How does a non-pro stipulate photo use for a buyer?
October 19, 2008 6:18 AM   Subscribe

I have a blog on which I occasionally publish my photos. Someone from a small nonprofit publisher just emailed me and asked to use one of my photos on the cover of a book. They are offering $250. I've never done anything like this, so I am hoping that any MeFites with experience selling/licensing their art can help me.

Several obvious questions spring to mind:

1. Is $250 a reasonable payment under the circumstances (small, nonprofit press; nonprofessional photographer)?

2. More importantly, what do I need to stipulate in my contract re: how and where the photo is used, how long it's used for, how credit is handled, etc? Is there a standard contract I can use as a basis for comparison? I expect that they would use the photo for print & web publicity/catalogs, etc, but I would be annoyed if the photo ended up in all kinds of unexpected places and I was still only being paid $250.

3. They asked me to specify stipulations re: overprinting, cropping, "etc." What are the standard stipulations in these cases?

4. What other obvious issues am I overlooking?

I'm interested in doing this. I just want to make it fair and useful for both parties.
posted by ROTFL to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry I don't have a good sample contract to point you to, but basically you want to give them a use license (you're not going to sell them full rights to the photo) for the single publication in this book. You're going to let them publish it again. I'm sure Google will yield a sample contract, or just get a copy of whatever contract the publisher usually uses and go over it very carefully.

Other than that, it's up to you.

Are you comfortable with them cropping it or altering it in other ways? Personally, I'd not want them doing much more than cropping, and I'd rather be the one to decide where it's cropped.

Do you want attribution? A link to your web site?

On the cost, $250 is low, but since it's "free" money, maybe it's good enough for you. For a small run publication, I'd personally ask for more like a thousand bucks for the cover. Remember when pricing a photo, they're not paying for just the image. They're paying for a chunk of your equipment, and all the time you spent learning photography. We amateurs tend to forget that. Fair pricing for a pro would include whatever business expenses they had, plus enough to live on...
posted by paanta at 7:05 AM on October 19, 2008

And remember, a lot of these publishers look for pictures on people's blogs or on flickr because they know they can get something of high quality for very little money if they're dealing with people who aren't savvy about the business side of things...
posted by paanta at 7:07 AM on October 19, 2008

Is $250 a reasonable payment under the circumstances (small, nonprofit press; nonprofessional photographer)?

No, $250 is not reasonable. You would be a chump to accept that.
posted by jayder at 7:16 AM on October 19, 2008

You should probably talk to a lawyer.
posted by fructose at 7:19 AM on October 19, 2008

Legal advice might cost more than the $250 you stand to gain. Personally, I'd want to know the subject of the book; how do you feel about supporting it? Presumably the non-profit is publishing it to promote ideas rather than for commercial gain, so the ideas might matter to you. As for price, $250 doesn't seem so far off the mark to me. What is the print run? The University of Cambridge charges £160 (about $270) for commercial use of an image as a book cover, in one country.
posted by woodway at 7:44 AM on October 19, 2008

You don't really need a lawyer for this sort of thing, although it wouldn't hurt. There are some things to keep in mind though.

1 - As paanta said, make sure that you say they only sell them a use license. And I'd even go so far as to say that they only bought that license for this edition. Textbooks constantly have new images on the cover, so it's not unheard of for a new edition to have a new cover image at all.

Also, make sure to say a few times that the image is to be used only for this book.

2 - I would have no problem with them cropping if it was my photograph. But you might, and even my opinion on it might change depending on the photograph. So make sure that you have final approval.

3 - Get credit for the image. Name and website.

4 - I have to simultaneously agree and disagree with jayder about the price being fair.

On one hand you'd be getting $250 basically out of nowhere. And I'm pretty sure you wouldn't turn that down if someone just wanted to just give that to you. And essentially that's what's happening.

On the other hand, you could be hurting professional photographers who would be getting a lot more for the same job by accepting such a low payment.

