Walking Away When the Negotiations Fail


Walking Away When the Negotiations Fail

Pricing, negotiating, and licensing a stock photo is an integral part of many outdoor photographers business. Being successful at negotiating is a skill that some photographers have and others do not. We all want to make a sale and get top dollar for our photos.

If you think about it, clients use our images to help them make money so we should make money as well. If a client licenses the use of one of my images and makes $50 million as a result, I should be paid for helping them get there. This is why we try our best to establish a price that’s fair up front.

Several years ago I was hired by an ad agency to shoot a major outdoor equipment catalog. As I almost always do, I negotiated a usage fee based on 2 year usage and after that the images became available for stock photos.

Later, one of the models from the shoot, a professional mountain biker, referred me to the bike manufacturer who sponsors him. During the catalog shoot the model was riding one of the company’s bikes and now they were looking for an image to be used in an ad. I selected numerous images that matched the client’s criteria, prepared a PDF presentation, and emailed that to the client.

A week later I got an email from the client saying they wanted to use one image and got the usual “How much!” questions. Since I base my prices on usage, I replied inquiring where would it run, how long, how big, and so on? I was told 2 mountain bike magazines, 1/2 page, 2 times each magazine.

Any Photograph Used Commercially is Worth More Than a Dollar

I then established a price based on the magazines circulation, size, and so on, and came up with a $2500.00 license fee. I sent the client an email and stated the price and how I derived it.

I got a reply and in a nutshell: “Clearly whoever publishes your guide does not understand the bike industry” and he

mountain biking bend oregon
The Mountain Biking IMage

offered “I will give you $700 for unlimited usage!”

Me: “Last unlimited usage I licensed was $12,000 and this pricing guide represents what photographers in this business charge or consider fair pricing based on usage.”

Him: “Okay, forget the unlimited usage, how much for these uses?”

Me: “I would love to work with you on this and am willing to drop the license fee to $2000 with a photo credit.”

I don’t view photo credits as having any value, but use it for negotiation. The phone does not ring off the hook when you get a photo credit. It is a negotiating point and successful negotiating is the key to making sales. I will lower the price in exchange for the credit. You shouldn’t give anything away without asking for something back, even a worthless photo credit.

Him: “That is way too much and I don’t understand how you can say that is a fair or reasonable price. It’s not worth it and I don’t know why people pay that for a picture.”

By now I am somewhat insulted and figure there will be no sale and I am not going to give away the shot.

Me: “This is how I make my living, licensing photographs. If the price is out of your budget I understand. But my product has value as does yours and when you suggest that I am out of line here I am compelled to say the same to you:  why would anyone PAY $4500 for a bicycle?” (That was his average price.)

His reply: none.

I walked away from the sale!

What is important to think about here is what fair value is? I have no doubt there is someone who will argue about my “excessive fee” while others say it’s not enough. What an image is “worth” or its fair value is debatable.

I was just at the NANPA convention and in the trade show I admired a nice looking ball head. I would like one with a quick release and when I inquired to the price I was told $369.00. I have a hard time finding the value there when the ball head costs as much as the tripod.

Would I like to make $500 or $1000 or $1500 sale today? You bet, but I think it is just as important to make the sale fair to both parties. I might have gone down further but he was set on his low ball price. Any sale at any price is not necessarily a good sale despite the lousy economy. He saw enough value in my image to want to use it but wasn’t willing to pay for it. We all view value differently.

Did I quote too much? I don’t think so and I figure he only has to sell probably a half dozen bikes to pay my fee. That seems easy to do when I determined the print run and the amount of impressions that ad would have.

What would the sales rep at the trade show say if  I offer $200 for that ball head?

You win some and you lose some.

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