Don’t give away your art! (Podcast 7)


Don’t give away your art! (Podcast 7)

Today I’m going to talk about a somewhat controversial subject. Hopefully those of you that are serious about your images, and maybe even making photography your profession, will appreciate what I have to say.

To get right too it, many of you that have your images published on a Web site for all to see will at some time or another have been contacted by an art director or editor of a newspaper, magazine, brochure or some kind of publication, asking if they can use your image. Either right from the start or after a little negotiation it turns out that they have no budget for the image. They want to use it really bad, because it’s just an excellent photo and it is exactly what they want, but they just do not have budget to buy photos, for one reason or another. They’ll maybe then start to tell you just how many people will see your image in their prestigious publication and offer to put a copyright or credit next to your image so that you’ll receive “invaluable” publicity.

If you’ve been in this position, you may well have thought, “Well, if they don’t have funds to pay me, but they really like my photo, I might as well let them use it” and you might have given up your images for free. I know how tempting it is, because it feels great to see your images used in any kind of publication, especially if it is the first time, or doesn’t happen often. But in allowing your image to be used for nothing, you are doing not only yourself, but photographers the world over a grave injustice, and I am going to be so bold as to say, you must stop doing this. I know this is a strong statement, but listen on, and I’ll try to explain why.

It’s a sad fact that budget to buy images for commercial use is being cut. It’s an even sadder fact that one of the main reasons for this is because there are so many people out there now that will give up their work for nothing. The people that sign off on the budget are requiring more and more that their art directors and designers find cheaper or free images. Many photographers want to be published and quite often wish that one day they can make enough money from their images to maybe pay for their equipment and travel expenses to photographic locations, and many even aspire to make the jump from photography as a hobby, to photography a profession. Unfortunately, by giving your images away for nothing, or next to nothing, as a means to get started, as many often think, you are doing nothing more than helping to knock the bottom out of the very market from which you one day hope to making a living.

You may justify this to yourself by thinking, “Well, I already have all the gear as this is my hobby, so I may as well get the publicity”. Or if you settle for a very low price for your images, you’ll think, “Well, at least it’s a start”. Sure, you already have your equipment, but you wouldn’t go to your local garage and ask the mechanic to fix your car for nothing, because he’s already got all the tools and skills to do it, right? He might well really enjoy his job, as much as you enjoy photography, but still, do you think he’ll fix your car for free? You invest in the tools to make the images, and the time to find the subject and the patience to take the shot that has caught someone’s eye to the point that they want to use it in their publication. It is only fair that your receive payment for your images if they are to be used for commercial gain.

Giving your images away or for a minimal fee will, in very few cases, as they say, get your foot in the door, and lead to more work. More often than not, you’ll never hear from that client again, and even if you do, they’ll expect to be able to buy your work at the same price or for free, because you settled for that before. In the odd case where they do pay more for your photo in the future, that more than likely means that they would have paid more this time, so you should stick with your negotiations and get your price.

So what should you do when people contact you requesting to use your work? Well, the first thing you should do is find out what they want to use it for. If the intended use will bring them profit, either directly from sales of the publication or indirectly from sales or business related to the publication, then you should start negotiating the price. Negotiation is though and demanding, and requires that you switch from being an artistic, creative type, to being a shrewd businessperson. It will mean setting your lowest acceptable price, going in a little higher, knowing that you may have to discount it a little during the negotiation, and sticking to your lowest price, no matter what.

Some of my work sells for commercial use, but before I started to enter into negotiations I read one book, and referenced a number of others. I found the book “Pricing Photography: The Complete Guide to Assignment and Stock Prices” by Michal Heron and David MacTavish to be the most help. This book will toughen you up for the negotiations you will have to face to get your desired price, or an acceptable minimum price, or help you know when to politely walk away from the negotiation, without making a sale, but with your base price, and your pride in tact. Also, doing this tactfully will stop you from burning your bridges. Basically if you do come out of a negotiation without making a sale, but having shown that you are a professional, serious about your work, and polite, you may well win the respect of your client and find that they come back when they do have the money to use your work. After all, if it really is the exact image that they were looking for, they might even be pushed to go away and get the budget to buy the photo anyway. This has actually happened to me in the past.

I do use Pricing Photography as a guide to price my work. I developed a system on my Web site that asks potential clients all their requirements including the type of commercial use and mails the results to me and the client. I then look up the price in the book, and make any adjustments necessary, which the book also provide guidelines on, before going back to the client with my initial price to start negotiations. The entire process could of course be automated, including giving the client a price, but that would rob me of the chance to negotiate, which is where it all really starts from.

