AS DESIGNERS, Images and text are what make up any piece of graphic design. The text we get from the client or agency writers, and the imagery we create, have created for us or purchase online. Ideally, it would be great if the photography was unique to each piece, but uniqueness costs money and can get very expensive for the client. So what does a graphic designer do when he needs some artwork for a client, but doesn’t want to spend a lot of money? He turns to online stock photography.
A stock house is a distribution house for the photographer. They use their network to get the photographer’s work out there to the graphic designing public. When an image is sold, the photographer gets a percentage, depending on the license type. If the license is royalty free, the photographer gets a small piece of the pie, but the image can be sold over and over again. If the license is rights managed, the photographer gets a much larger chunk of pie and in some cases, can control how that image is even used. In special cases, some rights managed images cannot be used by two different companies in the same industry at the same time. And there are variations.
So in a nutshell, most stock houses are generally the same in what they do but their definitions may be slightly different, particularly from country to country. It’s always a good idea to read everything about how they do their licensing when dealing with a new stock house.
Another consideration is time zone. If you are working on a project with a tight deadline (and who hasn’t?)and you need an image at a special size (let’s say that image is stocked in a smaller size only), keep in mind where the company is physically located. An ad agency in Toronto, Canada who needs the image by 3:00 the following day, won’t get it in time because their stock house in Sacramento California is not only three hours behind them, but wont even see the request until 12 noon Toronto time or 9 am Sacramento time.
Licensing There are two types of licenses: royalty free and rights managed. Each stock house deals with these two terms differently and it’s always recommended to read the fine print of any contract at least once. Don’t assume that if one company says you can do whatever you wish with the image, they all say the same thing.
Getty’s use of royalty free images means the designer purchases the image and uses it over and over again. The larger the image, the more he pays. Some places such as 123rf allows you to purchase a set rate subscription per image. Others such as Shutterstock have single rates where you pay once, and download as many images as you require over a set amount of time, such as a year or 25 days. The longer the time period, the higher the subscription rate. The downside to royalty free images is that anyone can have the same image as you which means although you may have come up with a smashing design, your imagery is not so smashing after all.
Rights managed means (in most cases) the stock house may distribute the image, but the photographer holds the rights to how that image gets used. Getty’s use of the term is fairly straight forward. The designer negotiates with a rep on how he or she intends to use the artwork and pays based on a number of variables such as duration (how long the printed image will be in distribution), print copies (also referred to as circulation), image percentage (ratio of how big the image is in the overall printed piece) and so on. And those variables are in reference to each usage. Want to use it in web? Then there are a whole new set of variables to consider.
Now let’s say your client decides to add a brochure into the mix, the designer must then go back to the rep and negotiate a new license based on new usage. The downside to the uniqueness of rights managed images is that only a few people may have a copy of your image and it’s far more expensive than royalty free.
And while we’re talking about the downside, let’s not forget the downside of online digital photography itself. The one horrible aspect of such photography is that it tends to homogenize all design, everywhere. Anyone can have your images and as a designer, you loose your own uniqueness when you use it. Consumers become unresponsive to the same images appearing over and over again in all advertising. Digital Stock house catalogs can take on a bland and predictable appearance. Designers crave unique, edgey photography but rarely have the client budget to afford specialty photography.