That's me from 10+ years ago. My employees laugh that I still use this as my headshot.
Artists and photographers get pushed around on the internet all the time, and as the owner of Pixels.com, FineArtAmerica.com, and many other online art sites... I hear about it quite often. Our discussion forum is one of the most active art/photo forums in the world - averaging one new post every minute of every day.
Realistically, there are millions of artists and photographers all over the world who would like to earn a living selling their images as printed products and image licenses. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of companies that dominate the print-on-demand and image-licensing markets (think Cafepress, Zazzle, Getty Images, Shutterstock, etc.)... and their business practices are not always "seller friendly".
If you want to sell your images on any of those websites... you have to sell them according to each company's stated prices and commissions... take them or leave them.
Do you want to sell your images as royalty-free downloads on Shutterstock? You can... but you have to allow them to set your prices for you, and you have to will willing to accept approximately 20% of those prices as your commission. Shutterstock will sell your images for about $2.50, on average, which means that you'll earn approximately $0.50 per sale.
Licensing: A New Business Model
Set your prices as high or as low as you want to set them. The prices that you set are exactly how much you'll earn.
Control which images you want to sell... which sizes you want to offer for sale for each image... and which type of licenses you want to sell.
Change your sizes, prizes, and license types at any time.
Add and delete images at any time.
Sell royalty-free and/or rights-managed licenses.
If you don't like the terms of our licenses, you can create your own custom licenses.
We don't require any exclusivity, at all.
Do you want to sell canvas prints of your images? Society6.com will do that for you, but they'll only pay you $8 per sale. Take it or leave it.
If you don't like those terms, then your only option is to "leave it" and not do business with those companies. That's perfectly OK.
Other companies eventually pop up offering better terms, and suddenly, you've got competition.
That's good. Here's why.
Since 2006, FineArtAmerica.com has allowed our sellers to set their prices as high or as low as they want to and sell their images on products such as canvas prints, framed prints, greeting cards, iPhone cases, and more. If you want to earn $500 each time you sell a canvas print on FineArtAmerica.com, go for it. Set your price on FAA to $500. Believe it or not, we have lots of sellers who sell canvas prints on a regular basis for $500+.
If you want to earn $1 each time you sell a canvas print, that's fine, too. Set your price to $1.
Side Note - For international artists, we also own Pixels.com, FineArtEurope.com, FineArtEngland.com, FineArtDownUnder.com, and many others.
Our business model is very simple. We take your prices... we mark them up to cover our cost of materials (e.g. frames, mats, etc.)... we add in our production costs (e.g. cutting, assembling, shipping, etc.)... and that's the final price that we show to our buyers. You (the seller) get to earn whatever you want to earn on each sale, and we just mark everything up to make sure that we're a profitable business, as well.
You get to set your prices as high or as low as you want to... change your prices at any time... set different prices for different products (e.g. $2.50 for a greeting card vs. $10 for an iPhone case)... add new images for sale at any time... and delete images at any time.
In the print-on-demand world, you have a choice. You don't have to settle for $8 when you sell a canvas print. You can partner with a company that dictates prices to you... or you can partner with FineArtAmerica.com and control your prices on your own.
In the image licensing world, that choice doesn't exist. Getty Images sets the price of each image on their site and pays you a 20% commission. Shutterstock sets the prices on their site and pays you a 20% commission. Fotolia sets the prices on their site and pays you a 20% commission.
Shutterstock.com sells your images for $2.50, on average, which means that you'll earn $0.50 per sale. Fotolia.com sells your images for less than $1, which means that you'll earn less than $0.20 per sale.
The options go from bad to worse to worse.
In the image licensing world, artists and photographers don't have many options regarding prices and commissions.
We're going to do something about that:
1. We're getting into the licensing business.
2. We're getting into the licensing business with the best domain name in the world for an image licensing business: Pixels.com.
3. We're getting into the licensing business with a proven business model that we've used to dominate the online art world since 2006: set your own prices.
4. We're an independent company serving independent artists and photographers all over the world. We have no investors. We have no board of directors. We are very profitable from our art business. The only people that we answer to are our customers - our buyers and sellers.
I can't emphasize #4, enough. Every major print-on-demand and image-licensing business is owned by a large corporation or a large investor group. Every single one... except for FineArtAmerica.com / Pixels.com.
Keep reading, below, and I'll explain exactly how our new licensing business is going to work... why it's going to work for both buyers and sellers... and how a small, independent business from Santa Monica, CA, is going to shake-up the corporate-dominated licensing world.
We did it for prints-on-demand.
We're going to do it again for image licensing.
How It Works
If you're not familiar with image licensing, in general, please read this article to familiarize yourself with the terminology.
3. You set your own prices for the various image sizes that we offer (e.g. small, medium, large, x-large, full-resolution).
4. You decide whether you want to sell your images royalty-free, rights-managed, or both.
5. You're done.
We then take your images and add them to our search engine so that buyers can find them and purchase them.
The prices that we show to our buyers are going to be 30% higher than the prices that you set.
To restate that as simply as possible, we take your prices and mark them up 30%. You earn the price that you set. We earn the markup.
Here's an example. If you set your price to be $100 for one of your small, royalty-free images... we're going to take that price, mark it up 30%, and show it to the buyer as $130. When the buyer buys it, we're going to process the buyer's payment for $130, pay you your $100, and keep the $30 for ourselves so that this is a profitable business.
For the math afficianos out there, you're taking home 77% of the sale price.
$100 divided by $130 is equal = 77%.
That's it. Set you prices as high or as low as you want them to be, and whatever prices you set, that's exactly how much you're going to earn. We're simply going to add a markup on top.
A picture is worth a thousand words (no pun intended)... take a look at this picture, below:
That's an actual screen capture from our image uploading page. This is for an image that's 3,600 pixels wide by 1,969 pixels tall. As you can see, our pricing system lets you set your prices as high or as low as you want them to be just by editing the prices in each text box.
Once you're done setting your prices and click submit, here's what your image will look like to a buyer:
Notice - the prices are 30% higher than the prices that you set, as discussed above.
The buyer now picks an image size (e.g. 500 pixels x 273 pixels), clicks "Add to Cart", and proceeds through the checkout screens.
It's a very simple business, and we make all of the licensing information easily accessible right there on the image page so that our buyers can understand exactly what rights they're purchasing when they purchase an image. Buyers don't have to hunt all over Pixels.com to find our licensing terms or be legal experts to decipher what they can and can not do with your images. It's all right there on the page. What rights come along with the royalty-free license? Just click on "Simple License Language". Do you want to read the actual, legal licensing document? Click on "Full License Document".
You get to chose which image sizes you want to offer for sale... set different prices for each available size (if desired)... set different prices for each of the images in your portfolio... change your prices whenever you want to... add new images whenever you want to... and delete new images whenever you want to. Everything is controlled by you.
Now - I've mentioned the terms "royalty-free" and "rights-managed" a few times in this this article, already, with the assumption that you know what those terms mean. In the next section, below, we're going to define those terms, show you how you can sell both types of licenses on Pixels.com, and show you how to control your prices independently for all of our available license options.
License Types: Royalty-Free vs. Rights-Managed
There are generally two types of licenses in the image licensing world: royalty-free and rights-managed.
When you purchase a royalty-free image license from any image licensing site, the license generally allows you to do whatever you want to do with the image, forever, with very few restrictions. If you want to use the image on a billboard, you can. If you want to use the image in a TV commercial, you can. If you want to print the image on the side of a blimp, you can. If you want to use the image to produce 5 million mousepads that you're going to sell at Walmart, you can.
If you want to do all of those things at once, you can.
Once you've paid the price to download the image and agreed to the terms of the royalty-free license, you can do almost anything that you want to do with the image, forever.
Notice the word "almost". There are, generally, a few restrictions that come along with a royalty-free license.
1. The image buyer (i.e. the licensee) can't attempt to resell the image. That is - a buyer can't buy one of your images from you via Getty Images and then put your image up for sale on Shutterstock or any other image licensing site. To do that would force you (the licensor) to compete against your own image. That would obviously be bad. If a buyer could buy a royalty-free license from you for one of your images for $10 and then offer that same image for sale on another website for $1, that would be very bad for you. So - that's not allowed.
