From time to time I get contacted by other photographers about what they should do about pricing for their work. Often they have been contacted by someone about possibly using their image for something, and the client doesn’t give many specifics about price, duration, etc. I am no expert on this, but I have dealt with enough people at this point to have some experience and am happy to share some of my thoughts on the topic. I’d like this to be an open discussion as well. I’d love to hear from some of you about what your thoughts are and some tactics that you may use and want to share.
The first thing that you want to think about is what type of licensing structure you want to use. If you submit images to places like Istock then you probably already license a lot of your images “Royalty Free”. This type of licensing allows the purchaser to use the image for pretty much anything they want, for as long as they want. Now, to some people, this type of licensing works just fine, but personally I choose to avoid it if possible. My main reason is that occasionally you might get contacted by a big company (usually big money) who wants to use an image with some type of exclusivity. If you already have that image out there with a royalty-free license, you have to give up that sale, potentially losing a lot of money. If you really want to submit to micro stock agencies (those who typically offer Royalty Free licensing), then consider only submitting your second-rate stuff, stuff that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day.
The licensing structure that I use, and the stock company with whom I work, is the “Rights-Managed” model. This way, you know where every image is and for exactly how long they are being used. Most companies who want to license images, at least in my case, are happy to use this model. They usually know what they want to use the image for, and for how long. Also, the good thing about this model is, if anyone wants to license an image exclusively, you can just go back into your “rights management” folder on your computer and check to see if it is available.
So, this is what typically happens when I am approached by a company for image use. They will send me an email stating that they would like to use my image, “insert image title”, for their project. Sometimes they will state a price, other times not, and sometimes they will say they can’t pay anything but can give “credit” and you will probably benefit greatly from this “exposure”. So, let’s deal first with that last category, the people who want to use our art for free. If this is for personal use, like a college paper, etc. then I consider it. But, if they will be somehow making money off it, directly or indirectly, then absolutely not. I usually write back, politely, saying that I make my living off of my photography, support my family with it, and it isn’t in my best interest to give away my work for free. I highly recommend you do the same. Consider all the time, expense of equipment, etc. that went into make your art before you go and give it away for free to someone to make money off of, just for the “exposure”. In my experience, that “exposure” never really adds up to much money anyhow.
Now let’s assume that they are willing to pay you for your art, which they usually should. How do you price it? What I usually do first is ask some questions. What is your budget? How will the image be used, web, advertising, editorial, retail, etc? If used in print, how many copies? How big? For how long? What countries? When I was a bit younger, I bugged fellow PhotoCascadia member Sean Bagshaw about this a few times and he had some great suggestions that I still use today (thanks Sean:) One was to look up a similar image (maybe choosing a particularly crappy one) at some of the most widely used stock photography companies using the “Rights Managed” model of licensing, such as Getty Images. Check the specific use, filling in the individual categories, and get an idea of what they would charge. Sometimes I will attach a screen grab of the image, use, and pricing for the client to see. From there I usually say that I can offer a better price because I don’t have to pay any commission when I license my images directly. Sometimes the company has a price in mind that is way off, and I will not hear back from them ever again (which is just fine). But other times, using this method I am able to negotiate a fair price for the use. Sometimes by asking “what is your budget?” upfront, you are letting them know that you aren’t assuming that they want it for free. Another good thing about it is, they might be thinking about a price that is on the higher end of what you typically get, which is great. It is fantastic when someone likes your work so much they are happy to pay a very fair price.
I’d love to hear from some of you guys as to what methods you use for negotiating image pricing, and any funny stories as well. It has always been a tough thing for me to grasp, but I am definitely getting better with experience.
Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip also performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Adjunct Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip resides in Spokane Washington with his wife and son.