Should I donate it or should I sell it?
March 10, 2006 9:41 PM   Subscribe

A book author/publisher has found an image of mine on the net, and asked for permission to use it in their book. I would like to know if I should allow them to use it gratis, or ask for a fee?

The author writes for a quite well known tech site/blog, and the book is being published by a reputable publisher, and will retail for $US 30-40 and I assume will sell quite well.

Should I give permission for the image to be used provided I have some form of written credit, and feel all warm and gooey about the fact that my image has been published.

Or should I give permission for the image to be used provided that they purchase a licence (I'm not sure how to go about this) and pay me to use it?

Also what are the copywrite implications in the US?

Your advice on how to go about getting the best out of this process would be much appreciated.
posted by mule to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you price yourself too high, they might just tell you to buzz off and they'll find something else.

I dunno. I'd probably say "Sure, if you put my name in the book and send me a free copy." :-)
posted by drstein at 9:47 PM on March 10, 2006

it's copyright, not copywrite. There are no copyright implications in letting someone use your image for free or for a fee.
posted by delmoi at 9:48 PM on March 10, 2006

The term you're looking for is royalty free. You can charge the publisher a one-time fee and they have the rights to use the photo in their publication (and you don't get a share of proceeds etc.).

I wouldn't reach for the stars, but try asking for a few hundred dollars. If the publisher is uninterested in the picture (and the published credit is worth the effort) then donate the image. Either way, it's probably a good idea to get some sort of written agreement about it's use.
posted by purephase at 9:54 PM on March 10, 2006

If you decide to allow its use, whether for a fee or not, make sure you are properly credited on the title page of the book. As in "Cover image copyright 2006 John Smith, used by permission. See more of John Smith's art at"

If you want to charge a fee, just point-blank ask for it, and get a written contract. There are sample contracts you can purchase at office supply stores. It's really very easy.

However, if this is a relatively small publisher (i.e. it's not O'Reilly), it's likely that they're not willing to pay anything -- a) because they don't have any money and b) they can always go with something else.

It doesn't hurt to ask. But regardless, make sure you're properly credited for your work.
posted by frogan at 9:59 PM on March 10, 2006

It depends. Are you selling the image to the client for limited usage, while retaining the copyright? Are you selling full rights and exclusive usage? Depending on what you're doing, you're looking at between $100 - $2000 as a fair price. It really depends what you want to do with it.

If you just want to let him use it, but still retain ownership, a couple hundred is fair.
posted by Jairus at 10:00 PM on March 10, 2006

The other thing to bear in mind if you're going to ask for a fee is how difficult would it be for them to find a replacement. If your image is unique (say a photograph of an event at which no one else was taking pictures) then you obviously have a bit more leverage.
posted by juv3nal at 11:37 PM on March 10, 2006

I had the same thing, Mule (probably for the same book! - email me if you want to compare notes).

He wanted to use one of my Flickr images and I told him "Sure, why not? Just give me proper credit and all is good." It was a simple snapshot of dirty dishes so why he wanted it, I don't know but hey, I'll take my 15 minutes in 2 second increments.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:32 AM on March 11, 2006

I work in publishing, and I have a friend who is trying to source photos for a different book / publisher right now.

Starting with my friend's story, since it's more interesting, she's writing a narrative history of the world, to be published by W.W. Norton in 2007. (Aside: It should be really really good.) She has a blog up, where she's writing about the process. Her most recent post ( [sorry for not linking that one] deals, specifically, with her efforts to obtain reprinting rights for images. When she went to a professional phot clearing house (Corbis), they wanted $525 for a picture. Here's the rub, though: The picture she wants is of an obscure cuneiform tablet. There aren't many of those around (at least, of high quality). I'm not sure what your picture is of, but I'm guessing it's of something more commonplace than that (and, therefore, less valuable).

