How about this hybrid pricing model for photography?

This is one I’ve had ‘on the shelf’ for some time now.  It’s a stab at a pricing model to replace royalty free and rights managed. In fact, it’s a hybrid of the two models using usage and file size to create a quick and easy pricing for all types of photography.

There is yet another debate on pricing on linkedin so I thought I’d throw this one in to see if it works. While this model may not work at all it could serve as a starting point for a concerted effort to come up with something that works. What if we had “burned the boats” of rights managed, royalty free, and subscription models and had a blank sheet of paper? Are there other ways to give a commercial value to photography?

Let’s approach this as an open source pricing model. So far, the debate about pricing as been taking place within the industry. Photographers, industry experts and distributors are all weighing in with their opinions. Unfortunately, the opinions that matter most, those of the people on the receiving end of complicated pricing models, the buyer,s are missing in the debate. Perhaps buyers can engage with sellers who need to find out what they  are looking for in pricing for photography. Being somewhat on the buying site myself here’s a first stab:

  1. Simplicity: Get a price in one or two steps and have an easy license agreement (basically without much limits)
  2. Predictability: Knowing the price of the product your browsing in advance, not at checkout
  3. Usability: Pricing that fits reasonable budgets for different uses of photography
  4. Flexibility: Licenses that recognise the integrated nature of media. Buy once use forever, no relicensing
  5. Sustainability: Pricing that recognizes that I will use more and more images but my budget won’t get bigger

There are a number of problems with pricing models currently in use. Rights Managed is lengthy to license, impossible to predict and has to be relicensed for every use. Royalty Free is inflexible and therefore too expensive for some uses. Microstock is cheap, therefore give a limited return for photographers which makes it difficult to shoot quality products. Subscriptions hold the best card as it’s simple and quick to license and re-use. Price levels are low though which may prevent investment in more expensive photography.








This model works with usage and file size. Usage because there are different needs and budgets involved for different media. Size because it’s the only thing you can really control (circulation and size can’t be checked). This hybrid of Rights Managed (usage) and Royalty Free (file size) gives clients a price list that can be viewed before purchasing, that is standard for all photography types and allows for quick and easy licensing. The levels are arbitrary, you can have some collections priced higher than others if necessary, as long as it’s simple and viewable before going down a purchase path.

Is it open to abuse? Of course, you can license an image for blog and use it for a magazine. Some people will. In general though people want to do the right thing and if this is made easier there is an incentive to do so (think iTunes). Simpler models can reduce unauthorised usage and create new markets.

So there it is, another piece in the pricing puzzle. If you like it, use it. If you don’t give your feedback here.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

11 thoughts on “How about this hybrid pricing model for photography?

  • March 11, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    But when are people going to make one in £s !?

  • March 11, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Not a bad idea, but difficult to read your chart… (Would be even cooler if you posted it as a download-able file.)

  • March 12, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Your graphic is not viewable so being able to comment on the proposed scale represented in the image is impossible.
    But lets look at each point.

    1. Simplicity: Get a price in one or two steps and have an easy license agreement (basically without much limits)

    This implies that one size will fits all, that every photographer should be viewed as equal and being able to provide the same or equal quality and value.
    Clearly anyone in the publishing or photo industry knows that this is far from the truth on so many levels.

    2. Predictability: Knowing the price of the product your browsing in advance, not at checkout

    See above. and add the following: every production has it’s own unique set of circumstances, problems, productions costs, image usage, display periods, etc.
    Predictability only comes when you hire good people. Good people expect to get paid their worth.
    Yes it would be great if both parties agreed to terms prior to the shoot.
    And then it would be great if clients didn’t try adding shots to the shoot day just because they want to cram as much as possible into one budget.
    “..but it’s just three more shots, what’s the difference?”
    Sure try ordering 3 deserts and drinks after dinner and then try explaining to your server why you should not have to pay for it.

    3. Usability: Pricing that fits reasonable budgets for different uses of photography
    4. Flexibility: Licenses that recognize the integrated nature of media. Buy once use forever, no relicensing

    These both kinda go to the above. So lets say I do an editorial shoot for print and get paid accordingly.
    Are you implying that a publisher should then too be allowed to use images from this same shoot for web and even advertorial or advertising should they so desire without added compensation to the photographer?

    So what I’m hearing hear is that we should accept the role as photo whores and take what we can get.

