when the client wants all rights to a photo

Today’s post deals with some frequently asked questions regarding pricing commercial photography. Here’s an excerpt from a comment left by Rick D. under random ramblings on pricing photography.

Hey Jim. I was just recently considering some pricing options. Living in LA at the moment, there seems to be an abundance of people willing to work for peanuts.

How does one calculate a reasonable price when freelancing for commercial photography and selling off the rights to a photo(s)? Sure we charge for our time and a final product with limited use, but what about selling off the rights to the photo forever? How much of a premium should we put on this?

If you’ve read the comments you’ve also seen some valuable advice from Dan Heller, a man that has spent a great deal of time writing about this very subject. Dan is an expert on the industry and the photographic marketplace (and has written a number of books on the subject). I put myself in the category of “a photographer who has survived the school of hard knocks and is willing to share his personal experience”. From that vantage point I’d like to take a look at the questions posed by Rick.

Let’s go ahead and let the cat right out of the bag: I don’t know any simple, magical formulas for pricing. It’s taken me years of working for other photographers, working for myself and ongoing education and professional networking in order to develop my own methods. What I can do, though, is try and explain how I approach determining value. This involves figuring out just what the client is asking for, what they really need, what they’re willing to spend and what value I feel the image holds. To do this means we’ll be asking a number of questions.

Today we’ll try to determine what the client is asking for and what they really need. A key for you, the photographer, is to understand that additional rights and usage you license for your photography does provide value to the client, value that deserves to be compensated.

Rick already understands this, he knows that the client is receiving more value when they get more use of the images. But he probably has a client (like many of us do) that says “they want to own the photos and they don’t want to be bothered with licensing or usage”. The client wants to be free to use the images however they want, whenever they want. I understand their desire but now is the time to ask questions.

What does selling “all rights” mean? Selling all rights means I’m handing them the image and walking away. I no longer have any rights to that image for any use. For the vast majority of clients this will cost them a whole lot of money that they probably don’t want to spend. But if they really want to spend the money to “own the photographs”, we can come up with a price. What they really need can most likely be obtained more economically by granting more limited usage rights, I tell them. Would they like to save some money?

They’re probably becoming open to alternatives so let’s offer them a baby step. Let’s throw in the possibility of “unlimited usage” on the image. That means we still maintain ownership of the image but they can use it for whatever they want. Unlimited usage still carries a hefty price tag.

“So, you’ll be running this photo on the side of a taxi cab in Istanbul?”, I ask them. “And it will be in a newspaper ad in Asia?”.

“Uhhhh, no”, they respond. I then explain that I have to build that into the price for “all rights” and unlimited usage. My job is to consider every possible unlimited use for that photograph and build it into the price up front, since that’s what they’re telling me they want and need. At this point they’re beginning to understand that the photograph has increased value for each of the different ways it can be used.

“What do you think you’ll be using it for, then?”, I ask.

The response is usually something like, “well, we really only need it for the website and a brochure”.

“That’s going to be a whole lot more affordable than unlimited usage and it seems to be all you really need”, I acknowledge. “How about I give you a price for website and brochure use?”. In addition to where the image will be used, we’ll also set a time limit for the usage and the geographic area where it will be used. This affects pricing, also.

How much value does each additional use add? That depends on some different factors. Next Wednesday we’ll look at the next step, the fact that all clients aren’t created equal. Are they an international corporation selling consumer products or a small, local manufacturer selling business to business? By asking more questions we can get another step closer to determining value.