2. The image buyer (i.e. the licensee) can't put the image up for sale on "print on demand" websites such as Cafepress, Art.com, FineArtAmerica.com, etc. The logic is the same as #1, above. A buyer can't force you to compete against yourself by taking one of your images and offering it for sale as physical products (e.g. canvas prints, mousepads, etc.) on a "print on demand" site.
3. The image buyer (i.e. the licensee) can't sublicense the image to anyone else.
The rules, above, apply to the buyer. They don't apply to you. If you want to offer your images for sale on Getty Images, Shutterstock, and Pixels.com, for example, that's completely up to you. You can do whatever you want to you. You are the image owner.
If you want to sell royalty-free image licenses on Pixels.com AND sell prints on Cafepress, as well... that's absolutely fine, too.
Again - you are the image owner. You can do whatever you want to do with your images.
Someone who purchases a royalty-free license to one of your images does not become the owner of the image. You are always the image owner. The buyer is buying a license which grants him certain rights to do things with your image.
In the case of a royalty-free license, the buyer is buying the rights to do anything he wants to do with your image except for #1 - 3, above.
If the buyer wants to produce 5 million posters using your image and sell them at Walmart, he can do that. If he uploads your image to FineArtAmerica.com and tries to sell the image there as posters, that's not allowed because FineArtAmerica.com is an "on demand" business. That's a direct violation of the license.
So - how much should you be paid to allow someone to do almost anything they want to with your image for the rest of time?
Shutterstock thinks you should be paid about $0.50?
We think you should be paid whatever you want to be paid.
What if you don't want your image to be used by someone for almost any purpose until the end of time?
That's where "rights-managed" images come into play.
When a buyer purchases a rights-managed license from an image licensing company, the license prevents the buyer from doing anything with the image except for those uses that are specifically allowed by the license. For example, a rights-managed license might say something like this:
"You can not do anything with this image except use it to make jigsaw puzzles. You are allowed to make up to 100,000 jigsaw puzzles of any size. This license expires one year after the date of purchase."
There you go. That's a very simple rights-managed license. There would be lots of extra legal language in the actual license document, but the purpose of the license is succinctly stated, above.
The buyer can use the image to produce jigsaw puzzles. The buyer can produce up to 100,000 jigsaw puzzles over the course of one year. After one year, the buyer has no more rights to do anything with the image.
Just like a royalty-free license, the buyer can't force you to compete against yourself by uploading the image to an image licensing website or print-on-demand website, and the buyer can't sublicense the image to anyone else.
Which license is right for you?
For many artists and photographers, the thought of selling an image via a royalty-free license is very daunting because you have no idea how, when, or where your image will be used. You may see your image on a billboard two years from now. You may see your image on the side of a bus ten years from now. You're going to get paid once for the license, and then the buyer who buys the license can do almost anything that he wants to do with the image until he dies. That's scary to a lot of artists and photographers.
If that doesn't scare you, then go for it. Royalty-free licensing is for you.
If you prefer to control how, when, and where your image can be used, then rights-managed licensing is for you.
With Pixels.com, you get to choose. If you want to sell an image royalty-free, great! If you want to sell an image rights-managed, great! If you want to sell an image both ways, great! If you want some of your images to be royaly-free and some of them to be rights-managed, great! If you want to set different prices for royalty-free vs. rights-managed, great!
It's all up to you.
Let's take another look at that Pixels.com image upload screen, and now let's add the section about rights-managed licenses:
That looks a lot more complex, as it should, because rights-managed licenses are more complex.
It's really not that complex to understand, though. On Pixels.com, we've created several types of rights-managed licenses which include pre-written language to describe exactly what the buyer is allowed to do with your image should the buyer purchase that particular type of license. The language describes what can be done with the image and for how long it can be done.
