Tag Archives: negotiation

Why Does It Cost So Much?


 Why Does It cost so much? –or– Why don’t I own it?


Filed under, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard this….”

 Knowledge & Power

The education of commercial art buyers at the client direct level is awash in a sea of misinformation and self-appointed know-it-alls. Some days I see the advantage of having a personal firing squad.


Professional Photography costs X dollars because commercial licensing of intellectual property is a component of the service we sell.  Referring specifically to professional photography, we don’t make widgets. We don’t sell real estate. We don’t collect data and mine it for you. We do work on commission, we work at creating intellectual property in the form of visuals and it’s the intellectual property rights built into each and every photograph we build that provides us the ability to make a living wage. Licensing the use of intellectual property for your business or personal needs is part of our business model.


If one works in a situation where someone else carries the weight for you, (benefits, salary, retirement, etc.) then the idea of artists’ intellectual property rights may indeed be a mystery. Add in the costs of doing business, the need to make a reasonable profit and our pricing structure and you have our business model just about summed up.


It’s painful when we negotiate and end up not only having been denied our licensing rights, but maddening when those rights aren’t even acknowledged. It’s not a gift or an entitlement. It’s a right. Artists own their creative works unless they sign them away. It’s the creative-art-patent.


 Product vs. Expression

We do not create products. We create the expression of an idea. It’s custom designed to fit your needs and desires. If you’re willing to pay for it you can own our intellectual property rights by an outright purchase and transfer of our copyright. Not recommended of course due to the expense, but it ‘s available. I’ve sold it a few times in my career.


If you’re unable or unwilling to purchase our intellectual work outright then we’ll come to an agreement that let’s you license the portions you need and we’ll keep the rest. We’re then free (through our ingenuity and efforts) to look for other opportunities and revenue streams. Again, this is our business model.


When you purchase a home you are purchasing the property rights to that home and land. When you buy a DVD you own the physical disk but not its’ content. You’ve licensed the content for a specific use. Period. That intellectual property is the property of the creating party….movie studio or independent filmmaker.


I lose projects because ownership issues (my rights) drive costs past what seem like arbitrarily low budgets. Education about this issue is important to both sides so a mutually beneficial understanding is developed.


I’m not inflexible in my pricing either. I’ve adjusted with the state of the economy but it isn’t enough; a request for a quote came in: ten business professional headshots, retouched and ready to post online. The shoot was to be on location about 13 miles from my studio. I normally charge $600.00 a shot for volume jobs like this. But I wanted to see where the bottom was so I came in at the ridiculously low price of $95.00 a shot. I was crazy to let this quote out of my office but I needed to see where bottom was. But in fact I was too high! Some other knucklehead (dumber than me) low-balled the crap out of it after I already low-balled the crap out of it. That’s four low balls! And it wasn’t enough.


Now where’s that firing squad?


 And Yet There’s More

But it’s also something much more. More profound. More disturbing than at any other time in my career.


It’s the inability of individuals and businesses to accept that bargaining for these rights (or even the effort to understand and grasp the concept of ownership, licensing, copyright and associated costs) makes us crazy. Ready. Aim….


It costs more than you realize, or want to spend, or have been told is your budget to spend because it’s convenient not to think about what it takes to engage a professional who trades in the photographic arts.


The copyright law that protects every creative’s intellectual property rights includes photographers. And movie studios. And authors. And songwriters. And poets. And comedy acts. And TV shows. And professional sports leagues. We’re in good company and we aim to stay put.


So please listen when we tell you the proper way to license or purchase our intellectual property. It protects you from unauthorized use. If you use protected work that has been registered it gets expensive in a hurry.


But you know that right?

 Let’s Work Together

You don’t think I’m going to press my advantage if I catch you? Most likely I will. It’s about respect and acknowledgement of what our rights and protections are. Rights and protections we fight to keep in spite of what our government of the United States of Business tries to do. Daily. You have rights and protections that you want honored and enforced, company trademarks, patents and the like.


