Exclusive Stock Photos Explained

If you’ve been exploring the world of stock photos for a while, and followed some of the other guides and tutorials we offer here on StockPhotoSecrets, you’ve probably come across the phrase “exclusive stock photo” in the past.  But while lots of agencies are eager and willing to offer exclusive stock photos and charge you more for them, what does “exclusive” really mean in the realm of stock imagery, and should you be concerned with the issue when purchasing images for your business’s needs?  Read on, for our complete breakdown of exclusive stock photos and what they mean for your business.

To totally understand exclusive stock photos, you need to take a look at how the industry works, and understand why most photos you get through a stock photo agency aren’t exclusive.  When you buy a stock photo, you are really buying the commercial rights to use an image captured by an artist to promote your business, or further your business needs however else you see fit.  Stock photo agencies negotiate with artists who have captured photos, making sure that they are paid fairly for their photography while balancing the needs of small and medium sized businesses to be able to access high quality imagery for commercial needs.  And the biggest way they balance these interests is by selling most images on a non-exclusive basis.

When you download a stock photo, you are paying for the right to use that photo.  But you are not paying for the right to use it exclusively per se.  Other businesses can download and use the same photo.  While that seems like a big deal at first, you have to keep a few things in mind.  First, there are millions and millions of photos out there for businesses to use, and there probably aren’t too many direct competitors in your area and niche that would use the exact same photo that you choose to use.  Which means that the fact that not every piece of stock imagery is an exclusive stock photo doesn’t always impact businesses.  And second, stock photo agencies are able to sell you photography for a lot cheaper because other people are also downloading it.  Artists are only compensated fairly in the stock photo world because lots of people download their work; otherwise, when you got a stock photo for pennies on the dollar, that’s how much an artist would earn too.

To illustrate exactly how big of a difference exclusivity makes in stock photo pricing, just look at an agency that offers exclusive stock photos.  One industry leader and brand name image vendor offers some photos for as low as several dollars through stand royalty free non-exclusive licensing.  But they also offer exclusive stock photography, with a more specific and extensive rights managed model.  Once you tell the vendor what you will be using the photo for, how long you need it to be exclusive, how many people will see it, and other things about your business and goals for the photograph, you will get quoted a price.  And while prices vary wildly per image, you can expect to pay up to thousands of dollars sometimes for the exclusive use of one stock image.

So why would anyone pay so much more for exclusive stock photography?  Well, for some business leaders, it’s worth the extra money for exclusivity.  For big businesses that use stock photography in advertising, they want to assure that no other company is able to use the same image and profit off of name recognition and cross branding.  To a huge corporation like Chevrolet or Microsoft, higher cost is justified by exclusivity, and exclusive stock photography is a smart choice to assure that advertising only promotes the branding of one company.  And that’s only one example of what kind of company uses exclusive stock photos: big news agencies may find that it’s a smart idea to license exclusive stock photos, and other companies who can budget in the higher cost might find it useful to have exclusive access to a piece of imagery.

Plus, sometimes the image that you really want and that will make or break your campaign might only be available for exclusive purchase.  Since most stock photo vendors will pay photographers more for exclusive imagery, at least on a per image download basis related to the higher costs that customers pay, some more acclaimed artists choose to license their imagery only through exclusive contract.  So you may need to pay a higher premium for more boutique and specific photography.  But for most small and medium business owners, exclusive stock photos aren’t always needed or the smartest business choice.  They cost more for a reason, and offer a lot of value to particular businesses, but for small and medium business owners, the choice to license exclusive stock photos should be a cautious and well thought out one.