Of course, one thing you haven't told us is what the book is about and what it will be selling for. If it's a cause you believe in, then maybe you'd be willing to accept a lower dollar amount in order to help the cause. And if it's a book they'll be selling for $1 you should get less money than one that's selling for $14.95.
posted by theichibun at 7:48 AM on October 19, 2008

I don't think you're hearing from anyone here who really knows whether $250 is high, low, or average for a "small, nonprofit press" to spend on a cover illustration. So, you just have decide if you like that amount, or not. For an out-of-the-blue first time sale, I'd say, go for it— who knows, it could lead to more sales or assignments. Do it without a lawyer, just make sure it's a simple contract that very clearly specifies that this is for one time only use on this specific book and excludes use on any spinoff products, like a film or video made from the book.
posted by beagle at 8:00 AM on October 19, 2008

My worry when I'm in this kind of situation is that I'll say "$250 is an insult, I need $1000"... and they say "OK, thanks anyway, we'll find someone who will take $250".
posted by smackfu at 8:45 AM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

A couple things.

First smackfu: They may find someone that will take $250 but it won't be the same photo. The potential client needs what you have. You have the upper hand. If they are not reasonable enough to pay a reasonable fee then they will end up getting what they pay for. Which usually isn't much.

Second: For the original question. Need more info on the book but yes, $250 is far too low. Is the book for educational purposes? Is it fiction/nonfiction? How many are they planning on printing? This all effects pricing. Also is there a person in your photograph? If so, do you have a model release? If not, then you are opening yourself up to a lawsuit. Well the publisher is even more so, so long as you tell them, but you are by no means immune. The same goes with a property release but that usually depends on the property.

As for the contract. You need something stating that the usage is for the book cover and associated promotional art only. All other usage is to be renegotiated. There also needs to be terms associated with the licensing. How many years do they need to reproduce the cover?

By the way I just did a quick pricing for you. Based it on the following:
United States
Book - Retail
Front Cover
Up to 10000K printing


posted by WickedPissah at 9:13 AM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: Three comments:

1. On a recent book project for a tiny for-profit press that I was involved with, the entire art budget was only $400. So depending on the press and other details, $250 might actually be pretty good.

2. However, one card you do have in your deck is to negotiate for some copies. 5-10 is probably a reasonable number under circumstances like these.

3. They probably have a standard contract. Start there, and look for things you find objectionable rather than trying to write your own agreement from scratch. The key points (as stated above) are that you're licensing them the image rather than selling it to them, that you get appropriate attribution, and that the license doesn't cover re-licensing to other publishers.
posted by j-dawg at 9:14 AM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

A brief excerpt from the indispensable "Best Business Practices for Photographers" by John Harrington:

"When I get a call that starts with, "We're a non-profit...," I typically (and respectfully) inquire whether the person is a volunteer for the organization or an employee. Ninety-five percent of the time, the person is an employee, and I become far less likely to consider pro-bono assignment or a discounted rate. If the entire organization is made up of volunteers, that might be an indicator to you that a review of your free time may be in order."

I agree with WickedPissah. My pricing software says you should ask for at least $800-$1000.

You might also consider referencing this book.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:27 AM on October 19, 2008

If the entire organization is made up of volunteers, that might be an indicator to you that a review of your free time may be in order.

I think this quote conveys nothing but John Harrington's serious misunderstanding of how the nonprofit sector in the United States operates. Does the government require that all workers at a nonprofit be unpaid volunteers in order to grant tax exempt status? No. There's a pretty good reason for that: nonprofits promote social welfare goals that for-profits wouldn't be adequately compensated by the market to pursue.

If you are comfortable with the mission of the nonprofit and make sure the contract protects your intellectual property rights in the future, $250 seems quite reasonable to me. Playing hardball will just make them go somewhere else. While they might really like your picture, they probably have a list of other pictures they like almost as much to contact if it doesn't work out with you. Heck, yours might not have even been on the top of the list.

Like others have said, hey, free money.
posted by jtfowl0 at 10:33 AM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good advice so far. I too ran a book cover through my software (FotoQuote) and it's coming out $800-1100 as a market rate. $250 is a joke, they are trying to take advantage of your business inexperience.

ASMP has sample forms online that include the licensing part. You can also get much more detailed info and better examples in the book "Business & Legal Forms for Photographers".
posted by bradbane at 10:39 AM on October 19, 2008

My worry when I'm in this kind of situation is that I'll say "$250 is an insult, I need $1000"... and they say "OK, thanks anyway, we'll find someone who will take $250".

