On the heels of our interview with Howard Bernstein about photographers landing agents I have a question from a reader about contracts with agents. I asked APE contributor Suzanne Sease since she’s seen it all to weigh in on what percentage is reasonable and what to look for when signing a contract with an agent. Here’s her answer:
So many times folks think just because they have an agent, the phone is going to ring and the bank account is going to be full. STOP! Make sure you do your research before you sign any contract. A contract is a legal binding agreement that costs some photographers 6 figures to get out of. Before you sign, you must have it reviewed by a lawyer who understands this business.
The standard is 25-30% of the fees, but you need to be really careful with house accounts – you have to decide if you are going to be in charge of your house accounts with no compensation or a reduced compensation. You have to make a detailed list of who are on those accounts from the beginning since you usually can’t add someone in later. You have to discuss up front the expenses for travel, portfolio showings and marketing.
I believe it is crucial that you handle all financial expenses through your business and not the agents. When you receive payment, then you send your agent their cut. All estimates should be sent to you and the client on the same e-mail so you know what they received. That way there’s never a problem with missing fees, underreported income or timely payment.
Severance should have a limit of time for the payment of the accounts they either have established a solid relationship with or brought in as an account. I have seen clients who can’t switch agents because the severance is too lengthy and would cost them too much money. There are a lot of great agents but at the same time, there are some really bad ones. If your agent has a good reputation, they will be great for your business but if they don’t then they can kill your career. It is important for you to talk to photographers in their roster and ones who have left. If you can reach out to a consultant, art buyer or art director.