It's easy to think that stock assets would be the way to go over producing your own content, especially considering how little stock sites charge for their use. The reality is, it's actually not as cheap as you'd think if you're remaining compliant and using the images they're intended. Let me be clear: you're not to blame, it's simply that licensing stock assets is a lot more complicated than you probably realize.
For example, if you're a small business with one employee who creates all of your advertising documents, then a standard royalty-free license is definitely fitting for your business model. In this scenario, your employee can head over to a stock site, license the image on their computer and create the marketing document you need. As long as you stay within the maximum allotted number of people who'll be viewing the asset and also that you only use the asset once, then you're in compliance.
However, let's assuming you have another employee work on the same file you bought with a standard license -- then you're immediately out of compliance. A standard licensing agreement allows for a single user to access and use the file that you license.
This is why it's critical that you're aware of where you're licensing your files and what their licenses allow. Assuming that you're entering a licensing agreement with a photographer, videographer, graphic designer or simply buying your assets off of a stock photography website, here are some considerations to have prior to approving the purchase.
Royalty-Free vs. Rights-Managed
Royalty-Free and Rights-Managed licenses are the two most commonly used models for licensing assets and price isn't the only factor to consider when either choosing one or the other. In fact, you should truly evaluate your needs before taking the plunge into either direction.
The benefits of choosing a Royalty-Free license is that it allows the licensee (you) unlimited and multiple uses of an asset, with restrictions depending on the licensing agreement you pay for. This is assuming that you're being compliant with the number of users accessing the file to create the project. If your creative team is larger than one person, you'll need to buy the right licensing agreement.
At the very basic level, most licenses allow you to pay a one-time license for perpetual use of the assets you're licensing, be it a photo, video or a template. This is a non-exclusive contract. The creator of the asset is allowed to sell that asset mutiple times and through multiple agencies as they choose.
The licensee pays a fee in order to use the asset, and the fee is based on usage. For instance, an image can be used as a print ad, billboard or printed on a tee shirt, but the licensee agrees to pay for the intended use. In this scenario, the licensee also has the ability to pay for exclusive rights for the asset so that no one else has access to those files.
Why stock isn't always the cheaper option.
It's important to look at content creation like any other product. Whether it be photo, video or a graphic; marketing template, content creators are selling a product. With every asset produced, there's still a combination of time, equipment, production and uniqueness that goes into every single file.
Even if you choose to avoid hiring a photographer yourself and choose to use a stock asset over creating your own, there's still a cost of producing the content and the photographer wants to see a return on their investment.
For example, a simple Birdseye view of the ocean can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars to create. Between the cost of hiring a helicopter or buying a drone, along with other expenses, labor and the experience of the photographer, that single image of the ocean costs thousands of dollars to produce.
On that note, what if you're licensing a photo of a person? Then there's still the cost of hiring the subject and location for the shoot. These are all costs that you're avoiding by licensing the image royalty free. However, this is why the license is non-exclusive. The photographer is able to disperse the cost of creating the file over several licensees in order to recover their investment. This is why content creators are extremely protective of their rights.