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Stock Imagery Takes a Turn

(January 2007) posted on Tue Jan 02, 2007

Micropayment sites surge, while RM images look to come back.


By Theano Nikitas

On the downside, however, "The quality of the content can be inconsistent and there may be potential risks with clearances," says Alexander. Quality control and legal requirements can vary from site to site; it’s important that potential customers be aware of what safety checks are in place, particularly when it comes to model releases.

As Ross Sutherland, a former advertising agency creative and chief creative officer at Corbis, points out, "People are uploading all sorts" of images to those sites and these sorts of "problems have not manifested themselves yet." Problems like "Uncle Harry" seeing an unflattering image of himself online. "Just give us pictures of things that we can’t be sued over," says Sutherland, "like egg beaters."

Additionally, Sutherland believes that "the nature of subjects will ultimately determine the price" and that certain shots-like a photo of a lemon or a patch of grass-will soon become commoditized and be relegated to micropayment sites. "Now that micropayment sites have invited everybody with a cell phone or digital camera to be a photographer, soon they’re going to break the code that little blocks of grass sell really, really well. I really hope they carve out a whole new market for themselves; you should be able to buy [those types of images] for a buck."

A rights-managed comeback?

While Sutherland believes that RF (royalty free) is still "everyone’s darling" and we’re seeing more and more subscription-based RF alternatives, rights managed still plays an important role in the stock industry. Just as "there are always people who are going to buy Prada handbags, and there are always people who are going to buy Canal Street (NYC) duplicates, a lot of clients demand exclusive rights."

Rights managed, of course, provides a safety factor for customers who want to be sure that the image(s) they choose aren’t used by others-especially their clients’ competition. Licensing, by necessity, is much more complex than those of RF or micropayment models, and rights managed images are generally more expensive. Nevertheless, the market is there and there has been a slight surge in companies catering to this audience.


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