Microstock Photography – Photographs sold on volume basis. You will likely be making less than $1 per image. Shutterstock starts licensing at 0.25 cents per image, and depending on the lifetime earnings and contractual agreements with the client for usage, moves up in tiers for higher profit levels. As of March 7, 2019 I have made $2.00 from Shutterstock over the course of the last 1.5 months (I opened my account roughly the second week of January). My portfolio currently has ~570 images in it, half of which are for commercial use and the other for editorial use.
Commercial – Photos can be used to sell a product or service. A model or property release is required for recognizable figures or property, art work, etc. Ex: Picture of me in a suit can be used by a law firm that is looking for clients. Even though I’m not a lawyer, with a fancy business suit, I might look like one. It sells the idea. The image might also be used with less traditional ad campaigns for politics, sex paraphernalia, drugs, or other sensitive themes. These are cases where a client (i.e. the model) might not want to sign a model release, because they do not want their image to be associated with a potentially sensitive subject matter.
Editorial – Photos/videos of public events that are news worthy or of human interest can be sold as editorial media. I still don’t fully understand this category. A model or property release is not required for this category but the subject matter (and this is subjective) needs to be valuable enough to be accepted by a stock agency, and then sold for use in an editorial publication. Example, photographs or videos of your local parade can be submitted because it’s documentation of a human event. Even though you don’t have signed model releases or property releases from all the recognizable people, property, objects, etc. It’s interesting that the editorial photo/video technically is not for “commercial licensing” because nobody is selling a (insert air quotes) a product or service… I really don’t understand the semantics here because technically they are selling an idea. (Now that I think about it, the news paper was sold at one point, which is both a product and a service… hmmm… more questions). And you the artist have also sold the media where the stock agency is the middle man. Let me emphasize that I don’t really understand the semantics of the law here, but I do know that stock agencies may accept your photos or videos of public events without model/property releases and that money can be made from them.
On the topic of releases – art requires a property release as well. You can’t just go into a museum, photograph art, and submit it to stock agencies. They will not accept it because you technically have not been given permission by the artist (through a property release) to use the photo commercially. There might be an editorial loop in there, but to be honest, I have not yet explored this.
Midstock Photography – Middle ground between micro and macro photography.
Macrostock Photography – High end exclusive photography.
Royalty Free – Many of the microstock agencies that I have considered operate under Royalty Free copyright licensing. In essence, the client pays to use the picture one time with very few restrictions on how, when, where, etc. that they can use the image. They pay for the image one time i.e. they do not pay royalties for each consecutive use of the image.
Rights Managed – In RM licensing, the client will pay to use an image for a contracted period of time in a very specific way. I’m currently interpreting this as a billboard ad-campaign. They have a definite lifetime and terms of usage. The billboard is up in a definite location for a set time period.
Exclusive/Non-exclusive rights – If you submit media with exclusive rights to an agency, you agree to not use your images with any other agency. 500PX has an exclusivity option. If I submit images to 500PX with an exclusive agreement, I cannot also submit those same photos to Shutterstock, even though Shutterstock accepts media non-exclusively. The payout for exclusive agreements is higher, but you lose your ability to sell to other marketplaces. Say, for example, Company X sees your photo and approaches you personally for usage. While under your exclusive agreement, you legally cannot also sell usage rights to Company X. This may be frustrating if you licensed your image to Y company for $10 and company X offers you $2000 to put it up on the front of their building in Super Big City B.