11 March 2009

RF or RM?

Are you thinking that you'd like to make some money from your photography? (Assuming you don't already of course!) If you're going to put images into a picture library, then think long and hard about which one and what method you'll choose - Royalty Free (RF) or Rights Managed (RM). 
If you want to make some money, then RF can be a good way to go - lots of small sales soon stack up. However, there is a downside. you make that money at the expense of both yourself and other photographers.
1. You sell an image RF which a company buys for $10. You get $5. You have done another photographer out of a sale when previously thee company would have been happy to pay $200.
RF only exists because some photographers valued images published and quantity over quality. They were happy to see their images in print and didn't mind only getting $5 for it. If people properly valued their work, they wouldn't be happy with this. Selling RF is like saying "My photography is only worth X" (where X is a very small number). This has knock-on effects. (More on this in a minute)
2. You sell an image for $10 RF. A company can buy it and use for whatever they want. One year later a company finds your image on your website and wants to use it for advertising with a budget of £10,000 (not unheard of). Sadly thought, you can't see any of it as it has already been sold RF and therefore you can't control the rights on it. The company walk away. Sure you may have sold that image 50 times, but 50 times at $5 a time doesn't get close the money you would have had. Cash flow would be better, but over all income much lower.

Back to the knock-on effects. You're valuing your photography at the low figure of X. A potential client finds out how little you sell your images for after you've put in a quote for a commercial shoot. You're now in a stand-off. They come back to you with the claim (provable) that you sell your images for $10 a time. How can you therefore reasonably expect to charge them $1000 to take some pictures for them, when they could quite possibly get something suitable from the RF library. Clearly if they have specific needs they'll still use you, but if they just need some general pictures, they'll probably think twice about it.

Before RF, clients were happy (maybe happy is a bit strong but you know what I mean) to pay higher rates for images. Now RF has devalued the entire photographic trade as amateur photographers seek a quick few quid and the feel-good factor of their pictures in print. I've made bold the really key points.

I read a report the other week talking about RF and RM. It was quite interesting, but the most telling two lines in the report are these:
"Those who sell only RM tend to be older, more skilled, more established and generate more income per photo.
Those who sell only RF tend to be new to stock photography with limited experience in the business and/or only sell stock photography as a sideline."

Whether it's the real world or not is up for debate. But I personally don't want to be part of killing the stock library market and cheapening the role of the photographer, even if a quick few quid is always welcome! Kit is expensive. It takes only a few good sales to get enough for a new camera when selling RM. It takes a LOT of sales to get the same back from RF.

Hit the comments with your thoughts on the RF/RM debate.


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