Royalty Free does not mean Free by any means. It just means that you pay only once for the image then you can use it as many times as you like – maybe. The term "royalty" is broadly applied to a payment that is charged for the use or sale of someone's copyright property such as a book or song, a play, an electrical circuit or the design of a physical item such as part of a car engine . The charge for a royalty usually depends on the number of times the original is duplicated. Where payment for graphic images is concerned there seems to be a wide array of different arrangements within a huge image market.
My interest in researching this subject was motivated by a desire to find sources of photos, preferably but not unnecessarily free, for eBook cover designers and home marketers to use in making virtual product covers. What I found is that you need to be careful with all Graphics Sites especially those that use the words "Free" or "Royalty Free" in their promotional text.
Some sites are much more straightforward than others because I would advise you to read the small print carefully with all of them. There are ones that certainly are royalty free and you pay once for the image and use it as you wish, possibly subject to some conditions. Both prices and conditions vary greatly.
It's not unusual for a site to demand a credit or a link to be placed in close proximate to any image that you use. In a lot of situations this requirement could have been a real inconvenience so consider carefully before committing to a payment or downloading images with this restriction. On the other hand there are situations where it may be a reasonable request and compliance a simple matter, even a pleasure to let the photographer know his or her work is appreciated.
Some other sites claim quite blatantly on the home page to be "Free" but read the details and they turn out to be only royalty free. Annoyingly, their real terms and conditions can also be hard to find and difficult to understand. Many require you to register with an email address and I have done this with more than a few but happily I have received no heavy marketing mail from any of them as a result.
Another thing my research brought up was that there must be a whole world of publishers with a no shortage of cash resources. Possibly a nationally distributed glossy magazine would be able to justify paying a $ 680 yearly membership fee.
These sites are obviously not aimed at me, nor you either probably. If you strike one of them in your searches just remember we live in a free enterprise society – wish them well and move on because there are a lot of other graphics sites and some of them have fantastic material at sensible prices or even free, and I mean FREE for real.
Whatever sites you visit while looking for images keep in mind that copyright is a serious international legal matter and you do need to know where you stand with the legal owner of anything you want to use particularly if you are going to display the picture on the cover of a book or product that you hope to sell in large quantities.
You certainly do not want a call from a lawyer demanding half of everything you've made from
your sales. This is not so far fetched as it may sound as such cases have happened and the law will probably be on the side of the copyright owner if you have actually ignored their published conditions, so be careful and keep a record of your downloads.
For my future reference I frequently make a text file with details of terms and conditions and the URL of the site. Then I store it with the images in the folder to which I download them. If there is a confirmation email from the site I'll save a text copy of that to the folder as well.
To conclude on an optimistic note, if you are prepared to do a bit of looking around it is very
you will likely find a good free or inexpensive photo for most if not all subjects you're likely to want to write a book about.