This is the first of a series of articles to address real-world photo pricing scenarios.
A graphic designer who maintains a Instagram account was contacted by a design agency to use some of her Instagram photos on a coffee bag.
“We’ve been working on branding for a new hotel in [redacted] and I’m now putting together some designs for coffee bags that will be sold in the restaurant. One of the thoughts we had was to use lifestyle photos of [location] on the bags…there’d be only one coffee blend that they’d sell, but there would be four different photos on the front for guests to choose from. The coffee would only be available to purchase at the restaurant in the hotel.
“I threw in a few of your shots that felt right for this. We’re still working on presenting this concept to the client but our thought would be that you’d get a credit on the sticker and there could be a small write up near where the coffee is displayed. As well, the hotel would post the collaboration on social media, etc.”
The client would print 1,000 bags of each Instagram photo. This is a small market (<400k population).
How would you price it?
We asked three photographer how they would approach the project.
1. Sol Neelman, Portland, OR
Whenever I’m in such a situation, I reach out to a photo agent friend in LA, who does consultations on the side. And when photo friends ask me for advice on pricing, I always suggest they do the same. Best to work with someone with proper experience providing estimates, rather than me blindly throwing darts. Plus, photo agents often know the art buyers and agencies well enough to smoothly find a proper rate, not to mention iron out any issues that arise during the project.
The commission I pay, which can be a large chunk of cash, is such a small price in the big scheme. And it allows me to focus on the project and making clients happy without getting bogged down with the business side. Can’t tell you how much better I sleep knowing I have an experienced agent working on my behalf, especially when things go sideways.
2. Chip Litherland, Sarasota, FL
At first glance, this is a pretty simple request for stock, which could be done simply through a sale on my Photoshelter archive site. In fact, you can go onto my site, price out retail packaging for a food product with the extra breakdown of region (1 state), distribution (1,000 units each), and placement (front) and it spits out a price of $825 per image – which was generated from the Fotoquote embedded tool. At four images you’re looking at $3,300 total for an initial run of 4,000 bags of coffee. I’d be happy not having to do much of anything and sending a link for the designer to download and pay. After fees and taxes, that’s not bad for 30 seconds of an email. It’s the beauty of retaining copyright and making quality marketable work.
All that being said, I would ask some questions first to get a good sense of what this firm actually needs and to limit that usage to that. I would ask if they have a budget and if the answer is no, then I would move on and end the conversation. I LOVE coffee, but I would never get enough in barter to make “free” work. If the answer is, “what would you charge?” then it’s off to find that sweet spot. I would do some research as to how much they are charging. Based on an average price of a bag of coffee of $10 (to make the math easy), they’re bringing in $40,000 from this initial run if they sell out. I have no idea what their profit margin is there, but looking at $3300 ($825 each) for just licensing the four photos may or may not be too much, but it seems like a number I’d be happy with starting with. I would only discount if they get up to 6 or more images, in which case I would do a percentage discount for 6-10, 10-25, 25 + but in this case it’s just the four. I always offer a discount, though, after the initial license to help spur more resales. In this case, I’d offer 25% off each additional group of 1,000 units they do, which saves them money long term if it takes off but keeps money coming in.
I never want to go into a relationship starting low just “to get my foot in the door.” It’s already in. I want to kick the door open and really price my work fairly, not over charging, in order to keep a positive customer relationship going. I never worry about coming in too high, because once you throw a number out, they’ll either balk and say “whoa” and run away, which means you are way too far off in prices any way to make it work. If you start low, you stay low.
3. Jenna Isaacson, Portland, ME
In this situation I’d definitely try to feel out if there is more potential to work with the design firm for the hotel/restaurant to be had beyond the bags themselves before creating an estimate. If the photographer is already in the same city as this new hotel/restaurant, are there other image branding needs the design firm has for the hotel? Would they be interested in looking at other images beyond the ones on Instagram? Perhaps they need imagery for the walls of their conference rooms, lobby, website?
If they don’t want to commit to any other potential work, use that as a sign that you should be firm in pricing what they initially asked for. People are notorious for choosing food products based on the prettiness of the label, so they’re obviously saying they think your images will help sell their product.
Four images, 1000 bags of each image– I’d say at least $4000, as there will likely be additional use (marketing materials, etc) to go along with the product. If there is a desire, once they sell out of those 4000 bags, to use the image again, retain the right to re-negotiate the rate. Possibly a percentage of the sales.
What did she charge in real life?
The designer requested $100/image and the offer was accepted without further negotiation. As photography is not her primary income stream, she thought this would be a good introduction to the firm for future design/illustration work.
The design firm took advantage of the “anchoring effect” by effectively making the first offer of $0 and exposure. Countering with $100 therefore seemed extravagant, but the lack of negotiation over price suggests there was more money available. Would the client have paid 10x what they did? We asked!
The Client Says
We wouldn’t consider this a typical scenario, but our query to the design agency for more information in the spirit of helping to educate other creatives was answered. The designer responsible for the project responded:
“The coffee bags were a small part of a much larger project of rebranding a new hotel in [redacted]. In our contract we had a number of projects that were built into the scope but as we are nearing the opening date there are a number of small tasks that are trickling in with small budgets that need to get done to help broaden the brand’s reach within the space.
“Since the hotel is being completely gutted and refurnished we’ve had to resort to using stock photography for the project conveying more of a lifestyle experience than a literal one as rooms and details aren’t done yet. Since the entire renovation of the hotel has so many moving parts things like photography budgets get nipped and constrained as construction costs balloon forcing us to be creative in how we treat stock photos and find photographers.
“Part of the brand positioning of this particular hotel is to connect with a local creative community of makers and doers in [redacted]…The concept with the coffee bags is that we feature a local Instagram photographer every six months or so with a series of shots on the bags so customers can grab whatever photo they like best and take home or give as a gift…
“So ultimately, there wasn’t really a ‘budget’ for photography on this particular project. This was a small piece of a very large puzzle, but we felt that using local talent was a good way to support the community and get a great end product. Our hope was that since we couldn’t offer much money the exposure would be a viable trade. [redacted] needed to get some money and we originally agreed on a low fee of $50 per image but as our agency learned more about the number of bags being produced it was agreed upon that we’d do $100/shot.
“Now, the trick for us is to show the value to the client. $100/image was about the max we could have gotten for this particular project. We could have just used the stock we had purchased for other parts of the project for free and that’s hard for a client to understand. Ultimately, it seemed like a good fit and our client agreed once we talked them through how they could use this collaboration in their social media channels as well.”
You might argue that if photography is so important, they should have found the $800-1000/image that our three photographers quoted. But the designer provided this guidance:
“Nearly every agency wants fantastic original photography for each and every project they work on. It makes the work better. Period. But, ultimately, when client’s choose and agency and agree to pay them a fee, they don’t often realize that things like photography aren’t included. So they’re paying the agency $X and when we suggest photography there’s always a grumble. Most of the time we’re stuck trying to make stock look original as budgets have already been set. We try to be up front about these things but it doesn’t always get through.”
Most designers that we’ve spoken to in the past are strong advocates for photographers and great photography, and aren’t looking to nickel and dime their fellow creative. We often suggest the photographers directly ask what the budget is for a particular job. Understanding the context of the project (e.g. the designers are trying to promote local artists instead of using stock) arms with photographer with better data to either accept or walk away from the job.