Jumping over to my experience in publishing. I work for a small press. If we found a photo we (sort of) liked, we'd possibly pay $50 or so. More likely, we'd give the photographer credit and send three or for copies of the book her way. I doubt we'd pay more than the $50, unless we had a significant chunk of a book built around that particular picture, in which case we would have cleared rights earlier in the process.

Finally, if it's a publishing house you think will be fair, you could throw it back to them: "I'm not terrifically familiar with pricing on something like this. What is your normal rate for this?" Be sure to have a range of prices in mind of what you'd like, so if they come back with $50 (and you want $75, minimum), you can up the ante (within reason). I've heard that, in bargaining, it's usually better to let the other guy name the first price.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:55 AM on March 11, 2006

I've heard that, in bargaining, it's usually better to let the other guy name the first price.

It is always better to let the other guy name the first price. But how many rounds of "I don't know, how much can you spend?" followed by "I don't know, how much do you want?" can you or your customer stand..
posted by Chuckles at 6:18 AM on March 11, 2006

I'd go for the free book and a good story to tell. Unless your image is truely unique in some way they'll probably just move on to something else if you ask for too much in the way of cold hard cash. But hey, I'm just guessing.
posted by tiamat at 6:46 AM on March 11, 2006

I'd suggest going to the library and picking up a few books on copyright and selling your work. There are some other issues you need to think about.

1: the scope of the permission you give them. Do you want to tie permission to just this work, or give them permission to use your image in derivative works? You might want to limit permission to just this title. Do you retain any rights to the work?

2: What kind of credit are you going to get?

3: Do you get copies of the book?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:01 AM on March 11, 2006

If you're going to ask for a fee, here's a calculator (based on curculation, type of publication, and size of photo used) for standard editorial usage photo fees:

I've been approached before--and if it's a major publishing house involved, I don't give away my work. Part of it is because the consensus in the (pro) photography community seems to be that underpricing (whether for live events, editorial work, etc.) by professionals undermines everyone else in the field and cheapens the work. However, if you are thrilled at the prospect of having your image in a real book, I say go for it for free (and I mean that genuinely and without snark).
posted by availablelight at 9:11 AM on March 11, 2006

Yeah, I'd say think about how easy it would be for them to find a similar photo. If they can get it on Corbis for $90, well...I don't imagine they can because that probably would have been the first place they'd look.

I work at a large publisher. If I found a real person (as opposed to a photo house) that had what I needed, I'd probably offer a couple hundred (and of course print whatever credit the owner of the image would like). I've never had someone ask for more or turn me down. The books I work on are much less expensive. But not sure how the print run compares. I don't think it's out of line for you to inquire as to the estimated first print run. But I imagine they'll probably offer a modest payment before you even get the chance, which, if it were me, I'd take.
posted by lampoil at 10:13 AM on March 11, 2006

I'd say it depends on how well known the author, and how wide spread the book will be circulated. If big - then yeah, ask for money.

He may be looking for a freebie - because if he was willing to pay, there are sites for flegling photographers, where royalty images cost $5 and less, like istockphoto. (Unless of course your photo is more original than that)
posted by delladlux at 10:35 AM on March 11, 2006

can you link the photo please?
posted by crunchland at 12:29 PM on March 11, 2006

In your shoes, I would probably ask for a credit in the book and a free copy.
posted by cribcage at 1:27 PM on March 11, 2006

I work for a big publishing house and have emailed many a photographer of a random photo found on the internet to see if we can use it in a book. If it helps, most of them say we can use it for free (for which I am always extremely grateful). I credit the photographer (and web site if desired) on the copyright page and usually try to send the photographer a free copy of the book.

If the photographer asks for a fee but doesn't name a price, I offer $30-$50, which the photographer almost always accepts.

Generally we'll pay an individual up to about $200 if we can't get the photo anywhere else. MMV depending on print run and budget and other issues, of course.
posted by nevers at 7:05 PM on March 11, 2006

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