The news crackled and spread like a barrel full of fireworks set on fire by an innocent four years old carelessly playing with stolen matches. First, via an e-mail leak, then by an official press release. Getty Images, the last bastion and great defender of rights managed, was laying its swords down, defeated. It was to be no more.
Just a day after Shutterstock revealed declining profits, a Getty Images email sent to its contributors worldwide made its way to social media and public forum. In it, Getty explains that it will soon transform all remaining rights-managed images into Royalty-Free and cease accepting new ones. “”We have confidently concluded that the RM creative image licensing model no longer meets our customers’ needs,” writes the Seatle giant, “especially given the flexibility demanded by digital marketing and the increasing reuse of imagery, and it actually reduces our overall competitiveness.” In other words, rights-managed is too complicated and no longer adapted to the marketplace.
At midnight (CET), on November 6, 2019, no more RM images will be accepted. However, ” We encourage you to grow your RF portfolio with new fresh imagery to meet current customer demands, which you can do under your existing agreement.” adds the company.
Of course, this is a milestone. While the writing has been on the wall with a big fat font for decades, this is still a powerful symbolic moment. With average RM licensing down from hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to just mostly under 10, with buyers no needing or caring (or both) about any exclusivity rights, it was bound to happen. To add insult, image licensing has also already evolved from unique one-time image sales to monthly volume subscriptions.
When RF licensing arrived on the image licensing scene via companies like Photodisc, it was first considered a blasphemy. But as massive profits quickly rolled in from a market eager to use affordable, headache-free images, it was soon allowed into the image licensing family as the budget-friendly little brother. You could either get decent images for cheap ( ~ $300 at the time) and do whatever you wanted with them or great images via much much more ( ~ a few thousand) and only use them once in one location for a limited time. The logic didn’t really add up.
It’s really when Istockphoto ( ironically, part of Getty Image now) hit the fan that things became worst. Suddenly those cheap RF images were no longer hundreds of dollars but rather just a few. The market began its rapid descent as the quality of the cheap images started to match those of Rights-Managed. Same images, a vast difference in prices and what you could do with them. It was just a question of time. 20 years exactly.
In all fairness, Getty tried. The company attempted a few variations of Rights-Ready, a sort of Rights-Managed Lite. But to no avail. Today, it is admitting defeat, leaving only a few small independent photo agencies left to license creative RM images, probably until their owners retire or pass away. What is left of RM licensing is the editorial market, but for how long? With pressure from both Shutterstock and Adobe Stock licensing editorial content Royalty-Free at microstock prices, it will be hard for Getty to resist. They only do so because of their content partners, like the sports leagues, who will not let them do so. For now. But it will not come as a surprise when Getty also drop RM for editorial content. But that is another story…