Today I turned a publisher’s request for a single photo—with no offer of payment—into a 5-photo sale for hundreds of dollars. It’s a lesson for me, and maybe for you, in what to do right.
I was contacted by a Japanese travel book publisher, who wanted to use the image at left from my Burning Man Festival photos (caution, some nudity) in their “Dream Trips” guidebook, which will include a chapter on Burning Man as a tourist destination. (Of course, the notion of busloads of Japanese tourists arriving at Burning Man is pretty damn funny. If you’re not familiar with Burning Man, it’s the annual festival of “radical self-expression” held in the Nevada desert — a photographer’s dreamland of fantastic characters, art, and spectacle — but definitely not for the faint of heart.)
Anyway, this publisher offered no payment, only credit.
First thing I did right: I asked for payment. Too often we photographers will turn cheap tricks just to see our photos published, but I wasn’t in the mood to get down on my knees today.
Second thing I did right: I didn’t get greedy. I asked for a reasonable amount, considering that the photo was going to be used small, as part of a collage (they had sent a mockup). I mentally extrapolated what I thought a publisher could reasonably afford if they had to pay for every photo in the collage, in every chapter of the book, and politely asked for that amount. Plus some copies of the book.
Third thing I did right: I immediately sent off the high-res image to them, showing that I was on the ball and ready to deliver fast. Publishers are always on deadlines.
Fourth thing I did right: Knowing that publishers are always on deadlines and that lots of people (including photographers) are flaky and slow to respond, I told them: “If you have trouble getting images from any of the other photographers you’ve selected, feel free to browse my website for photos to fill the gaps. I’ll offer additional images at the same price.”
They came back with a list of images they were having hard time acquiring, and asked if I had anything similar.
Fifth thing I did right: I immediately did the research and sent them links to similar photos of mine. I even sent links to specific photos by another photographer, my friend Scott London, when I knew he had images to fit some of their needs that I couldn’t fill.
They came back offering to buy 5 photos of mine, instead of the original one.
Sixth thing I did right: I doubled the price on two of the five images, because they had selected some nudes that had required model releases (and in one case a payment to the model.)
Again they agreed!
Bottom line: A request for a single free photo turned into a multi-hundred-dollar sale of five images.
It’s a good reminder that we do well in life when we step up and help other people solve their problems. I made it clear to this publisher that if they were prepared to pay a reasonable fee, then I would help locate the photos they needed, respond quickly, and deliver the goods fast, all of which reduces their workload and keeps them on deadline.
It was a great way to start the day.
Now I can’t wait to meet these Japanese tourists at Burning Man.