For example, here's the simple language for our "Advertisements (TV)" license:
"With this license, the licensee (i.e. buyer) is purchasing the right to download the licensed image and use the image to create a digital advertisement that will appear on television, including broadcast TV, cable TV, and digital streaming TV. This license has no quantity restriction. The licensee may create an unlimited number of TV ads and run the ads an unlimited number of times during the term of the license. This license is valid for two years. Once the license expires, the licensee would need to purchase a new license in order to continue creating and running advertisements using the image."
That's pretty self-explanatory. The buyer can use your image in an unlimited number of TV commercials during a two-year period. If the buyer wants to use the image for additional years, he would need to purchase a new license once this one expires.
If that sounds good to you, then all you have to do is enter in a price next to that particular license on our image upload screen. In the screen capture, above, the price is set to $110.
So - if a buyer wants to use this particular image in a TV commercial for up to two years, the buyer would end up paying $143 on Pixels.com (that's $110 plus the 30% markup), and the seller would keep the $110 that he wanted.
If you don't want to license your image for use on TV, then just leave that price blank. It's that easy.
Here's what the buyer sees on Pixels.com when he's purchasing a rights-managed image:
If you want to see that page working live on our site, click here.
Just as before with royalty-free licenses, all of the licensing language is easily accessible from this page so that buyers understand exactly what they're buying. What rights come along with rights-managed license that you selected? Just click on "Simple License Language". Do you want to read the actual, legal licensing document? Click on "Full License Document".
With this particular license type (TV Ads), the buyer is purchasing the right to use your image in TV commercials for up to to years. The price for that right is $143.
If you look at the screen capture, above, you'll notice that there are additional options for "Unit Count" and "Term Length".
For certain types of rights-managed licenses that involve the creation of physical products (e.g. the merchandise licenses), you may want to be compensated for each unit that the buyer intends to produce. That's where the unit count comes into play.
If the license has a "per unit price" (refer back to the upload screen), then the buyer needs to indicate how many units he intends to produce before he proceeds to the checkout screen, and then the price of the license will increase according to your "per unit price".
Let's just look at a picture:
In this example, you want to sell a Merchandise license for $120 (base price) + $0.001 per unit. We're going to markup those prices by 30% and show them to the buyer as $156 + $0.0013.
Let's take a look:
In this example, the buyer has selected the Merchandise license and indicated his intention to produce up to 50,000 units during the two-year term of the license.
How much does he pay? $156 + $0.0013 * 10,000 = $169
How much do you earn? $120 + $0.0010 * 10,000 = $130
That's it. For some of the licenses, you only get to set a base price. For other licenses, you get to set a base price + a per unit price. It depends on the license.
For the TV license, for example, it doesn't make much sense to have a "per unit" price. It puts an unnecessary burden on the buyer if you try to restrict how many times the commercial can air on TV. Who wants to buy an image to use in a TV commercial if the license says that the commercial can only air 500,000 times, for example? No one. The buyer will just move on and pick an image from another artist... or another website... or pick a royalty-free image... etc. The buyer will chose an image that doesn't have too many restrictions on it.
That last sentence is the real trick to rights-managed licenses. You want to control what the buyer can do with the image, but you don't want to be so controlling that the buyer gets frustrated or scared and just buys an image from someone else. It's a fine balancing act.
That's why all of our rights-managed licenses have terms of two years or longer. In general, that gives the buyer plenty of time to do what he wants to do (e.g. produce merchandise for resale, put the image on magazine cover, etc.) while still giving you, the seller, some peace-of-mind that the buyer can't use the image indefinitely.
We're trying to bring simplicity to the otherwise complex world of rights-managed licensing.
If you want to see how complex this world is right now, go to the following page on GettyImages.com and try to purchase the image for use on the cover of a magazine:
What if I want to sell a rights-managed image that doesn't fall into one of your predefined license types?
No problem. You can create your own custom licenses. Yes - really!
With each custom license that you create, you get to specify exactly what the buyer can do with your image, how long he gets to do it, and how you want to be compensated.
I don't want to spend a lot of time discussing this topic in this article (it's already a very long article). Join Pixels.com, login to your account, and you'll see an icon that says "Image Licenses". Click there, and you can create your own custom licenses.
