RF vs RM Licensing explainedFor the designer, buying a load of cheap $1 RF images seems like a total bargain, unlimited use, now and in the future, for any project, brief, assignment that needs imagery. Could using RF be compromising your brand identity?

You’ve seen it everywhere, iStock, Shutterstock et al, all offering Royalty Free (RF) photographs at incredibly low cost, or almost free when bought under subscription. There are numerous downsides to buying royalty free images, some of which I will highlight below. There are, however, justified reasons when Royalty Free images are useful and suitable, for instance when they are used in conjunction with other background images, or filler images, icons, patterns, textures, vector images and for bulking out websites and visuals. It’s just not a great idea to use RF images for the main feature, main focus or for promoting your brand identity.

We’ve all seen them, corporate faceless websites featuring shiny white offices, with multi racial groups of highly preened ‘staff’ pouring over a clipboard. Yep, chances are we’ve all seem the same images. The vast majority of RF images are all available through the same distributors, therefore appearing on all the top sites you currently use to buy your royalty free images. Most publishing agencies use the same subscription based image libraries to buy their royalty free images from.

Perhaps you think due to the sheer number of images, the millions of RF photographs available, there’s never a chance you would end up using the same image as your direct rival competitor. Search for your specific images in these vast collections and you’ll narrow down to just a few of the top useable images, and as passing trends and recent statistics indicate you will be highly likely to be choosing from the same selection as your competitor. There are some great publicised and embarrassing occurrences. Have a look at some of these examples.

To convey an image of concern, both MetLife Inc. and Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra used the same image of a middle-aged man in a stripped button-down shirt resting his chin on his hands. And Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s Chase Student Loans sites both used the same image of a collegiate-looking boy working on his laptop for their Web sites… (Source: Blackstar)

Herd mentality. Trends. Fads. We all end up following certain trends and fads, and this is no different in the world of design. Designers, image buyers, creatives, content fillers, web designers, like everybody else follow leaders, trends catch on, and that selection of cheap images somewhat loses it’s appeal when everyone is choosing from the same collections, again.

The fundamental issue with RF is that you never know what that image has been used for in the past, or what it will be used for the same time your ad campaign goes to market. There is no data, no history, no accountability or even the knowledge if your competitor is using the same image on a project right now. Rights Managed licensing changes all that.

So how does Rights Managed stock come into this?
If RF stock is both anonymously and freely available, Rights Managed imagery (RM) offers a middle ground between the cost of hiring a photographer for a commissioned photo shoot, and the lower ground of choosing cheap RF with the distinct chance you compromise your brand identity.

Rights Managed (RM) stock is selectively and carefully licensed specifically for your requirement. The photographer may have many thousands of images ready for rights managed license, but you can guarantee that the photographer knows the history of each image, when, where and what it has been used for in the past, and if it’s currently being used in the same industry.

Although seemingly not as lucrative for the photographer as a specially commissioned photo shoot, it does allow for multiple licenses over the course over the lifetime of the image. For the client, agency or picture buyer this offers a great half way solution by offering the knowledge that the history of the unique image is known. A rights managed photograph is available to multiple buyers, but total exclusivity can also be licensed. It is quite common for a client to buy total exclusivity to that specific image for the duration of the adverting campaign, or a specific time frame.

So, Rights managed stock licensing allows a transparent way for the photographer to retain total copyright of the image and allows revenue over the lifetime of the image, whilst allowing the image buyer to know that the image they have chosen has ben specifically licensed or them, and history known. By using the rights managed licensing model, the photographer can make sure that the buyer has all options available, to take into account any marketing scenarios that may arise, the licensing is totally flexible enough to cover every eventuality, with totally transparent pricing based entirely on the final image exposure.

Rights Managed stock pricing is flexible, scaleable and based on exposure
Rights managed stock allows for a totally flexible pricing strategy by making sure that that the image buyer gets the best value for money, and by making sure that the license and cost is specific to their needs. This allows the same image to be sold for seemingly multiple prices which are explained below. We are using an example of a single image, the same image in each scenario.

If this photograph is to be used as an 1/8th page size in a regional newspaper with a print run of just 20,000, this would command a lot lower price that the same photograph used as a two page spread in a national, 1 million print run glossy magazine, even though they are both using the same image. It would be unfair to ask the small newspaper to pay the same license fee.
Fundamentally, you only pay for what you need, the more exposure, or the more ‘use’ the image will have, the higher the licensing fee.

11 advantages to buying Rights Managed (RM) stock (Source: Black Star)

1. Rights-managed photography continues to be the industry norm.
2. Wider range of topics.
3. Protection from reuse of the same image.
4. Top photographers sell RM.
5. Clients can purchase exclusive use licenses.
6. RM is not always more expensive. Depending on the end use for the photo, a single use RM license may actually be the less expensive option. Since pricing on RF photos is based on size, for the small buyer looking for a photo for a single use, the better option could often be the RM license. Not only does the buyer get a better quality image, he is also assured that he will not see the same image in use repeatedly.
7. Higher quality images.
8. Weeds out inferior images.
9. Avoids imitation.
10. Cheaper than commissioned work.
11. Protects the buyer. While protecting the photographer’s revenue, the specifics of the RM licensing also provide protection for the buyer. The photographer is aware of what the intended use of the image is and can therefore make the buyer aware of any likely conflicts in the use of the image. The nasty arena of brand confusion can be bypassed simply by making use of RM licensing.

The next article will look at some actual examples of editorial stock photography licensing, as well as using rights manage stock photography for commercial advertising.