Unless you're destitute, $250 is not so much money that you can't afford for them to go somewhere else.

What bothers me about the $250 offer is that it seems to reflect an attitude of, "creative work should cost us next to nothing ... the photographer will be happy to get whatever they can for the image."

At what point would you consider the number insulting? You've already taken the picture and done the work, so economically it makes sense to take $10 if that's all they're offering.

My gut is just telling me that $250 is an insulting, abusive price and you should reject it out of principle.
posted by jayder at 10:46 AM on October 19, 2008

On the other hand, you could be hurting professional photographers who would be getting a lot more for the same job by accepting such a low payment.

On the other, other hand, the designer might simply decide that they can do just as well by using a photograph from a stock collection for a couple of dollars. I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of book designers would use stock art in the UK because the projected sales just aren't large enough to cover a specially commissioned shoot.

Without more info though, its impossible to say. If the book is the next Steven King, then you're getting ripped off. If it's a treatise on urinary tract infections in African elephants, then $250 sounds pretty good.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:51 AM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: I've had this happen to me a few times. I've read the John Harrison book, there is some good advice in it.

BUT oftentimes the publisher does have other options. I usually thank them for their interest, say that their offer is low, and double whatever they've offered me. So say you want $500. If they balk and complain about having no funds, then go for the $250.

Honestly, I don't think $250 is necessarily an insulting fee. I know pro photographers who would (not admitting to it) do a gig for $250. I did one for friends for $350 2 weeks ago and I was very glad to have it. There are a lot of options for cheap photography these days.

One thing to remember, John Harrington works for big national magazines, lives in Washington, has a huge staff, is pretty connected. He doesn't have to take $250, because he's got a successful business. But for people trying to put rent together, $250 can be pretty sweet. It's really easy to say that it's insulting but it's half a weeks work for a blue collar person, and since you don't really have to do much, I don't see it as being insulting.
posted by sully75 at 11:47 AM on October 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all these very useful answers so far. I can answer the question about what types of material this publisher publishes -- it's poetry and short fiction. I've looked at their website, and it seems like the kind of artsy stuff that doesn't really burn up the bestseller lists. Then again, who knows? As j-dawg suggested, it seems reasonable that if only a few hundred copies are being printed, the pay should be very low, so I will ask them how many copies they will be printing.

WickedPissah, thanks for your reply. There is no person in the photo, and the subject is a publicly-owned NYC landmark, so I hope no permission would be necessary.

Their introductory email said that $250 was the most they could offer, but of course I don't know them and I have no way of knowing whether this is strictly true.

I'm torn; I don't want to miss an opportunity to have work published, but I don't want to be played for a sucker either. The answers in this thread are really helping me make an informed decision; I appreciate the info.

One more question: Is it normal or acceptable to ask to see a manuscript of the work, or at least a sample? I would like to make sure it's not something whose ideology I'd find repellent -- an unlikely scenario, but I'd like to make sure.
posted by ROTFL at 11:48 AM on October 19, 2008

I wouldn't do it without seeing the work. There's no way I would take the chance on being connected with something that I do not agree with at all. They should understand, I'm sure they wouldn't want to be a Catholic church appearing to support an abortion clinic.

At the very least get an abstract.
posted by theichibun at 12:35 PM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: First of all, congratulations on finding a small non-profit that actually wants to pay anything at all.

Secondly, I believe that at this point in history, FotoQuote's numbers reflect what photographers ought to be paid far more than what they're actually getting paid these days.

Third, John Harrington is a high profile photographer among photographers and somewhat of an activist for photographer's rights, who has a better business sense than most of us.

That's a good thing, but you are none of the above.

If you have any enthusiasm for having your photograph used on the cover of the book, I'd pretty much do as jtfowl0 suggests; making sure I got as many copies of the book as I wanted in addition to the $250.00, and that I got a prominent photo credit. Tell them that you demand payment upon acceptance, as opposed to upon publication, and make sure that they know they're buying one time use for this edition of this project only.

