The Next Big Thing in Photography: Individual Licensing

The next major disruption in the photo world will be individual licensing – the ability for any individual to license images directly. There are a few forces pointing in that direction.

First, and most visible, is the sheer volume of photos taken. Among those, probabilities tell us, are images of high licensing value. Currently, they are being shared merrily. Soon enough, their author will be looking to earn some revenue from them.

The second force is technology. Up to now, the technology world didn’t care much about the photo market. Between the rise of social media, whose engine is photography, and Facebook’s recent $741 million purchase of Instagram (originally $1 billion before Facebook’s stock plunged), photos are the new web gold rush. Some of the most brilliant minds are now working on the next photo platform and how to make it profitable.

Third: the declining commission rate (anywhere from 20 to 40 percent) given by photo agencies to contributors, both in microstock and traditional licensing. It is becoming unfair. Already you hear grumbling in the more vocal microstock community, but they are certainly not the only ones.

Fourth is the expanding base of publishers. As the internet grows and everyone becomes a publisher, no stock agency will be able to offer the wide range of images needed to service everyone properly.

Professionals already have platforms like Photoshelter or photographers direct. But those require a collection of images to be relevant. With companies like or, we already see the emergence of tools that let any image creator directly get revenue from their images, even if it is only one or two.

Getty has been fighting this trend by cutting deals with photo sharing platform like Flickr, but for how long? Those who license via Getty do not appreciate the very low commission rate they receive and since they are already contacted by image buyers directly, can easily jump ship if offered other solution.

So what will be the effect ? While, like today everyone is a publisher, tomorrow, everyone will be a photo agency capable of licensing their images with on click from anywhere. They might license only one image a year each but multiplied by millions worldwide, they will seriously impact the photo licensing world.

9 Responses to “The Next Big Thing in Photography: Individual Licensing”

  1. I think full disclosure on your involvement with Stipple, which you have been pushing for awhile via your blog and to microstickers, is in order here.

  2. Libby,

    It is clearly stated on my bio on the left under the picture.

  3. I've heard lots of rumbling about individual licensing on the blogosphere of late. It seems to make sense until the platforms that emerge start wanting the lions share again, just like paying to promote posts on Facebook. But an interesting development nonetheless.

    I wasn't away of and so I'll go an check them out.

    Good post!

  4. Since the photo stock market started it's decline over 12 years ago, I have wondered how this model could work since I agree with Andrew that eventually the platforms will want the lions share. At least Paul and Stipple are heading in a better direction.

    I would love it if each image had a simple Point-of-Purchase metadata field where a buyer could read and agree to T&C and link to a paypal acct. for payment and confirmation with one click-- no platform needed. Unless stripped, the "store" and "checkout" ride with image with every right click around the world.

  5. Chris, the metadata field idea is a great one, but like all things that are meant to democratise, there are vested interests amongst those who have the power and influence to make these things happen or indeed block this kind of levelling movement - which means it probably won't ever happen.

  6. Andrew/Chris: There are IPTC Extension and PLUS ( fields that can be embedded in a file right now to note the licensor, licensee, and details about the license. If you prefer, a compressed "media summary code" of that information can be embedded, and it can be "decoded" via the PLUS servers.

    The IPTC launched the site last year to make the case for preserving embedded information in all forms of digital media; and they have been supported in this effort by many other creator organizations.

    Unfortunately, the bigger problem is that many of the photo sharing and social media services (as well as some image handling services on websites -- like GD, often used by WordPress sites) don't seem to understand what this embedded information is, and intentionally or inadvertently remove it from images ("stripping the file" as some refer to this practice). This is done despite the desire of content creators (photographers, illustrators, etc.). Since both the European Union and the UK are in the midst of passing "Orphan Works" laws, this is very bad news.

    I'd helped to start a survey of the various image hosting services starting in 2009, and the preliminary results of that survey can be viewed at for anyone that is interested. At minimum it will give you an idea of which services to avoid using if you want to keep your metadata intact.

    Hope that helps.


