Welp, we knew the day would soon arrive and now it has. Getty has put an end to pricing stock images based on how they are used. In an email to subscribers and artists, they announced the death of RM, saying that after January 2020, all RM images are going to be removed from their à la carte pricing.
As some have quipped, "The race to the bottom for stock photography prices has come full circle."
I started working with rights-managed licensing in 1988 and since then, have worked on both sides of the equation, buying photography for businesses and publishers as well as representing myself and other photographers (I was head of marketing for Lonely Planet Images USA.)
RM is all about limiting rights. We used to be able to invoice clients for non-exclusive use of an image, running as a full page, published in North America only, up to a circulation of 1 million, for prices from $1,000 - $10,000, depending on the editorial or commercial application. There was also a premium for uniqueness of the image. These pricing factors really aren't needed in today's online environment, and tracking usage on both ends is too cumbersome.
For photographers, there hasn't been money in the stock business for a long time now. Getty has experienced the ups and downs, too, and few stock agencies can make ends meet on the original 50/50 split model and clients rarely need to select from the RM pool because the RF pool is just as good. Not to mention there are great free image resources for most small businesses and publishers, or they can get super-cheap files from Shutterstock and Adobe Stock with few usage limitations.
Stock started out as a way to supplement the low day-rates for editorial photographers. We'd shoot something like 96 rolls of film for one National Geographic assignment (that could be 3,456 images) and the magazine would only run 20 or so. All the remaining images could be licensed after the initial embargo. (Then NGS got into the stock game, too.) Some photographers started shooting only for stock using models and studios, and it was lucrative for some, in the beginning.
What is left to do? What would happen if photographers worldwide went on strike? I don't think it would matter or we would have seen this ages ago. Photography never went the way of music in terms of a licensing model, and though many have attempted to bring it about, a central source for licensing remains unlikely. Some very successful photographers have never sold their images as stock. But it is sort of sad to hear this and to realize that this once positive avenue to help photographers carve out a living has all but disappeared.