    Tell me when you go into a restaurant and order a meal and pay do you go back continuously and expect to eat for free?
    Why not you’ve already paid once, they’re serving you with the same dishes, glasses, knives, and forks, your sitting at the same table with the same menus,
    why would you pay twice?

    photographers create that content that publishers purchase to use in order to sell magazines.
    Those publications exist by selling ad space.
    Magazines that sell well can and do charge more for ad space because they have a great circulation.
    which means that the publisher recognizes that the content they purchase for use has value
    and they recognize that content creators too are valuable to the publishers very existence.

    5. Sustainability: Pricing that recognizes that I will use more and more images but my budget won’t get bigger.

    Bull Shit!
    Photographers are not whores.
    Publishers expect to be paid for their ad space, they sell subscriptions for their monthly publications and most do not give there magazines away on newsstands.
    You get paid, I get paid!
    Why is it that the photographer is expected to work for free or have their worked reused or repurposed to infinity.
    Tell me if I buy a full page full color ad for one month in your magazine will I then be entitled to that same monthly ad placement for the life of the magazine?
    I think not.

    As with everything you get what you pay for.
    As we have clearly seen with the crap photography that publishers have been using in the last few years hiring low ball or armature photographers to do the work that they once hired professionals for is not the way to sell magazines.

    My experience and intellectual property are a commodity and as such we photographers expect to get paid for it.
    I have to wonder how long a magazine would last if photographers collectively refused to work for them until that publisher changed their point of view on the value of the photographers works.
    we could just start our own magazines, lord knows we have the skill set to do so.

  • March 12, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Interesting one, this model could be really helpful bring pricing and content back into a reasonable relation. The issue: we’re talking industry standards here which are hard to push through and it will stil be hard to compete against the user generated content with super low prices that won’t see the need to raise their prices. That’s the market and compared to iTunes: Who of the big ones is gonna play Apple?

  • March 12, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    James makes some good points … if he’s talking about a great, one-of-a-kind image.
    In order to command huge sales prices (even for advertising uses) and demand restrictive rights (single use, narrow scope) the image just can’t be your run of the mill image.
    One of the reasons Micro stock took hold so quickly was the major stock houses refused to recognize what every customer already knows – it’s all about the image.
    Photographers produce products. Whether they spent thousands to make it or pennies, it’s still all about the end product. The guiding principals mentioned in the article are the right way to approach a constructive discussion about pricing. It’s the customer focused view.

  • March 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    @Cynthia. I will upload a bigger jpg shortly as this one is indeed a bit small. I’ll also try and get a downloadable file in. The basic thinking of the model is a combination of usage and file size. This could take any shape. The price levels here are examples and can be customised by anyone selling images. The more people use the same model the easier clients can compare prices and value and make an informed decission on how they want to spend their budget

    @James, I noticed GrumpyPhoto just started following me on Twitter. The Bio says: “A veteran photojournalist who hates amateur photographers that think they can do my job. Idiotic questions and the clueless public. Blaaahhhhhh!” I assume this is you?…

    Let me try an answer some of your concerns. Firstly, as you pointed out, media are using more and more semi-professional or user generated content. Price is an issue but the point I’m trying to make is that sellers need to make it easy for buyers. If buyers have to jump through hoops to buy an image they will look elsewhere. With so much more content needed there is no time to go through complicaticated licensing models. What I’ve posted is a one of the ways in which pricing could be made simpler.

    On simplicity: Not sure how you got ‘every photographer being the same’ out of my comments. What I mean there is that you should be able to license a photo in a few steps. With the application of much more media channels buyers use much more images. It will prove difficult to administer unique licenses for each. This is why subscriptions are so popular now.
    As a seller we may not like that but it’s kind of how things work everywhere. When iTunes made music buying easier it created a whole new market for people that otherwise would have possibly restorted to piracy.

