How much to charge a local theater company for my images?
February 15, 2014 6:28 AM   Subscribe

A local theater company wants to use one of my images to promote a play they may be staging in 2015. Got a few questions for the Green.

Professional artists and photogs here on the Green have helped me before with my freelance questions, so I'm coming to you again!

A local theater company would like to use one of my images to promote one project they're doing for sure this year, and they'd like to use it again for a related project in 2015 if it works out. They held a playwriting contest and chose a winner, whose play will be showcased (but not formally presented) this year. The theater wants to use my image for everything surrounding this, so it would appear on:

social media/email promotions
web site banner
print poster
printed postcards

Their ad campaigns are always gorgeous and super slick, and they obviously have a budget. We're in a big city, they have a healthy subscriber base, and I don't anticipate them balking at my fees. I just need to figure out what those fees should be.

I plan to retain copyright to the image, and will send them a contract outlining the scope of the license agreement, giving them permission to use my image from the date of signing to the end of their project. That part I'm clear on.

It's weirder, though, because the winner of their contest may or may not have his play chosen to be presented in their 2015 season. So should I use two separate contracts for them?

I was thinking I'd put together an agreement for the project that they're doing for sure - featuring the author's play in a showcase and a reading, and doing a lot of web site/social media/email/postcard promotions around that.

If they choose to stage his play in 2015, then that would be a bigger deal, with the image on programs, large banners outside the building, and huge posters around town, and a bigger web/email/social media push.

I found this sentence on a site for photographers that struck me: "Most photographers [artists in my case] do not engage in lowball pricing on purpose. Pricing that is out of sync with the prevailing norm for a particular type of work is the result of ignorance. Educate yourself and price your work to build a sustainable and successful business."

So that's what I want to do, educate myself - but I have no idea what to charge, or how to structure my fees. Should I give them a largish flat fee for all the uses they want? Or should I break things up into separate fees for specific uses?

Also - at some point in my relationship with them, I want to pitch the idea of my working with them longer-term for commissioned, exclusive-to-them artwork. If you're an artist who's had a collaborative relationship with a company like that before, I'd be interested to know any details you'd care to share about what's involved in that. Thanks!
posted by cartoonella to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Even if they are, as you say, a well-endowed institution that can afford to pay, my suggestion would be to proceed as you outlined with a contract etc., but charge them one dollar, with the contract stipulating, let's say, that the use of the picture is valued at $1000 and that you are donating the other $999. Take that as a tax deduction which makes it worth a few hundred bucks to you, assuming you itemize. And use the goodwill generated by the donation to get your foot in the door for the longer-term relationship you're looking for. Also, make sure you get your name/URL credited in the program and where practical on posters etc.
posted by beagle at 6:37 AM on February 15, 2014

beagle's solution doesn't work. If you valued the use at $1,000, to take a tax deduction the theatre would have to pay you the $1,000 and then you would have to donate the $999 back to the theatre. That gives you the tax deduction but you would have to declare the $1,000 as income and pay tax on it. Otherwise, you could declare the value at $200,000 and not pay taxes at all.
posted by leafwoman at 9:05 AM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Beagle's advice is in contradiction to most other website postings about this.
Graphic Artist Guild's handbook used to cover photography
posted by Sophont at 9:24 AM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've worked a lot with non-profits in a similar career and I always had the rule that I charged them a normal rate. Becoming known as the person who will work for non-profits for free is never a good place to be if you have aspersions of making money. In some cases, I donated a portion of it back to them later, but that was always of my volition, never an "understanding" in quoting them a price. You will need to pay self employment taxes on what they pay you, unless you make less than $400 total for the year.

A professional photographer would likely charge them $600+ for the definitely going to happen part and substantially more for the potential 2015 part. If there's a local pro photo shop or some good commercial studios, they might be able to give you a better idea what local market rates are. In some cases, it's a wise move to price aggressively on the first few professional jobs you do to ensure you get established as a "pro" but don't cut your (or other photog's) throat.
posted by Candleman at 9:57 AM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses, guys!

I got an answer back from another artist about this, who is agreeing with what most of you said. He also brings up the possibility of stipulating a percentage of box office receipts. Thought I'd post it in case someone else in my situation could benefit -

"At this early stage I think I'd try and get about $600 (I'm basing that amount on some of the fees I used to get from American clients) for them to use it in on the internet, programs, postcards, etc. In fact to be honest, as they want to put it on so many things, maybe $1000 would be a fairer fee? You can say that for that initial fee they have the right to use the image on all their publicity/promotional material in print and web. If the play goes through to production and staging, you could potentially negotiate a royalty of box office takings, just a small percentage, but it could add up. That could appeal to them as they only have to give you money if the play is a success. Always good to go in strong on price - if they reject it you can always lower your fee a bit."
posted by cartoonella at 6:56 AM on February 17, 2014

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