In over thirty years of professional photography, I've never stipulated anything regarding the cropping of my photos. One would hope that they are using a good designer who won't kill the picture to save it.

Remember also that there is a distinct possibility that you are not the only photographer who has been contacted regarding a possible cover photo. If they ask enough people, sooner or later they'll find a photo they can live with; possibly for free.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:00 PM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: Get played for a sucker. You'll still be $250.00 up and will have your photo published on a book cover. Although theichibun makes a very good point.
posted by schwa at 4:02 PM on October 19, 2008

Best answer: As a photographer, and as an editor who has worked on the sourcing-photography side for Penguin, I'm with sully75. It's great that software is available to price this gig at $1000, but honestly the stock world is there to provide cheap imagery. That is your competitor, not the faceless "pro" photographers theichibun theorizes you could potentially 'hurt'. Pro photographers won't be approached for this gig unless it's with the same pitch, so you're not taking bread from our mouths. Not only that, it's a free world and you're in no way bound to follow the 'ethical' pricing debates and ideas from within the pro photography world about how to price your work. Everyone starts somewhere. You are, at present, an amateur photographer who obviously has some talent. No one with an honest soul would say that you're not allowed to even give your work away for free if you so choose. Everyone has to start somewhere - perhaps this is your first photo credit of a future lifetime of 100,000. You never know.

Yes, you need to stipulate how they will use your photo. Pull a contract off the internet and adapt it to your needs. Call a few local professional photographers and ask for advice (many will tell you they're too busy to help you, but someone will have a mentorship urge and give you some tips). I say allow for a limited use license on first print run use, with re-licensing available for re-negotiated fee on subsequent printings (but not yet released). I.e. if it hits the bestseller list and they re-print, they have to renegotiate with you and you can raise the price.

In terms of use-in-context, don't waste your and their time by waiting for the manuscript or first draft. Ask the art editor right now about the use, the title of the book, disclosure on any contentious issues therein, etc. If you have a philosophical disagreement with the content and don't want to be associated with it but still want the money/secret pride in having the cover photo, that's cool - ask for no printed photo credit on the print run copy.

Also: yes, you can ask for whatever you want. Copies of the book? Absolutely. I would recommend you get at least three copies of the final product and don't accept fewer. Want your name credit in italics? Yes. Want it on the ISBN page? Yes. On the cover? If the printing allows for text on the back cover, yes. Want to be invited to the launch party (if there is one)? Have a go at their contributor's back catalogue closet of free books? Yes. Be professional, but these are in-kind contributions you are certainly entitled to as a contributor, and they cost the publisher nothing.

Congratulations, and good luck!
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 6:42 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Having read your update about it being a small literary press publishing poetry and short fiction, I retract my comments suggesting the figure is insulting.

They're almost certainly struggling to survive and their work is a labor of love, so yes, I think $250 is fair and reasonable.
posted by jayder at 6:49 PM on October 19, 2008

Response by poster: If promiscuous best-ing weren't frowned upon, I'd mark all of the above "best answer."

I have decided to accept the $250. It pays for the Canon compact that took the shot, so it's all good.
posted by ROTFL at 3:49 AM on October 20, 2008

hi. i used to work for a small publisher who approached photogs like this. we only did it a couple of times, but this is what i did:

emailed the person saying i worked for x publisher and that we wanted to use z photo on the cover (or page) of an upcoming book (i would give as many details of the book as possible/relevant). we did not offer money (alas) but we did give photog credit and a copy or two of the book if they wanted it. it was all very casual, which, looking back, was probably really bad!

some questions to ask yourself: do you want more money if they use it on the cover vs. in the book? do you want your name on the book/copyright page? do you want more money if they decide to translate the book for overseas and they still use your photo? can they use your photo in any electronic derivatives (like if they put it on the web)? can they use your photo in publicity (if it's not on the cover; if it is on the cover it is a given)? can they use your photo for all future editions of the book?

frankly, as an amateur photog whose photo they just "found" i would take the money and run. if you do want to build a career, this is a great stepping stone to point to in the future. if not, it's still cool to say your photo is in a book and pull it out and show it to people.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:38 AM on October 20, 2008

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