Common Cents
November 2002

by Mark Loundy

The other day my wife brought our seven-year old son, Harris, some Chinese food for lunch at school. Harris' buddy took one look at the food and offered to swap one cookie for all of it. Harris sat silent, waiting for a better offer...

Some freelancers would be lost at a schoolyard lunch. They allow their clients to treat them in the same way that a 7-Eleven clerk treats people buying Slurpees — one price. Period. They forget that a freelance photography business is more like a car dealership — every deal is different and the best negotiator wins. They also forget that as the seller, they are the ones who set the sticker price.

It never hurts to ask...

Hawaii freelancer Tony Novak-Clifford recently told the subscribers to the Editorial Photographers Group about an instance when simply saying no was a very powerful negotiating tool.

"I received a call from the photo editor at Forbes CCP yesterday, offering an assignment of six shots in five different locations to run on one page in an upcoming issue of Four Seasons Magazine (circ. 52,000,)" said Novak-Clifford.

"I was told the budget was $600, including expenses. The photo editor went on to say: 'we don't need you to shoot much film...' To which I responded that I need to shoot film until I'm certain I've got the shot and it is difficult for a photo editor sitting 6,000 miles away to determine exactly what might be involved during the course of shooting. I went on to decline to job due to the low fee and lack of expense coverage.

"Suddenly, without hesitation, the photo editor doubled the offer still not wanting to cover expenses. Again, I declined and again the offer was upped, plus expense coverage, with very little hesitation on her part.

"Just goes to show that sometimes it does pay to say NO," says Novak-Clifford. "It's always the photo editor or art director's job to get the best deal they can, just as it is equally our responsibility to do the same for our respective businesses."

How much ya got?

Half a world away from Hawaii, Washington DC photographer John Harrington's technique is, "First show me yours and then I'll show you mine."

"My favorite question is 'what's your budget?,'" said Harrington. "I was contacted by a non-profit television network about portraits of executives of the network for the company's Web site. Normally, I would charge about $1,800 for seven portraits, all with the same seamless background, nothing overly creative, all of which could be accomplished within about 1-2 hours of shooting. I had set my rates based upon what the market will bear in Washington DC.

"Before quoting the client a rate, I asked what her budget was. The client responded 'well, we've found that the cost seems to be around $1,500...' to which I responded 'per person, plus expenses?' And she said that that was correct. I responded that since we were doing seven, I could probably reduce that rate to $1,375 each, plus expenses. The client was happy, paid on time, and the invoice was for about $9,500.

"Three weeks later, the client came back and needed three more executives photographed, and we quoted the same rates, and billed about $4,500. Total bill, about $14,000.00 for a job that, had I not posed the question 'what's your budget?' I would have charged about $2,000 for.

"The question about budget allows me to know if I certainly won't get the work, if someone is looking to get work done for $100 or $200 total. Even so, though, I always send the estimate, as a reality check for the client, and because sometimes I get the job even though their budget was so unreasonable to start with, and they learned that that was the case once they called around. Always send the estimate," said Harrington, "and don't cut corners because doing so will cost you more than the job, it'll cost you your dignity."

Ask. You just might get it.

Freelancer Steve Kagan uses some outside help.

"After I had just started using (Seth Resnick's rate charts,)" said Kagan, "a bank here in Chicago called to inquire about a reprint. They said the photo would be in context of the original story at one-quarter page with a photo credit. I then asked how many copies they were sending out. I nearly fell off my seat when the answer came back at 105,000!
"The fee on Seth's chart is $2,300.00. The bank agreed, then a few weeks later ordered an additional 25,000 and hired me to shoot some executive portraits, too."
None of Tony, John or Steve's successes would have happened if they had let the client dictate prices. You've gotta negotiate.

Oh yes, by the time Harris and his friend finished haggling, Harris gave up only one wonton for eight of his friend's cookies. That's my boy!

The Good: None Submitted this month.
The Bad: WG Sports Photos for demanding a 40% a cut of secondary sales from WG assignments and for demanding resale rights (with a 50-50 split.)
The Ugly: International Specialty Publishing & Distribution, Inc. for offering 24 copies and a credit line in lieu of payment for photos featured in a consumer cookbook with a planned print run of 7 million.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

Food photographer Iris Richardson has put together an excellent education site for upcoming photographers. It's worth checking out even if you aren't a food shooter.


John Harrington

Tony Novak-Clifford

Seth Resnick's Rate Charts

Iris Richardson's Educational pages

Small Business Administration

Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

© Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.

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