It’s a two-way street and today’s economic environment is no excuse for fostering an attitude that belittles the process, diminishes the relationship and adds to everyone’s stress level.


Thanks for reading.



For Arts’ Sake, Own It!

Portrait of Tom Schumacher

Copyright Owners Unite!

The single biggest headache I’ve had (and continue to have) as a self-employed professional artist is getting across the idea to my clientele that I own MY artwork and that they are merely licensing the use of MY artwork for their purposes. If (and only if), I sign over MY copyrights to my clientele, do they then take “ownership” of MY artwork. Other than that act, we self-employed artists always own our work. Period. Easy concept to say. Easy concept to grasp. Hard concept to put into play.


I’ll give you my observations from listening to others talking about their various copyright ownership negotiations over the years: They were afraid of not getting the job. (reasonable) They were afraid of making the client mad. (again reasonable) They did not know they owned their own work. (WHAT? THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT KNOWING THAT!) When you work for yourself what do you have? An expectation of security? An expectation of enough money? An expectation of owning your own home? An expectation of having a comfortable after work life? An expectation of contentment? You get the idea.

You can have all of the above and more but you have to fight (negotiate) for it. Who can predict the future? (Can you predict future cash flow from the photos in your archive?) The US copyright law recognizes artists’ copyrights. Don’t let clients walk all over these rights. Clients do this because you let them. Stop it. Now. Fight (negotiate, explain, cajole) for what is yours by an act of law and by being the creator of YOUR art.

Artists by nature (intelligent design?) are right-brained (not hair-brained, not left-brained) and frequently back away from the tough task of being their own advocate when it comes to pricing and protecting their work. Another important hat we self-employed professional artists wear is that of educator. It is our job to ensure that our client base understands the copyright law and how it affects the price of professional photography. Engage in the work ethic of copyright ownership negotiation and you will enjoy many long-term self-employed professional artist benefits (positive cash flow being one).

For example (you knew one was coming, didn’t you?), in 1994 I was commissioned by The Walt Disney Company’s feature animation unit to photograph several hundred artists, administrators, technical support staff, drivers and executives who worked on Pocahontas. I was paid well for the project and one item of particular importance during the negotiations was physical ownership of MY film and copyrights. I explained why (see above) these two items were important to me. There were some tense moments but in the end I maintained my position. I am not in any way suggesting my client at the time (who to this day is a friend) was weak. Not at all. He was in a power position and could have gone to another provider. I was counting on my relationship with him, his intellect and my talents as a negotiator and portrait artist to win the contract. He won too in that he had selected a photographer who was a seasoned professional, who had completed dozens of previous assignments, who was going to help produce the project and who always delivered results. Everybody won that day. The book turned out well and all was good in the land of Disney.

In July of this year, I get an email from a production company doing a documentary film on the history of Disney animation. They want to use a photo from the aforementioned Pocahontas portrait project. They had checked around the studio archives and research library and couldn’t find MY film anywhere. (Go figure!) So the producer (a former client) suggested they contact me. We discussed their desire to include MY image in their film. I asked them to send me a contract spelling out exactly how they intended to use MY photograph. I was able to negotiate a decent sum for the use of MY image. Because I kept ownership of MY work, I was able to use that leverage to get what I wanted while giving them what they desired. For me it was found money. For them it was a problem solved. Fifteen years after the fact, I was paid again for the use of MY photograph. A good reason to own your own artwork. You never know when that phone call or email will come. And when it does, you want to be prepared.

To be honest, I hate this part of the business but it goes with being a professional self-employed artist. And frankly some photographic assignments don’t require this negotiation. I decide on a case-by-case basis what’s worth fighting for. I learn by doing. Win some. Lose some. Break even on some. That is the reality. But keep at it and eventually you’ll arrive at a place where you’re able to secure these important rights when need be. That is the goal. The government gives these rights to YOU. Don’t give them away, don’t ignore them. They’re precious and need to be respected by YOU and in turn your clientele will respect them too.

Good luck to all of us.