Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No Laughing Matter

" All you photographers have to do is show up, click the shutter and you're done while we writers have to do the research......" 
 - A Magazine Editor today via telephone call

I paraphrase the above, but only marginally, because my eyes rolled back in my head, my ears shut down and foam began spreading across my lips even before she finished her first sentence...

The call had come in relation to a request for a stock image in my files. The editor's art director had received the low-res preview thumbnails I had sent earlier in a response to his request for a specific image. Just before, his email had indicated that he liked 2 images of the four I had sent, along with an attached "rate sheet" for both assigned photography and for stock use. The email indicated that the magazine intended to run the photograph full-page, plus two separate online versions... one a mirror of the print version, and a second use on the magazine's website. The fee for full-page print use plus the two online versions was a total of $100. 

At first glance I had to laugh, just like those disembodied heads pictured above. Then, I decided to check for myself regarding fees for similar use using a copy of Cradoc's Fotoquote® and going to my stock agency and seeking similar images, plugging in the same use, circulation information, etc. 

The magazine, perhaps Maui's best known, if not only "Lifestyle" publication, has a circulation of somewhere between 25k & 35k according to the editor. Plugging that data, along with full-page, one-time print use only into Fotoquote®, I got a range of prices starting at the low end of $321, high end at $642 with a median fee of $428. Then I logged into my stock agencies site & found a couple of similar images. Again, plugging in the same use and circulation info, the agency quoted me a fee of $369 for one-time print use only.

OK... my gut reaction to the offered fee was validated. And to be fair, the editor making the quote above is a very good friend, an advocate for freelancers of all stripes who's hands are bound by her publisher. Her line above, I sincerely hope, was uttered tongue in cheek. Afterall, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words and were her publication forced to resort to publishing only the printed word, sans photographs, she knows well that circulation would drop faster than current GOP approval ratings. No circulation... no advertisers or advertising revenues. 

Yet, here is the conundrum... A publisher needs images to fill her pages. The same publisher publishes a rate sheet listing the fees she will pay, rates that fall far below any use fees I have ever been offered by any other publication... whether the publication was a consumer editorial magazine, a corporate communications news letter...

Now I ask you, in what other business or industry can the buyer needing a service or commodity set the price they will pay and get away with it other than the photographic industry? Try it with you local supermarket, hair stylist, family doctor and see how they react.

So what can we do? I can only speak for myself here. I called the editor and explained that I had researched the intended use from multiple sources and these were the prices for use I came up with... more than 3X the offered use rate from the magazine and for use in the print version only. At this point, the issue was left there with a promise that the art director would call me back.

To walk away from $100 left sitting on the table will not break my bank. Could I use an extra $100? Sure. Do I have a right to place my own value on the work I produce? Absolutely. Until you are able to say no and turn the conversation towards a negotiation rather than a take it or leave it situation, you will have no  recourse but to let the client set the terms. I know the image this magazine wants has value. I have licensed it previously. They called me looking for the image, not the other way around. To allow them to set the fee they are willing to pay for it may be good for their business but it sucks for mine. It would only serve to potentially lower the value of that image the next time a request for use comes around. Once the buyer becomes accustomed to that lower use, it will be next to impossible to get a better deal in the future.

To be in a position to successfully negotiate fair fees and terms in this business, you must first be willing to say no & walk away, but only as your final option. It's not an US vs. THEM situation by any means. Both sides are working towards their own best self interests. No fault there. It's up to you, me, us to learn the art of negotiations so that we can prevail when the time comes. Information is the key here.

You MUST be informed, educated about the value of photographic work, similar prices for similar assignments, similar stock use, etc. There are lots of good resources to find this information. I mentioned one of the tools I use in pricing assignments & stock above, Cradoc's Fotoquote®. It's good but certainly not the only resource available. But, for the cost of under $150 for this software, I think you will find that it will pay for itself very quickly and become a vital tool in your negotiations tool box. You can find it and other Cradoc software products by clicking HERE. (Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Cradoc products, just a very happy and dedicated user for many years). A quick GOOGLE search for "stock photography pricing guides" will turn up a number of alternative resources for this type of information, some of them even free. Use them!

 Talking to established, successful photographers doing similar work is another great way to gauge the marketplace for the value of your talent & creative output.

Remember... information & knowledge can be powerful tools that can & must be used when confronted with situations like these.

Oddly enough, as I was typing this screed, an email arrived from an old friend, a sports photographer based in Europe. In his email was a link to this video on negotiating in the photography marketplace. Thanks Thorsten! Very timely!

Here's the video:


No comments: