Here is the scenario: You are on vacation and take a cool photo of a tourist attraction and post it to your Flickr stream to share with your friends. You recognize that someone someday might be interested in it, so you make sure your photos are listed as “All Rights Reserved” to keep honest people from stealing it. Then one day you get an email: “We like your photo and want to use it for the cover of a book I’m writing. We will give you $100 for it and will need world-wide exclusive rights”.
You think great! Someone wants to buy my photo and it would be cool to say I’ve been published on a book cover and you ship the photo off and get you’re $100.
The problem is the fair market value of this transactions among commercial photographers is $3000 or more. You just gave away your photo for 1/30th of its value to a business that is going to use it to sell their book and market it. When a photo buyer asked for “exclusive” rights, they are buying out your copyright. It is no longer your photo. When the book shows up on Amazon.com your photo will be there. To you, the $100 may seem like a lot but its not. Lets say this book will sell for $30 a copy and they company may sell 50,000 of them. Thats $1.5 Million in sales that your $100 promoted for them … and … you can never use that image again ever. You have to take it down from your flickr site, and any other place where you’ve published it.
Well guess what. The photo buyer had the budget to pay you the full $3000. But they know that there are plenty of non-commercial photographers out there who take excellent photos (and there are many of you, who are hobbyists who are better than paid professionals) that they can get for cheap because you’re not experienced with the photo market.
Why do I bring this up? This happened to me this week. I got offered $100 for a cover of a book and was asked to give up exclusive rights. When I countered with a fair market pricing, they balked and I lost the sale. I certainly could have used $100 in my bank account. My wife isn’t happy with me because I held the line on the pricing. I even priced my buyout pricing for considerably less than $3000 because I wanted to close the deal. I offered them a limited exclusive and a non-exclusive offer that was still priced below fair market value and I lost.
Why? Because the buyer will find someone with as good of a photo who lacks experience in photo pricing and they will get it for $100.
Here are some definiations to help you understand the photo marketplace
- Stock Photography
- You (or your agency) take photos of things you think might sale, then offere them up. You sell them for less money because you plan to sell the same image multiple times.
- Assignment Photography
- You take assignments to shoot photos of a subject requested by the buyer. Pricing will vary based on usage. Newspapers may pay $50 an assignment, where a major magazine or ad agency might pay several thousand dollars depending on the usage.
- Exclusive Rights
- You sell all rights to your photo to someone else. This is call called a buy-out and generally is worth between $2000 and $3000 or more dependind on your clout
- Commercial photography is simply advertising. Photos sold for add uses generally sell for 4-5 times that of editorial usage.
- The photo will be used in context with information. Photos that run with news stories in a newspaper or magazine are editorial. Photos that run in an add in the newspaper are commercial. Books are generally considered editorial, however, cover art will be used to advertise the book, so book sales have some commerical aspects.
For what its worth and to help those, this was considered a “Stock” sale. They were asking to buy a photo that I already had shot. There are a lot of low-ball stock agencies out there where hey could pay between $100 and $500 to get a cover photo (btw: The fair market value for a stock photo used for a book cover is around $600 to $1200 for non-exclusive rights), but no stock agency will sell their copyright since they make their money by selling the same image multiple times.
The photo buyer was good, he brought up “paying stock agencies $100” to get you thinking that $100 to you was a good value even though no stock agency would agree to their terms.
“Well you should have just sold it and taken the $100. Are you likely to sell that photo again?” you might be asking.
That’s a good question and one that was running through my mind. But there are two issues: First, it doesn’t try to hurt to get the buyer, who has a deeper budget to come up with a more fair price. You haggle. Secondly and more importantly, it was an attempt to defend the declining commercial photography market. Commercial and editorial photographers who are trying to make photography a full time job cannot compete when buyers knowingly take advantage of photographers that don’t normally sell their works.
I’m trapped in between. I’m no longer trying to earn a living through photography and I could use the money but I feel a moral obligation to hold the line.
If you are intersted in learning more about pricing your photos, check out:
What should I do? What would you have done? Leave a comment below and leave me your thoughts?