  7. I think Paul is on the right track in recognizing that the Internet is fast becoming one huge stock photo agency, especially for photo researchers and photobuyers. This has been in the cards for quite awhile: in a PhotoStockNotes article back in May of 1997, I described how “The Largest Stock Photo Agency in the World” is actually the cumulative consequence of all individual stock photographers, who will benefit when they recognize the Internet advantage. (See ) Some photographers, who wanted the security of a day job but wanted to prepare for the time when they could go fulltime, heeded my idea. Gradually more and more photographers comprehended this Google Effect and withdrew from their agencies to begin working for themselves and 100% of sales. Here’s one guy, a part-timer, from the early days, who wrote to our office here at Photosource International last summer:
    - - - - - - - - - -
    “I have worked with Rohn Engh and
    his Photosource International for
    over thirty years. I attended his
    stock photo seminar when he used
    to give them out near his farm in
    a former one-room schoolhouse. I
    came a way with the impression,
    “I can do this!” And I did.
    Although I’m not a full-time
    professional, (driving truck is
    my vocation), I earn around
    $25,000 a year from editorial
    stock photography. Not bad for
    part time.

    “I have also read Rohn's books
    which helped me get started. I
    have subscribed to Rohn’s
    PhotoDaily and PhotoLetter all
    these years and can heartily
    recommend his marketletters to
    someone who’s just starting out
    whether they are a senior
    citizen or a high school graduate.

    ”Recently I sold one of my
    photos for $900.00 to a textbook
    from an ad in the Photo Daily.
    It paid $500.00 for the photo
    and $400 for additional rights.
    That pays for the PhotoDaily for
    quite a while.
    I have Rohn to thank for getting
    me started and keeping me going
    all these years.”

    Mike Siluk, photographer,
    St. Paul, Minnesota, 08-27-2012

  8. I checked out stipple and watched the video, read through the info there, and I don't see how it will help those trying to license stock photos. It seems to me like just another avenue to have photos spread all over the web without anyone paying for their use.
    Getting "credit" for a photo used on someone's blog won't help a photographer feed their family. Here's one blogger who gets it - though she found out the hard way - I commend her for letting others know that she was wrong for just grabbing photos from the web, to the detriment of those who took them.
    If I'm missing something here, please enlighten me. I see how it would help if I was selling shoes and I assumed it would also work for licensing images, but with further research that doesn't seem to be the case. If I'm selling a fine art photo or a commercial or editorial image, how is stipple going to help me get more people to license the image as opposed to encouraging them to "share" it for free? While there may be benefits to a photographer in linking to their website, you need more that that to encourage sales. I've clicked on several of the photos and while they sometimes lead to a photo site, none of them lead to a button where I can license the image or purchase a print.
    This is my complete comment kindly publish this one - thanks.

  9. Marianne,

    Your apparent frustration comes from trying to apply an older model to a new one and realizing that it doesn't work. I couldn't agree more. Stipple is not a tool to help you license more images. Nor does it pretend to replace traditional licensing.
    What it does, however, is take a real and present situation - the sharing culture- and rather than fighting it, takes full advantage of it.

    Today, as soon as you publish an image on line, it is republished, shared, tweeted, pin'ed, tumblr'ed, facebooked, etc wether you like it or not.

    You, the image creator, have three options:

    - do nothing

    - fight it, which means spending countless hours finding illegal usages ( you will never find all of them) and sending take down notices or legal action threats. It is a never ending and extremely time consuming activity with little or no financial benefit. No one has made a living sending take down notices and legal actions are both lengthy and costly, if ever successful . Your time is better spend taking pictures.

    - Take advantage of it . That is what Stipple helps you do. Here is how.

    Attribution: first and foremost, thanks to its image matching technology, it guarantees that your information travels with your image, even if all your metadata has been stripped. No more orphan works and no more anonymity.

    Analytics: Stipple display where your image is published and how many views it is getting. Real time. This is invaluable information for anyone in the business of licensing images.

    Tagging: Not only it is much stronger and efficient that traditional captioning because the information lives on the image, on demand, instead of in an embedded box, it can also be the source of valuable income. Let's take your example; You are a fine art photographer. You make revenue by selling prints. Well, you can add a tag that directly links your image to your print store. Thus, every viewer of your images, wherever they discover it, becomes a potential buyer. Wouldn't you let your image travel freely if it brought you thousands of new customers who would otherwise never come to your site ?

    You can also create other commercial tags, links to products or services depicted in your images and very soon, Stipple will help you connect with brands that want to tag your images with their products.

    So, instead of licensing an image once and see it copied illegally thousands of times, you can choose to let it ride freely and make money on the traffic it generates, while keeping complete control over it.

    Instead of making this answer longer than it needs to be, I would highly recommend that you, or anyone that wishes, contact me at "paul (at) " . I would be more than happy to show you around and answer any and all questions you might have.

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