Will digital marketing assets fall to subscription models?

digital assets

You’ve seen movies, books, software, and services go from one-time buy to rental or subscription products. Typically, the move occurred when businesses moved from store front to online. Now the push for subscription products relates directly to the sharing economy.

And there is no question that these rental/subscription services are beneficial to consumers. Customers not wanting to own every item they use can breathe a sigh of relief when they see more and more temporary services available for purchase. And companies smile knowing that these subscription models might reduce costs and increase their bottom line.

While this model services many products, the same cannot be said of digital marketing assets.


What are digital assets?

Let’s explain what we mean by digital marketing assets before jumping into why subscription services do not benefit nor work well with digital assets. Photos, videos, and text that are formatted for the web are considered digital assets. Typically, digital assets have specific rights associated with them for distribution and use. So if you think of any content associated with content marketing, it will be a digital asset.


digital assets


The pitfalls of rental and subscription services

Subscriptions and rental services are great for many businesses, but a lot of creative products that are included in digital marketing assets fall short of the benefit of the subscription service model.

Many times photos, videos, and copy are for one purpose. Typically, it’s to supplement an idea to better explain or educate to others a certain topic or company. When you purchase and use these digital assets, you can use these items as long as you want, given that you follow the licensing rules. Typically, the rules state that you can only use these items for single business or consumer use. So that’s what you do — you use these items once in your content marketing efforts to bring awareness to your company. The problem is that none of this content is for exclusive use by you, the end customer, because the provider of these digital assets can re-license the assets any number of times. That’s why you can see the same stock photo plastered across various websites.

So you may assume that the companies supplying these digital assets are benefiting greatly from the ability to re-license. Well, not so much. There’s a major problem enforcing the license for the images because it’s not easy to keep track of content that cannot be easily indexed. For example, a user can download an image and use it across multiple sites, a clear violation of the agreement. Plus, there is no cost effective way to track these infringements.

Now, let’s take the subscription model problem one step further. These digital assets are not financially sustainable to sell individually packaged and pre-made. Photographs are a prime example of this issue. Photos that are “pre-made” usually are sold with credits or daily limits on subscription based sites such as Shutterstock. Photographs individually sold by the owner for a digital platform for a limited time period is just hard to do and practically non-existent. Who has seen someone offer a photo they took to be used for three months and priced at $20 per month? It just doesn’t happen.

If you want photos for your blog, you’ll use bulk services rather than buying individually from the creator. The thought behind it is you might need more photos later. Plus, you don’t have to worry about replacing an image that doesn’t exist after a period of time. But this solution is still a subscription service. The same problems exist for both the end consumer and the distributor. So the response one company offered is to make these products “free.”


One company’s move for change

In what seemed like a radical move, Getty recently offered its images for free for online editorial (non-commercial) use, potentially changing the way consumers will obtain photos for journalistic uses. While it’s not affecting the content marketing purposes for photos yet, it may be the basis of what’s to come for digital assets that fail to succumb to and combine with the subscription model on a single use basis.

Getty’s move could pressure other companies to do the same, as the risky move to embedded photos in iFrames provides the company more publicity and customer data than selling through monthly or package rates. However, this will only be a temporary move, as there are far too many issues that need to be sorted out.


The worth of digital assets remains close to zero

Making photos or any other digital assets free will diminish the worth of creative individuals. These items are intellectual property and can be copyrighted, but once the product is sold, you usually don’t have control over it anymore. Lower quality work will eventually be the norm with untrained people jumping to produce content for nothing. The low quality results in a general dissatisfaction to everyone except the corporation controlling the free content. Once the worth in digital assets increases once again will these subscription or rental products be paid.


strategy proposal


A new proposal is required for advancement

Getty’s whole purpose of embedding images is to attribute, prevent theft, gain attention to the brand, and know more about the consumer. But the current method still doesn’t fully protect against someone stealing a work without paying or attributing. So Getty’s lawyers will still be pretty busy suing for copyright violation.

That’s why digital marketing assets have to be taken to the next level. And here’s an idea – Sell the images and products individually but integrate a small fee and an activation code that can only be used once. If a code for the same image is used on a different website, the image cannot be posted or an error message replaces the image. While this still doesn’t alleviate link rot, it is one step closer to valuing creative services and paying for them, too.

Maybe there will be a time where “save image as” or screenshots will not work or produce watermarked content to prevent paid content from being stolen. Until then, subscription models will continue to dominate digital assets with all the challenges still there. Additional models will appear over time, but the comfort and preference for subscriptions will still continue for many more years before another company steps out and provides a solution for both the end consumer and provider.


What are your thoughts on the future of digital marketing assets? Let us know your predictions in the comments below!

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ashley monismith
Ashley Monismith
Ashley Monismith is a client strategist at Bay Leaf Digital, where she helps SaaS companies achieve and surpass their lead generation and brand awareness goals. In her free time, you can find Ashley hiking on nearby trails with her dog and working on various sustainability projects within her community.