Sometimes you just can’t build the business model you have in mind without getting permission to use copyrighted photos. For sites that rely on current, quality and timely photos there is really no other way to get around the copyright issue than to buy a subscription.
For news, the biggest subscription sites are: AP, Reuters and Getty. They are usually quite expensive to join, so it’s not a viable option unless you have the money and the backbone of your business depends on it. The subscription models are based on your number of unique visitors and the number of images you use each month. There are also stock photography sites like iStockPhoto and ShutterStock that carry non-news images that can be purchased one at a time. These images tend to be set-up, and thus a little stale and stiff, but they are good for business websites and can even be manipulated to create your own original composites. (Click here to see how I used these images during my internship with Salon)
For my business model the only two biggest things I want to invest in are the images and server space. Right now I am toying with the idea of how much it might cost to get a subscription to AP or Reuters, but I’m not in a rush. My business does not depend solely on images of news events so it is something I can expand into when (not if!) it gains initial interest.
Tip: Images used online generally cost less. This is because the image is usually only web quality (72 dpi). (When I interned at Salon, I remember the art director informing me I had been buying print quality images instead of the ones for web. Needless to say it was a mistake that cost hundreds. Maybe I should have told them my first word was “oops”?)