Sunday, November 20, 2011

Losing the Sale

I have very little – or, at least at the time, no experience - with monetizing my photography. I have frequently been approached in the past from persons wishing to use photography for some sort of purpose – school project, advertising for their mom and pop business, etc. Never offering payment but early on I usually acquiesced to this sort of thing, even the business requests since they were almost all South African wishing to use some of my African photos. I suppose I would do this less and less nowadays – the more I read about companies – especially large ones – trying to leverage amateur photography for pennies on the dollar if not for ‘credit’ the less likely I am to give any company the benefit of the doubt. Especially after what happened to me back in the spring of 2010.

While logging onto flickr, I noticed that I had a new email message from someone with a Korean name that I didn’t recognize. For simplicities sake, we’ll call him Mr. Kim (although I don’t know if it ever was a he or not – sorry, I’m not too good with Korean names). Mr. Kim had seen one of my photos and was asking if it could be used in a design project that his company was undertaking. Now, I don’t think Mr. Kim’s first language was English so the message was a little hard to decipher, nor was there any mention of who Mr. Kim represented or who his company was working with. Given all of this, I was inclined to just write it off as flickr spam and move on. Except, I noticed that Mr. Kim’s signature block had a 312 area code number and the word ‘Gensler’. Gensler meant nothing to me, but 312 obviously did (since it’s the original area coed for the Chicago area, of course) and so I turned to my good friend Google…and found out that Mr. Kim was working for a multinational advertising agency. Okay, now this is getting interesting. I contacted Mr. Kim back and stated that I was interested by his offer but would need to know a little more – who was their client and how did they intend to use my work (I did know that both the client and usage play into how much they should pay for a work). Turns out that Gensler was redecorating the corporate offices of British Petroleum in Chicago, and they wanted to use one of my photos to create a three-panel portrait with each panel being 30x30 inches. Wow. A multinational company (big oil!) wants to use one of my photos to make a 900 square inch print. How does one license that?

I sure didn’t know but a frantic week of internet research and consultations with other photographers got me exactly nowhere. There didn’t seem to be any sort of pricing schemes that covered something like this and the photographers I know had never licensed anything like this or in this manner. I didn’t want to let Gensler make the first offer as I figured they’d probably lowball me (I had no idea…) but I was at a loss. I figured that if I had something that BP wanted, I had – in the words of our former governor – a valuable fucking thing – but I wasn’t sure how to price it. So, I did what anyone would do – I winged it.

I basically used stock licensing as a guide to figure out the worth of this thing. Here’s what I knew: large multinational corporation, wants to exhibit in a large, highly trafficked area (corporate lobby), is making a print rather than licensing it for a set length of time (so they’re effectively buying me out), and wants to run it at 900 square inches. It wasn’t a great formula but the Gensler guys were starting to pressure me to make a pitch, so I did: $1500.

Now sports fans, I don’t know what your reaction is to this price. You probably think I was (am?) crazy for setting an asking price so high. You may be right, but if you can point me towards the right formula for determining the real worth of my photo, please let me know (seriously, I really would like to know). I knew I was making a high offer, but based on what I outlined above, I thought I was at least going in the right direction on this. Besides, I figured Gensler would at least make a counter offer.

Not so much.

About a day later, Mr. Kim wrote me back stating that they normally paid, like, $50 for something like this. And that was pretty much it. I don’t think that $50 was pitched as a counter offer – it came across as: “Wow. You are really off base.” And that was it. No more negotiations and no photo for BP. A month later, the Deepwater Horizon sank in the gulf and BP had bigger concerns than decorating their offices.

Looking back, I don’t really have any regrets. Sure, I’d have liked to have made a sale, but I guess the experience has it’s own value. Gensler’s obvious lowball offer softens the pain considerably too. I’m still not sure what the proper price for my photo was, but I KNOW that $50 is a joke. Really, my biggest feeling coming out the whole thing is that I was pissed off. Pissed off that I basically had had my time wasted doing all this research and studying, only to find out that Gensler wasn’t really interested in making a serious offer at all. I figure that Gensler got their photo from someone else on flickr who’s more interested in the fact that, wow! their photo is hanging in BP’s corporate offices.

I’d have rather had the money. Or, barring that, the experience.

Pretty Blue Lights [N.Off is N.Off]

Would you pay $1500 for this?


  1. Hi Dave-

    If you sold the print to BP, would you be forbidden from selling it again to someone else?

    If you could sell it again, I would look into how much a large print of say, the Sears Tower or the Lakefront would cost at an art store and price it around that figure. Would they frame it or would you?

    If you could not sell it again because they wanted an unique piece of art, then you can charge a higher price.

    But even if it was the first case, $50 seems awfully low. The guy selling prints at the Courthouse flea market charges more than $50 for much smaller prints of his photos.


  2. Jon -

    With regards to being able to resell the photo, that would depend on what sort of rights we negotiated. Ideally (if I was in Chicago), I would just make the print myself (however large) and simply sell them that.

    As for pricing, you can't entirely scale like that - placement and usage really do impact on price. Yeah, I guess an art director at Gensler could simply go to the flea market and buy a print - and maybe they do - but I think I went about this the right way. Talking to some professional photographers last year about this incident, while they though my initial big was maybe a little high, all of them thought the bidding should start in the four figures.

    - CtGR

  3. Harmantas,

    You should have sent Mr. Kim a polaroid of the BSB for $20 and called it a day. Personally I think the RAND Corp., would have offered more dough for this cool print.