Common Cents:
For Rent
February 2008

by Mark Loundy

"Why rent the cow when you can buy the milk?" — Unknown

So they're grabbing your usage rights. Fees haven't gone up in a couple of decades. Oh, woe is me!

Yet there are photographers who are surviving, even thriving in editorial photography. How do they do it?

Putting the costs of production on the client (where they belong) is increasingly becoming a critical part of business survival. This can take the form of charging rental fees on your own equipment or (gasp!) not owning any equipment to begin with and simply passing the actual fees on to the client.

Some editorial clients even have preferred providers. The PPs are companies that have agreements with the client to provide goods and services at pre-arranged fees. Often the PPs are advertisers in the client's publication. Travel should be arranged through the client's own travel office. This means zero out-of-pocket travel expenses for you.

It is utterly reasonable to charge a couple of hundred bucks a day for a basic shooting kit. Check out the supply houses and see what they charge to rent lenses, lights, grip gear, etc. You're saving the client money by renting your own gear to them.

Remember, your fee is for usage — not for production infrastructure. Yes, you're going to get the inevitable all-rights assignments. But there is no reason that you should subsidize the cost of production. The key is to minimize your costs of doing business to offset the freeze in editorial rates.

The Good

Tulsa World's (See November "Common Cents") Chief Photographer Tom Gilbert for being open to one-time-use contracts. All you have to do is ask.

The Bad

• The Illinois Farm Bureau joins the lackluster list of organizations that are creating image libraries for next to nothing by holding a photo contest. The total amount of prize money for the contest is $500.

The Ugly

• The "glossy southern Florida mag" looking for coverage in Washington, D.C., for the princely amount of $20.

• AFP for paying a contributor in India $20 for images and then posting them on Getty Images under the AFP copyright.

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.


• When a client balks at negotiating an all-rights contract, it might help to compare with renting an automobile. You don't get to keep the Hertz car after you're finished driving it. Conversely, you only pay for the time you used it. Buying a car costs a lot more than renting it for a day.

• Negotiation is a two-way process. If a client makes truly unreasonable demands, sometimes you can mitigate them with a guarantee of substantial future work. The amounts and time frames must be specified. After all, if they're getting exclusivity and all rights, why can't you ask for a guaranteed revenue stream?


Stock Artists Alliance Press Release

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

© Mark Loundy

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