out in the crowd, to catch the eye, to appeal to the prospective customer, and to be unique. 

You might think Royalty Free stock is the obvious choice. While RF stock can be obtained easily and cheaply, Right Managed stock photography offers some distinct advantages. 


They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and leaders in any industry spur a number of imitators. A successful product or campaign will drive the competition to come up with a similar product. Imagine that your competitor comes up with an ad for their version of your product and their banner ad has not only a similar product, but also the ad features an identical picture or model. Think the odds of that happening are astronomical? Not really, the odds of such a situation happening are much smaller than might be expected, given the huge number of stock photos available. But, think about this, people promoting comparable product lines are going to use similar keywords to search for pictures. Of the thousands of offerings, only a quality handful float to the top, thus significantly narrowing the field.

A quick glance at the “Selling It”  page of the March 2008 Consumer Reports Magazine shows two ads, both using the same picture, in one “Fred” lost 175 pounds by following diet advice, in the other, “Jason” got rid of his migraines by following different dietary advice, same guy, same background, wearing the same scarf wrapped around his neck. Was that just a fluke? The August, 2007 edition of Consumer Reports shows the same happy family bonding around the family television, but what are they watching? One photo advertises a satellite distributor and the other digital cable. Wouldn’t those two companies be in direct competition? Talk about brand confusion. Certainly a serious faux pas for the ad designers.

Had they used RM stock instead of RF, embarrassing circumstances such as these could have been avoided. By the sheer nature of the licensing of RM, the consumer is guaranteed that the image selected will not be popping up all over, as there is control of the usage of the image and the same image cannot be simultaneously licensed to different buyers. 

Not only does RM licensing protect the photographer, but the buyer of the image is protected as well. RM stock licensing guarantees the buyer protection from re-use of an image by someone else. RF stock offers no such control, once the image is purchased, the use of the image is in the control of the buyer. With RM, the photographer or agency retains a history of the uses of the image so that the image usage is tracked, eliminating the possibility of the photo being used in a similar setting even years down the road.

Quality vs quantity

Photographers are naturally going to submit their better works to offer in formats that have the greater potential of generating more profit. Photographers are, after all, in business to generate profit. RF stock is the dollar store equivalent of the stock photography industry, in fact, some RF stock online sites even have a dollar bin to push some of the older images. And, just like in the dollar store, you may occasionally encounter a gem, but typically you are looking at just a bunch of average quality to inferior quality products and you have to sift through a lot of junk to find that gem.  Similar to shopping in a more exclusive store, RM offers better quality simply because all of the images offered adhere to a higher standard.

What about the cost?

You might think that RM stock is the more expensive choice.  Well, yes and no, it depends entirely upon the end use of the image. A buyer can actually come out cheaper by paying for a single use license on RM than by buying an RF image. How? Since RF pricing is based on size, the buyer needing one image for, say a website, the single use license on RM can often be the cheaper option. And not only, would it be cheaper, but the assurances of higher quality, more originality, and no repetition are in place.

Both RM and RF stock have their place in the industry. Using RF stock comes with the risk of duplication, repetition, overexposure, and brand confusion. RM stock provides more protection for both the photographer and the buyer, as well as higher quality images, and less risk of image duplication.

The above article was submitted by Debra Wager of DW Stock Picture Library.


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