not all clients are created equal

Before beginning to type this (is it still called typing?) I took a look back at the comments and some emails received after last week’s post on image rights. The plan for today was to talk about a few general pricing scenarios but I see now (and understand) that more than a few readers may have been “left at the station”. I think it would be valuable to back up a bit and discuss pricing and the value of photography in a broader sense. Without an underlying understanding of value, specific pricing methods have little relevance to those trying to grasp conversations on pricing.

I also want to add that it feels a bit awkward talking about pricing / money at the moment. Talk at the studio hasn’t been about photography lately, it’s been about the economy. Effects of the recession are becoming more visible and the news on hasn’t been particularly comforting. The Tribune newspapers have declared bankruptcy and NBC is mulling a cutback in broadcast hours. Many of us are feeling the sands of value shifting beneath our feet as spending on advertising contracts.

But, keeping on topic, let’s start here: some photographs are more valuable than others and not all clients are created equal. But how do you qualify the client? Regardless of how we charge for photography, it’s important for those just starting out to understand just why their photographs may provide greater or lesser value to a client.

Last week we discussed charging usage fees for commercial photography. In this model the photographer charges a creation fee and expenses to create images for a client. An additional licensing fee is then assessed based on the specific uses and distribution of the photographs.

There was a great deal of quality response on the subject, from both the photographer and client perspectives. I couldn’t have been happier with the diversity of comments. They represent a variety of approaches on how the cost of photography is packaged, each of which is working well for the respective commenter. This points out that there’s not one single way to price commercial photography.

When I first started out many years ago, charging for the specific usage of photography was stressed by my elders. I didn’t get it. As newer photographers come into the fold, I see the same blank stare in their eyes when usage is discussed. I felt that same confusion until finally a photographer explained it in a way that made sense.

He told me of a simple but iconic photograph (of a menu item) he’d taken for a local restaurant chain. If I remember correctly, he cleared a one-time sum total of a few hundred dollars after expenses (this was ‘84 or so) to shoot the image. The photo originally appeared on a menu. Then it became an important part of the company’s advertising campaign. It subsequently showed up on billboards, newspaper ads, the sides of buses and television ads. And, because it was so simple and well done, it was used for a number of years.

He began to add up the money that was spent in support of the use of the image, which was a central part of the company’s advertising campaign. All of the ad buys and additional design costs surely ran into six figures. Though the photograph was a proportionately large element in each ad it received a tiny fraction of the budget.

You‘re probably familiar with the term “impressions“. This is the number of people that view something, like a website or The Superbowl. Why is TV advertising time so expensive during The Superbowl? Tons of people watch it. This is the same reason that TV advertising is relatively inexpensive in the wee hours of the morning…not many people watching. So, it can be argued that the more people that are “watching” your photograph, the more value it has.

That’s a little background on why the use of an image plays a role in it‘s value. I’ll be the first to admit that the example given by this photographer presents an extreme to an aspiring young photographer…but it really makes the point.

But, as we’re all aware, not all clients and jobs are created equal. We have a couple of regular clients that drop off small products (cans with labels on them) at our studio a couple of times a month. Their business-to-business market is small and the uses are predictable and limited. As for the life of the photos, they change product labels yearly, which immediately renders the old images obsolete. Yep, these types of photos are often equated to “widgets”, photography as a simple product. The value that can be placed on the “use” part of this pricing equation is pretty darn small because (even in my wildest dreams) they aren’t likely to end up on a billboard or consumer advertising.

These are two extremes of how an image may be used and I hope it sheds light on how the use of an image can influence value, in addition to the time it takes to create the photograph and the experience the photographer brings to the job.

As for me, I’m going to turn off the financial websites and evening news for awhile. With the holidays almost here it’s a good time to take a break from thinking too much about money and reconnect with the simple joy of taking photographs.

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