Photography: Caro’s Lines
Making money from an image involves two steps. The first is to shoot a picture that someone will pay to use. That’s the fun bit. It’s the step that absorbs most of your effort and it’s the activity that turns enthusiasts into photographers. Get it right, place the pictures where people can see them — on your own website or on a photo-sharing site — and you might just receive an enquiry from a designer, an editor or a publisher asking if they can license your image. Your reply is the next stage. When you’re looking to close the deal, it’s no less important than the first but it’s also one in which photographers invest far less work, putting at risk the rewards their photography has earned.
The goal for a buyer is always to move as efficiently and as quickly as possible from interest to use. Get your reply wrong and you’ll make the deal harder than it needs to be, increasing the chances that the buyer will move on to someone easier and faster to work with. So what should you say when you receive an email from a buyer asking if they can license an image — apart from “yes”?
How Big is That Picture?
Buyers want different kinds of information about a photo they’re considering using. Most important is technical data. Place an image on Flickr and they’ll be able to see a choice of the sizes available but it’s worth confirming the range that they can license and the dimensions of the image they’ve requested. Different sizes will command different prices so the wider the range of size options you can offer, the greater your ability to meet the buyer’s needs. Your answer then should include the size of the image the buyer wants, expressed in pixels or inches with DPI, and a list of other sizes available. (Make sure that those are original sizes though; images that have been stretched or enlarged are of little use to buyers.)
Next to those sizes should be prices, and this is much harder to estimate. It’s unlikely that a buyer will have time to negotiate and with stock sites offering millions of images at fixed prices, there’s little reason to do so. It will be far quicker to continue searching than email a counteroffer and wait for a reply — if there is one.
The easiest solution is to compare your images with microstock, the biggest competition. Even this isn’t as easy as it might look though. Stock sites tend to price their image in terms of credits rather than dollars and those credits are sold at different prices depending on how the buyer uses the site; the more credits they buy, the less they pay for each. You’ll only be selling one image so you won’t be able to offer bulk discounts so calculating the exact amount the buyer would pay if he simply headed to iStockPhoto instead will give a rough figure rather than an exact one.
And it would probably be the wrong one too. One of the advantages of buying a stock image is that the buying process is so simple. Having found the right photo, the buyer has to do little more than click to purchase. And because regular buyers will already have subscriptions, it won’t even cost them any extra. If a buyer is searching away from a stock site then it’s probably because they’re looking for something different, a characteristic that can allow you to charge more than rock-bottom prices for your original imagery. How much more you can charge will depend on the size of the publication — the bigger the company and the larger the audience, the more generous the budget is likely to be — but budgets can vary so widely that you’ll always be shooting if not entirely in the dark then at least in very low light. One option is to look at iStockPhoto’s Vetta collection, an inventory of premium images whose prices begin at 20 credits rather than the usual two. There’s a good chance that that’s where your competition is likely to lie.
Would You Also Be Interested in These?
So your reply should include the size details of the image the buyer was interested in, a list of other sizes available, and their prices. You should also state how you plan to deliver the image: by email or FTP, or do you have a way for the buyer to download directly? And of course, you’ll need to state the terms and the payment details. If a buyer is approaching you, it’s usually because they have one specific use in mind for that particular image so you should be able to charge on a rights-managed basis allowing the buyer to use the photo once.
That information should be enough to make the purchase smooth but if you want to go a little further, you can also point the buyer to other photos you might have showing similar images and provide a detailed description of the photo’s subject. Your reply to an enquiry then might look a little like this:
Thanks for your message and your interest in licensing “Hangzhou Lake.” The picture was shot in 2009 on the northern shore of Hangzhou’s famous West Lake (Xi Hu) and shows the Leifeng Pagoda in the background.
That particular image is 565 x 850 pixels but it’s also available for single use in the following sizes and at the following rates:
283 x 424 $20
565 x 850 $30
1129 x 1701 $45
1807 x 2720 $65
Payment should be made by Paypal to this email address stating the size of the image you wish to purchase. The image will be delivered by email within 24 hours.
A larger collection of my images from China is also available from my website. If you wish to license any of those images, do let me know!
With all of that information stated clearly in your reply there’s only one more thing that you can do to ensure that your sale goes through: send it fast!