If you want to create a license that allows a buyer to use your image on the side of a satelite that's being put into orbit... and you want to be paid $10,000 for that license... go for it. You can do whatever you want to do.
BUYERS: Why is this business model going to work?
Why would a buyer want to buy from Pixels.com as opposed to GettyImages.com or Shutterstock.com?
Since we allow our buyers to set their prices as high or as low as they want to, Pixels.com is going to have millions of images at all price points.
If a buyer expects to pay $2.50 per image based on years of buying on Shutterstock.com, there will be plenty of artists and photographers on Pixels.com who are willing to sell at that low price point and even lower.
If a buyer is looking for premium images that aren't available anywhere else online and is willing to pay $100+ for those images, Pixels.com is going to have millions of those images, as well.
Why? We're the only licensing company that lets our sellers set their prices as high as they want to, and as a result, we're going to attact the highest-caliber artists and photographers in the world. "Attract" isn't even the right word. We don't have to attract them. We already work with them. We have all of their images on our servers. They've been selling their images as canvas prints, framed prints, etc. with us since 2006. Now - many of them will begin licensing their images for the first time ever.
SELLERS: Why is this business model going to work?
1. You get to set your prices as high or as low as you want to.
2. You get to control which images you want to sell... which sizes you want to sell... and what type of licenses you want to sell.
3. You get to change prices and sizes at any time.
4. You get to add images at any time.
5. You get to delete images at any time.
6. You get to sell royalty-free and/or rights-managed licenses.
7. If you don't like our pre-configured rights-managed licenses, you get to create your own.
8. You don't have to sell with us exclusively. If you want to keep selling on Shutterstock and other sites, go for it.
Here come the big ones...
9. You can sell your images on Pixels.com at lower prices that you sell them on other sites... and still earn more money that you do on other sites. Here's a very quick example. Let's say that one of your images sells on Shutterstock for $10. You're going to earn 20% of that. 20% of $10 is $2. So - you earned $2 on the sale. Now - put the same image for sale on Pixels.com, and set the amount that you want to earn to be $7. We're going to mark that up 30% to $9.10. Now - think about that. Your image sells on Pixels.com for $9.10, and $7 goes into your pocket. You sell the exact same image on Shutterstock for $10, and $2 goes into your pocket. Think about that. Now... think about that again... just in case it didn't register the first time.
10. Since our sellers earn more from each sale on Pixels.com that they do elsewhere, they are much more likely to refer buyers to Pixels.com than they are to other sites. This is exactly why our art business is successful. Why would you ever send a buyer to Shutterstock to purchase your image for $10 (putting $2 in your pocket) when you could send the buyer to Pixels.com to purchase your image for $9.80 (putting $7 in your pocket)?
Now - here's where lots of image licensing companies fail. There are plenty of image licensing companies that try to offer their sellers higher commissions than Shutterstock or Getty Images with the hope that they'll attract lots of sellers... and that those sellers will bring along lots of buyers with them.
That's not the case. Sellers don't bring buyers with them. Sellers join an image licensing site, and they expect the site to bring the buyers to them.
We know that very well. FineArtAmerica.com works exactly same way. We have lots of sellers, and it's our job to deliver the buyers because most of our sellers do very little marketing and promotion on their own.
We deliver the buyers in two ways. First - we are SEO experts and are #1 on Google for millions and millions of search terms. Try searching on Google for "landscape prints", for example. That's the most competitive search phrase in the "print on demand" world. We're #1 for that search phrase and millions of others. Second - we advertise extensively on TV (yes, really), YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
With Pixels.com, we're going to direct our SEO efforts at the image licensing space to ensure that, within a year, we're at the top of Google's search results for millions of licensing-related search terms.
We're also going to keep advertising until Pixels.com is a household name.
Here are a few of our art commercials for your viewing pleasure:
SUMMARY: This is going to work.
In the art world, we've been competing and winning against huge corporations since 2006.
We are an independent business with absolutely no outside investors, and we've been profitable since our very first month of business back in 2006.
Each year, we send millions of dollars in payments to the artists and photographers all over the world who sell their images as print-on-demand products via FineArtAmerica.com, FineArtEurope.com, and our many other sites.