By the way, please don’t mail me for a copy of my code to gather this information, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have bought a copy of the book and my code simply enables me to ask the questions from the book in a more structured manner. The point is though I’ve bought a copy of the book. Also, I basically hack things together in a way that only I understand. Packaging this up to make it portable for others would take far more time than I have to put into it. And I would not have time to support you, and so I really would really just prefer if you figure out how to get the necessary information from your potential client yourself. The book is laid out in such a way that you know exactly what questions you need to ask based on the type of use your client requires and the type of image they are interested in, if stock photography, or the type of work, if a photographic assignment. Basically you can type out a mail with the questions in a few minutes, as and when necessary and work from there.

What I suggest you do is if you are interested, and serious about your photography, buy yourself a copy of this or a similar book, and study yourself. I have started a page on my Web site to add links to photography related books that I would recommend people read for one reason or another. The address is but I’ll add it to this episode’s notes, and so it will also appear on my Podcasts page under Episode 7. You can get to the recommended reading page from the quick links section on my top page. You can also jump to the Podcast page from the toolbar at the top of my site or the Podcast section on the top page.

Now, I have probably sounded pretty mercenary so far, so I want to talk a little about times that I may still consider allowing someone to use my images either in exchange for something or for a lower fee than usual.

As I said above, one of the first things you need to do, even if the client has made it obvious that they cannot, or will not pay you for your work, is find out what they want to use it for. If it is obvious that their intended use will not bring them any commercial gain, for example they want to use it on a private non-profit web site, or in some way related to a charity, that you would support, I believe it’s OK for you to continue negotiation. Now, you might think that if you are going to let them use your image, why negotiate? This is not the case. You should try get something for your image, even in these situations. For example have them put your name by the image with a link back to your photo or Web site, where you might set up a method for people to buy your images, and therefore collect some kind of revenue indirectly. At worst, you’ll get some publicity.

This is incredibly contradictory, but most of us do to some extent, have charitable hearts. If you believe in the charity, if that’s what it is, or you are sure that the person is definitely not going to use your image for commercial gain, you can make your own decision. You also might want to consider only providing the client with your image at the size they require, and not give up your full size image, say for example if they only want to use it at 300 pixels wide on their Web site.

Now, one last thing, which is incredibly important, is that you must have the client sign a legally binding contract, whether money will exchange hands or not. This will help to prevent the client from simply using your photo commercially anyway, either straight away, or in the future if say their situation changes to say in a commercial direction. Of course, you’d have to catch them using your image, but that remains the same for just about anything that you have a copy of published on the Web, whether you were requested to allow use or not. There are ways to protect yourself against this. Actually, Dennis Hays gave some great information on his excellent Podcast, The Secrets of Digital Imaging Audio Magazine, I think it was last week. Yes, check out the October 9th episode on Copyright. I’ll put a link to Dennis’s Podcast in this weeks notes just in case you are not already subscribed to this. It’s well worth a listen.

Whether your contract is one where money exchanges hands or not, it will give details of the image and the form in which it is released to the client. The type of use which you will allow, and as precisely as possible, the types of use you will not allow. Also state the term for which you will allow use. Typically this will be one year, and any extension of that will usually be included as an additional cost. If you will not be charging the client a fee, you should include the price as zero dollars, or whatever currency you use, and state clearly the reasons why you will not charge a fee. You should also include what the price would be if the special agreement did not exist. This should help you to regain that fee in the case of a breach of contract. Note that I am not a lawyer, and am speaking only from my own experiences and what I’ve read. I cannot be held liable or responsible for any dealing you enter into having listened to this Podcast. I give you this information as advice. You should seek legal advice in your own country or read up further yourself before proceeding. The Pricing Photography book I mentioned earlier contains a number of contract and invoice templates that you can use. And I also found another book called “Business and Legal Forms for Photographers” by Tad Crawford to also be very useful when formulating the contract I use for stock photography sales. There is a link to this book on my new Recommended Reading page too.

I’d say probably the most important thing to remember is that walking away from negotiations without make making a sale, but with your base price and your pride in tact, is one successful outcome to the negotiation. If your work was good enough to catch someone’s eye in the first place, it has to be worth paying for. Don’t sell yourself short.

Show Notes

Music by William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


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