31 January 2009

Licensing Photographs for Publication

When properly handled, placing attractive images in a trade or consumer publication
is a win for everyone. The publication gets better images, the architect gets favorable
coverage and the photographer gets a licensing fee for the use of the images.
Editorial images have tremendous value for both the publisher and the architect.
The magazine benefits because high-caliber professional photography adds to
both the design and depth of the stories. Good architecture, represented by good
photography, attracts a more affluent and professional readership. This allows the
magazine to charge premium rates for advertising and buffs the magazine’s prestige.
Although difficult to measure, prestige is more than a feel-good; it smoothes the
road and opens doors for the magazine’s editors and sales reps.
The architect benefits by gaining visibility and renown. Not only is the cost of an
editorial-use license far lower than the price of an ad in that same magazine, but
the credibility of editorial content is also far higher than advertising. In addition,
the architect can purchase reprints from the publisher at a fraction of the cost of
commissioning a similar piece from a graphics house or advertising agency.
Besides these benefits to the architect and publisher, the publication can benefit the
entire architectural profession and especially its students and emerging practitioners.
Architectural designs are not created in a vacuum but within an evolving tradition
14 | Commissioning Architectural Photography Commissioning Architectural Photography | 15
or cultural milieu, which both influences and is influenced by the newest designs. Written descriptions and drawings are important in this process, but photographic images are the most direct form of communication.
Without photos, architects would have to travel to see examples of successful design. It is no exaggeration
to say that good photography is a bedrock element of architectural progress.
Conflicts can arise, however, when the publisher, architect and photographer have
different expectations about rights and licenses. For example, if the architect has
submitted the images as part of a story pitch, the publisher may believe that it’s the
architect’s responsibility to secure the publication rights. The architect may not see why
there should be any restrictions on the uses of the photographs. The photographer
may be unsympathetic to the publisher’s deadline pressure, and so on.
It is a rare magazine publisher who would run a feature story without pictures, especially
if the images had been instrumental in getting the story planning started. At the same
time, the publisher would prefer not to drop the story out of hand; the magazine staff
has probably invested time in story development and would have to find something else
to run in its place, with the deadline inexorably getting closer each day. However, if the
necessary rights are not in hand, those are the unpleasant choices the publisher faces.
This discussion refers primarily to magazines and other periodicals, including journals,
newsletters and their online equivalents. However, we do not mean to exclude books from
the discussion. Deadlines are usually less urgent in the book business, but the upfront
investment of staff time and writers’ advances can create the same financial dynamics.
In the worst case, there may be a standoff, with neither the architect nor the publisher
agreeing to pay for the use rights and the photographer unwilling to give the rights
for free. If so, the book or the article will be killed and everyone will lose something.
Since the magazine receives the most direct financial benefit from the use of the images,
it is most often the magazine that pays the photographer for the necessary license. The
publication typically contacts the photographer directly and pays a fee commensurate with
the value the images contribute to the magazine’s success. Several factors determine this
fee, including the number of images to be used, their printed size and their placement.
Thus, a photo used on the cover has a higher value to the magazine than photos used
inside. Other factors include the magazine’s editorial payment rates for photos that it commissions
from freelancers, the magazine’s circulation and the rates it charges advertisers.
Licensing of images for books follows the same principles as magazine licensing.
The fee is based on the type of book (e.g., college text, popular press, coffee-table,
trade paperback), the press run, and the size and placement of the images.

The publisher may refuse to pay this fee, either as a negotiating ploy or an attempt
to shift its editorial cost to another party. It is in the publisher’s interest to get the
license at the lowest cost, of course, and he may sometimes play a little hardball.
However, most photographers have established pricing, which is based on the value
that the images bring to the publication. Despite the publisher’s protestations, it’s
quite rare that a publication truly cannot pay. When that happens, it’s a sign that
the publication is soon to fold, because rights licenses are such a small part of the
total editorial, printing and distribution cost.
If the publisher can’t or won’t pay for the rights, the other option is for the architect to
obtain the editorial-use license. The cost is the same either way, and many architects find
that spending time dickering over who pays is costlier than simply taking the initiative.
It is rare that an architect will license broad publication rights in advance, although
it can be done. Without knowing what use a future publisher or art director might
make of the images, the photographer would write the license to cover a wide
range of possibilities and charge accordingly. This may not be a wise use of the
architect’s working capital.
It is often argued that a photo credit, like a byline, has value to the photographer as
a form of advertising. This is true in one sense: Its value depends on its prominence on
the page. However, it’s not true that the credit can be used to negotiate down the
license fee. Most photographers have already factored its value into their fee structure. In this respect, photographers and architects have much in common. Architects like to see their firm’s name on the
dedication placard, but they nevertheless expect to be paid for their design work. Professional photographers
view a credit line in much the same way. A visible photo credit may improve the photographer’s
chances of getting future work, but it’s not payment for the work that was completed.
In the optimum scenario, when an architect and a publisher begin discussing a
story, they decide who will be responsible for securing the license rights for the
images they want. The fee depends not on who pays it but on the value that the
specific use brings to the publication. In practice, the value of high-quality images,
both to the publication and to the architect, is always much greater than the cost—
and that’s why everyone wins when the deal is completed.

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