The Digital Journalist
Common Cents:

It Looks So Easy, It Must Be Cheap!
August 2007

by Mark Loundy

"Why should I buy expensive art when I can make my own?"

— Piero Milani

Many clients' only experience with photography is that magical click of the camera. Heck, it's so easy anybody can do it. So why are you charging so much?

The value of our work lies not in the fraction of a second that it takes to record an image but in the value that the client is getting from it. For example, a large-circulation magazine might charge more than $100,000 for a full-page ad. A smaller publication might charge only a fraction of that, but it's still going to be in the thousands of dollars. Since the magazine itself puts a high valuation on its pages, it makes sense that you do the same with the images that you're supplying to fill those pages.

Photographer Andrew Buchanan compares licensing images with renting a movie on a DVD. "If I get that movie for a limited time of a few days or weeks from the local video store, Netflix, or wherever, I pay a set fee of a few dollars to watch as many times as I want within a certain time period, then I return the copy. If I want to check it out again, I pay again. Or, I can pay a higher fee of $10–$20 and own a copy of the DVD. I can watch as much as I want and never return it, but I pay a higher fee for greater convenience and opportunity to enjoy it — greater benefit to me, the end client, means a higher fee for the creator. Finally, another option is I can pay a set fee of a few dollars to watch it on my pay-per-view cable box. The fee is the same as for a physical copy of the DVD and I can watch as many times as I want, but only within a 24 hour period after which I no longer have access to it. In that scenario, I'm paying for the ultra-convenience of not even leaving my house in order to choose or return my movie, but the trade-off is a relatively expensive per-viewing cost compared to the other two methods. Again, greater benefit to me in the form of convenience means a higher per-viewing fee charged by the creator."

The Good

• Rodale's Men's Health magazine for being open to negotiating reasonable terms in their otherwise awful boilerplate contract. Remember, a proposed contract is supposed to be a starting point, not a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

The Bad

• No Bad, but there's plenty of Ugly.

The Ugly

• The outfit looking for a party photographer in the D.C. area for $25 a night. It costs me more than that just to start my car.

• Essential Realm Publishing: "At this time Essential Realm Publishing is unable to pay out to contributing Photographers. But the contributing Photographers who are willing to grow with us right now while we're still a small growing company, will be taking (sic) care of really well when the profits roll in, in the near future." Yeah, right.

• CirclePix, a virtual tour real-estate company is looking for photographers who possess, among other things, "the ability to cover the minimal start-up cost." That's right, they want you to pay them before you even start shooting.

• The newspaper staff photographer who accepted $60 per game in exchange for all rights to shoot for a Colorado semi-pro hockey team. He may be looking at it as gravy on top of his staff job, but no staff job is safe and it's pretty tough to live on $60 a day.

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.


• Stepping into editorial freelancing without a solid grounding in the business side can be a career killer. Knowing what and how to charge and, more importantly, when to say no, enhances your chances of success and avoids some nasty financial surprises. From a (recently) former freelancer: "...all I can say is that after looking at the NPPA cost of doing business worksheet I lost the drive to go out and do any more jobs. Ignorance is bliss and it was fun while it lasted. I just don't feel like subsidizing a company that is bigger than me." If this person had pursued the right clients and rejected bad deals, he might still be shooting.

ASJA Contracts Watch

New Neilson Contract

NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Business Manual

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group (Message Archives)

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

© Mark Loundy

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