Stock Agencies

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: November 26, 2013

There are so many photo buyers and sellers that it’s useful to have companies in the middle. These companies are called stock agencies, as they’re agents for stock photos. Buyers can visit an agency and quickly search the work of many photographers. Conversely, by being represented by stock agencies, photographers can get their photos seen by more buyers, and they don’t have to deal with clients directly, which is always nice.

Stock agencies provide many useful services for photographers: they host the photos, provide search capabilities, and deal with order fulfillment and billing. For these services, the agencies keep a percentage of sales, typically 50%, but it can be more or less.


There’s an overwhelming number of stock agencies. Many are owned by the “big two” — Getty and Corbis. Differing agencies provide differing prices, commissions, qualities, and subjects, but they share one thing in common: licensing. There are just two general types of license: “rights-managed” and “royalty-free.” In the trade, this is shortened to “RM” and “RF.”


Rights-Managed (“RM”) is the traditional method of licensing, used for high-end photos. The fees are: relatively high; variable, depending upon the use; and per use. The cost of a photo for use in a magazine, for example, would depend upon the magazine’s circulation, market, and how large the image will be printed. If the magazine publisher wants to use the photo again, they have to pay a usage fee again (the fee is per use, not per image).


Royalty-Free (“RF”) is the newer, Internet method, used for generally lower-end photos. The fees are less and per image (e.g. the buyer can use the image any number of times and for multiple purposes without paying more). The fee is often based on the image size (number of pixels), a smaller image costing less than a larger image.

RM or RF?

Professional stock photographers generally supply rights-managed (RM) photos through traditional stock agencies. However, these agencies are exceedingly selective about which photographers they’ll work with and the quality they’ll accept. So, as a new photographer, if you work with an agency, you’ll likely be licensing them as royalty-free (RF).

It’s hard to get into a big agency, as they already have many great photographers, they demand very high quality, and they are very picky as to who and what they accept. But there is one place to start — at the bottom. Today, there’s a proliferation of smaller, web-based agencies, some of whom actively request your work. That business is called “microstock.”

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