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The beautiful thing about stock photography is that it’s something anyone can do, regardless of experience.

Whether you are just starting out or have been using your camera for years, stock photography is open to you.

However, if you don’t understand the lingo, signing up as a contributor at a stock site for the first time can be confusing.

For example, a question I get a lot is, “What’s the difference between ‘royalty free’ and ‘rights managed’?”

Stock photography

At the risk of opening up a small can of worms, here we go…

Whenever you “sell” an image on a stock site, you’re not selling the photo ITSELF, but a license for a buyer to use that image. Which is why the payments are relatively small… and why you can sell the use of your photos over and over and over to different people, through a variety of agencies.

You retain the copyright, or ownership, of your images.

Now, there are two main ways that stock agencies license your images. Let’s take a closer look:

Royalty Free: This is the type of license that the vast majority of microstock sites use. If you sell through Shutterstock, Bigstock, iStock, Fotolia, or Dreamstime, this is how they function. Under this system, the buyer pays once, after which they can use the photo under limited terms. Typically, the prices are smaller, and you make a LOT more sales.

Rights Managed: Under this model, the buyer pays a fee based on many factors, including how the image will be used and for what time period. With this system, the photographer usually makes way more per sale ($100 is not uncommon), but you’ll typically only sell a few images a year, instead of selling images every day. Sites such as Getty, Alamy, and ImageBrief offer rights-managed images. Some require you to be exclusive.

So which one is better? Neither type of license is better than the other. They are just different strategies. With royalty-free, the idea is to make lots of little sales. With rights managed, the hope is to sell each image for a higher amount. 

If you’re just starting out, go with royalty-free first, and start racking up income through volume of sales. 

Currently, I only sell royalty-free stock through iStock, Shutterstock, Fotolia, Dreamstime, and Bigstock. But I’m going to give rights-managed a try, too, and I’ll report back on my findings.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about getting started selling your photos online in stock agencies – no matter how much or little photography experience you have – in the Breakfast Stock Club e-newsletter. It’s once a week, and it’s free to join, here.

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