Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.
I wanted to ask you about a common thing I have been asked by my larger clients. They are asking for buyouts on many images, which can be good, however I am not sure what to charge that is fair and still keep them as a client.
I know it’s a delicate balance, I can say that they are large corporations, and some are smaller companies that have a license on different products. I think I lost work because some clients can only afford to pay for photography and retouching fees, yet they want a bunch of end uses: internet, Direct Mailers, Promotional items and in store imagery.
I have no idea how to keep them as a client, and get paid fairly, yet not have them totally take advantage of me.
It is a constant effort to educate my clients about image usage, some are great about it and ask permission while others I find out that they run my images in ads when I find them in magazines. Then I have to have a dialogue, invoice them. Kinda awkward but they still send me work.
If it helps I am in NYC. I do not have a rep, I am solo freelance still life/editorial studio.
Amanda and Suzanne: There is not ONE equation you can apply for every client – but we hope you can find YOUR equation that works for you. If you can be guided by the answers below, evaluate the project as a whole that is being requested to estimate and find your comfort zone to estimate the request confidently. If our community can feel comfortable doing this, we know it will raise the bar for everyone.
ART PRODUCER #1
This a always a hot topic for discussion in my world. Most of my clients want this buyout option. However, in hoping that I don’t seem like a word/usage snob, I like to educate my clients that what this means to them really is an exclusive, unlimited in perpetuity buy. The photographer is never going to completely give up their rights to any images and should be able to use this on their website or for any promotional use. I will also say that I’ve had to refer clients to our signed estimate and what the usage terms really mean when I’ve gotten calls from clients asking me to call the photographer and request that their image be removed from their website/promo material. Yes, this really has happened. Usage terms can really be a huge deal, especially when national exposure is involved. It’s hard to give a specific number to use as a guide for this sort of buy just because for me, it’s usually evaluated on an individual basis. Just keep in mind that not giving this use away for free (or a lower than market value dollar amount) may cost you business, but it also may cost you future business from other clients. So think about this when negotiating costs for this extended use. I want to know for whom a photographer has shot (and will research this) before getting them involved in a project (so that I don’t walk into any surprises with my creative team or client), and may not think of them as an option if they have shot a campaign for a competitor. I can combat this if the campaign images are no longer active.
It’s all kind of crazy in my mind though and I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use an image for more than 5 years. (And that’s stretching it.) Even with an image library, it would most likely be re-done after 5 years so existing work doesn’t look dated. We all know that 2 years is probably plenty. Whenever I’m asked to work off a “buyout” or exclusive, unlimited in perpetuity buy, I always get two additional usage options (outside of the unlimited use, if the photographer will even sell those rights) that are closer to what the client is actually going to use them for. One usually spot on with the proposed media/campaign element plan and another a little larger to allow the client some flexibility so that they don’t feel so boxed in.
ART PRODUCER #2
Sadly, we’ve lost years of client education with the reduction in the number of seasoned art buyers. Art buyers were often the first to go in the layoffs. Now people doing the art buying are folks that haven’t got a clue about the ins and outs of fair compensation.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but from what I’ve heard from local photographers, the clients they are working with that even ask about a “buyout” don’t want to pay anything additionally for them. Despite the “renting not owning” argument, with pinched budgets, clients have a hard time understanding that they paid for all the inputs but do not have all rights to do what they wish with the images. These photographers have tried everything to educate the clients, but with the market the way it is, the client will have no problem finding someone to shoot it without charging additional usage.
That said, I urge photographers as a group to consider what now constitutes “ownership” now that 100% of the time, images are retouched/enhanced/completely recreated by digital artists. Who truly “owns” the final work? I would hope that the art director also had input into the creation of the image with their layout and with their direction. Isn’t it more of a collaboration now than ever before?
ART PRODUCER #3
First, if you’re finding your images somewhere they shouldn’t be, there is no awkward situation- they need to pay you and they know it. If it happens on a regular basis, after educating them, they are not as good a client as you think.
Now, you’re right, most clients don’t know the difference between buyout and 3 months internet use. They only see photography of their product. And with today’s economy, they want to get as much mileage as possible out of that image. The main question you have to ask yourself is, “will I be able to use this image for any other client/purpose?” If it’s a specific product and/or client specific image, the fee should be easy to swallow for your client considering the outside use will be limited. As the image gets more ambiguous, you need to determine what other realistic possible uses there are for it. Like the blue book value of a car, the more options you add, the more expensive the car. It should also be handled per client. Larger corporations would pay more then mom and pop shops. But standardize it for each client (a still life image on silo is $xxx.xx, a still life in the environment is $xxxx.xx, a lifestyle is $xxxxx.xx)
For my larger national clients that make it a requirement to “own” the images, I have this in my contract:
“unlimited time and usage for Worldwide distribution. Photographer retains promotional rights with permission and copyright. No third party rights granted.”
To Summarize: A term we like to use is “Unlimited Use in Perpetuity” if they request a BUYOUT…and be sure to add as noted above “Photographer retains promotional rights with permission and copyright. No third party rights granted.” The simple equation is: what are they asking for + what is the industry standard usage they are asking for – what is their realistic budget = what are you willing to shoot this for without walking away from this project and losing this client.
Call To Action: Figure out what you are comfortable with asking for and if you can’t find that comfort zone, ask your peers for support on forming this structure for yourself and your business.
If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.” Amanda and Suzanne review your comments for 2 days, and then they are off researching next week’s question.