    Predictability: I am referring to stock photography here. It’s the only ‘off the shelf’ product that I know where you only find out what it costs once you’ve reached checkout. (but maybe there are other examples). A client that is buying 10 images may find they cost $100, maybe $500, maybe $1.500 once they have filled in all the usage criteria (RM). I would find this insecurity a bit disconcerting. Imagine I have bought 500 images I would have to keep track of every license, relicence for any other usage and keep track of all of that, within my budget…not knowing what any of the extra licenses would cost. It’s an integrated world, companies no longer do only a brochure. Cost needs to be predictable

    Usability/flexibility: The answer to your question is yes, that is what I think (except the part about photographers being whores, not sure were that came from…) sellers need to come up with a pricepoint that they are happy with that has the possibility to include all usages (see the model, once the bigger version is up of course)

    Sustainability: Not sure why we’re back to whores here so I’ll ignore that, and the ‘bulllshit’ if you don’t mind…, I guess it comes with the the territory of grumpyness. What I’m saying is that if a buyer uses 10x as many images that does not mean he has 10x the budget, images are used in shorter cycles, throughout online applications etc. While there is certainly room for unique, difficult to replicate, high-end content the vast majority of photography isn’t. If prices don’t fit budgets, free images will be used (there are over 100 website with free images). Publishers are not trying to cheat photographers I think, they are also trying to run businesses that have to cope with pressure.

    I think there is a willingness of buyers across all segments to pay for images, as long as it’s easy, reasonable and fast. The problem is that not all sellers have adjusted to changed buying habits of clients. When that happens clients will search for alternatives, like free, or really cheap images. No matter how great content is, it still needs to be relatively easy to buy.

    There you go, certainly enjoyed reading your comments, hope this helps. Take some time with the model once you can read it and you’ll hopefully see it does reward photographers for work in various media.

  • March 13, 2010 at 12:58 am

    No grumpyphoto is not me, …..though it’s probably not had to confuse us.
    Appreciate your taking the time to explain.

    My experience to date has been advertising, catalog, fashion, editorial photography, corporate photography; so exposure to stock photography is admittedly thin,
    limited to the stock my friends & associates sell and the tails of stock photo sales that I hear about from my ex-wife whom works at Getty.

    The fact that it is difficult to keep track of usage, terms, multiple sources and such should not be the reason to cut expenses that trickle down to the photographers rates.
    Having sold stock, thankfully to Vanity Fair I can tell you first hand that in many instances the photographer makes only 30-50% per sale a 30% being the norm.
    And all too often while the publisher may pay that stock photo invoice in a reasonable amount of time the photographer all too often will get a check maybe quarterly.

    Your example of 10 images for $100 seems extremely low. I’ve never heard of any photographer getting less than $150 per image for magazine usage.
    Getty being the 800 lb gorilla does seem to hold the cards over most. however despite their best efforts they too have images stolen, most often by publications and web sites outside of the united sates. Calls, emails, and invoices are sent in an attempt to collect on images used with out license and 90% of the time those are ignored.
    And believe it or not those same offenders will later purchase select images, and again continue using beyond the license date.

    You may have even seen the posts by APA & ASMP members that found dozens of their images being used last year on an automobile manufactures web site.
    Emails were ignored until the lawyers got involved only then were the images removed. No compensation that I am aware of.

    So piracy is not limited to music or movies, it also happens to photographers, bloggers having their text/articles cut and pasted to others blogs even stropping of the writers copyright notice. Happened to me twice last year by another photographer. Yup, he ignored the emails too.

    The fact is there are too many people in business that have little to no respect for the works, knowledge and efforts of others.
    Running several web sites, producing videos, and even a magazine both online and soon print I am well aware of the cost of doing business.
    Employees are the biggest expenses and I pay mine (5 Freelancers) far better than others. I have 1 gentleman that when working for me makes in 2 days what he would other wise earn in 5 at his regular photo job(s). But than again I expect the best from them and they deliver.

    I don’t think many people realize that making great images is not just grabbing a cheap DSLR and popping on an on camera flash and holding down the button praying that you get 1 useable image. Professional photographers who have been working for years know the difference between lighting and production values that make a CEO look trustworthy, a product look valuable and worth purchasing.
    And even something as simple as getting a great shot of a kid playing basketball will look better from a pro than what you’ll find on flicker of other site that someone shot with their iPhone. These are the images that make people stop and look at a web page or a magazine page.
    This is what sells products and magazines.
    The perfect example of this is any magazine kiosk in NYC.
    Simply compare and contrast the quality of content of the magazines that have gone out of business in the last 3 years and those that are still selling to niche audiences at $35.00 a piece.
    Be it web sites or magazines people will when they can afford to, pay for quality.

    Certainly the amount of and need for web images and content is growing but if you kill the cow you get no milk.
    Photographers can not afford to make pretty pictures if they can not be assured of getting paid a reasonable amount for the time and efforts that they spend/invest.

    To that I should point out that on average a freelance commercial photographer is only shooting for a total of about 5-6 months of the year. That meaning billable days to several clients. Those invoices on average get paid 180 days later. Which means the photographer has put out his money for a clients job and prays they will see the money.
    The remaining days when the photographer is not shooting he is doing pre or post production that falls outside of the billing spectrum, and he is doing sales and marketing in order to get the next job.

    So how does anyone stay in business at $10.00 per image.
    It would be great if we were all named Leibovitz, Seliger, Meisel, Klein, Eccles, Ockenfels
    but those photographers account for about 5% of the total working photographers that after expenses and taxes make about $30,00 – 60,000 a year at best
    A quick poll will reveal that photographers selling stock can make anywhere from $200 – $1500 a year on sales, closer $200, and never consistently.
    And of course the bigger names make lots more.

    So next time you get an image for $10.00 ask yourself what that photographer with a kid will be able to do with that $10.00

    Publishers here are keeping a very close eye on the recent events in the U.K. concerning the ‘Orphan works’ laws.
    This too has been an issue in the U.S. but seems to have been tabled for a while.
    In the U.K. when the law does take effect publishers will essentialy have free regain to use images for free whose owners they can not locate or make contact with.
    This may also end up being the case in the U.S. in the coming years.
    which means that as is the case in South Africa all photographers will or could end up being work for hire and have no rights to the copyright of their works or creations.

    Golly, this business stuff is just so much fun.

  • March 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I’m a stock photographer with a niche. I’m also represented by several stock agencies. For the past month I’ve been very interested in coming up with a pricing module for who I call “New Buyers”. What you have spoken about in your post is so right on. Thank you for sharing the price template, which made sense to me, very simply. I want to put something like this on my website so that buyers can buy my images quick, easy and affordable, but not so low that I drive myself out of business. Why shouldn’t customers know a price at the beginning of their search. Today, most of my buyers are looking for editorial 1/4 page use or an image for web use or for a printed brochure with very low print runs of less than 100 copies. “New Buyers” in my experience are those folks who very seldom need a photo and are aware that they do need to pay a fee or have permission to use a picture. Rights Managed formulas generally will scared them from doing business with me. Today, there’s not much business coming in so these “New Buyers” are who I need to start doing business with so that I can continue to do what I am good at and love to do.

    Could you share with me what the typical sizes would be? You mention sizes like clothing, which is great because most consumers are well aware of these. I’d like to know what the typical pixel size would be for xs, s, m. l, xl. Thank you for sharing.

    What are you thoughts on a photography site that might offer pricing up front on xs, s and m sizes but continue to have RM on L and XL image requests?

  • March 15, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Hello Angel,

    Thanks for your positive feedback. Firstly on file sizes. Have a look on the Fotolia site: I believe these are the standards used by others as well for Xs to XL

    I suggest that if you want to use only parts of the model (like xs and s) you can publish the whole matrix but put ‘call’ in the prices you want to negotiate on the phone. You can experiment by adding more or less prices vs ‘call’ in the cells.

    You can also make any decission you like on the actual level of pricing. The key of the model is the combo usage/file size and, as you mentioned, the ability to publish prices upfront to clients.

    Perhaps there ae other people with ideas as well. I would like the feedback to come back ere so we can retain some sense of control and development. But if you want to start using it, feel free. I can send the excell version as well


  • March 16, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    There is nothing essentially rights-managed about the suggestion. So it boils down to royalty-free people playing amongst themselves, which is not necessarily a bad thing if it works for them.

  • March 23, 2010 at 12:18 am

    I appreciate your efforts at trying to simplify pricing, although as Carl pointed out, it appears that this is a royalty free pricing structure while I only use rights managed pricing. Still, in reply to your comment, “Predictability: I am referring to stock photography here. It’s the only ‘off the shelf’ product that I know where you only find out what it costs once you’ve reached checkout. (but maybe there are other examples).” There are lots of other examples, such as all creative “products”: music, art, written materials. People often use the iTunes model to compare to stock photography. I would have no objection to automatic 99¢ personal usage licenses for stock images like the music model. But those iTunes prices do not apply if you want to add music to your business’ website, a TV/radio advertisement, or other commercial usage. In those cases you must negotiate individually with the copyright holder. Movie studios have whole departments for copyright clearances for the music they use. Somehow the pricing of stock images needs to be tied back to the value that customers place on the usage of those images.

    John G. Blair
    Chairman, Picade, LLC, a photographer-owned stock and assignment agency
    John G. Blair studio

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