Being independent and profitable allows us to do whatever we want to do as fast as we want to do it without having to answer to investors or a board of directors.
I am the owner and programmer of Pixels.com. I've been meaning to build an image licensing business for a very long time now, and a few weeks ago, I finally decided to sit down and do it.
At the time, Getty Images had just changed their terms again, and their image contributors were angry. I decided it was time to build an image licensing businesses that didn't dictate prices and commissions to their sellers.
It's the exact same business model that we've been using in the art world since 2006, and it's worked very well for us. When you treat artists and photographers fairly, it's just a lot more fun than it is to have thousands and thousands of people angry at you all the time.
So - here we are. Pixels.com is up-and-running, and our new business model for the image-licensing world will be put to the test.
The business model is going to work. There is no way that it doesn't. Over time, buyers will learn about Pixels.com through our SEO and advertising efforts, and they'll stop by to purchase images from the world's greatest living artists and photographers. The real question is how big will the business get and how fast will it get there?
Will Pixels.com become a serious competitor to Getty Images and Shutterstock and, in doing so, force them to pay higher commissions to their contributors?
That's the big question.
There is no reason that this can't take off very quickly. The image licensing business is, logistically, one of the simplest businesses in the world. 1. Process a credit card payment. 2. Show an image to the buyer. 3. Repeat.
We could ramp up from 5 orders/day on Pixels.com today... to 500,000 orders/day tomorrow... without batting an eye. Our servers can handle the increased traffic, and unlike the art business, we don't have to increase our headcount or production capabilities in order to handle the additional order volume.
Artists and photographers are understandably frustrated with being dictated to by the leading companies in the image licensing space. There needs to be an alternative to Getty Images and Shutterstock. If there is no alternative, then you'll be dictated to forever.
Apple convinced every musician on the planet that their songs are worth $0.99 each and that the musicians should be happy with 66% of that ($0.66).
Now that they've all accepted that, it's going to be very, very difficult for another music company to come along and charge more than $0.99 for a song. Buyers just won't go for it. They're used to paying $0.99, and they're not going to embrace an alternative company that charges more.
However, what if a company comes along... sells songs for $0.90... and allows the musicians to keep 90% of that? The songs sell for less, and the musicians earn more. Buyers are happy because they're paying less. Sellers are happy because they're earning more. The only loser is Apple.
You can see where I'm going with this. In a image licensing industry, there needs to be an alternative company with better terms for the buyers and sellers in order for things to get better for the buyers and sellers.
That alternative is here.
Pixels.com is open for business.
Sell your images for $1.00 if you want to. If you think they're worth more, then sell them for $500. This doesn't have to be a race to the bottom. You can do whatever you want to do. Change your prices... opt-in... opt-out... sell royalty-free... sell rights-managed... create your own licenses... and lots of other things that we'll discuss another day (e.g. sell canvas prints, sell iPhone cases, sell products from your own website, sell products from Facebook, etc.)
If you believe in what we're doing and want to help ensure that our business model becomes the dominant business model in the industry, please share this article on Facebook, Twitter, via e-mail, and on any of the art/photography forums that you frequent.
All it's going to take is a little help spreading the word, and this is going to take off.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to those of you who sell your images through FineArtAmerica.com, FineArtEurope.com, etc.
Don't let large companies walk all over you.
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They won't be around in their current form for much longer. They're going to be purchased sometime this year by a company like Getty, Shutterstock, or Shutterfly which thinks that they can turn the business around and make it profitable again.
What's one of the easiest ways to make a company like that profitable? Squeeze the sellers.
If you do $200 million in sales and pay out 20% of that to your sellers, that's $40 million that you're paying out. What happens if you tell your sellers that you're only going to pay them 10%? Now - you only pay out $20 million, and you get to keep the other $20 million... and guess what, now you're profitable!
That's exactly why sellers get squeezed by large corporations, and the larger they get... the more you get squeezed. Unfortunately, without any legitimate alternatives, you have to accept the squeeze or just stop selling.
The image licensing world now has a legitimate alternative. Let's see what happens...