how to deal with commercial requests to use your blog images

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Pitch & Post is delighted to introduce our first guest contributor, Sasha Wilkins of Liberty London Girl.  As one of the first and most prominent bloggers in the UK, Sasha’s success and experience in building a digital business (not to mention her previous magazine and journalism expertise) has helped to carve the path for all of us who followed suit and started blogs.  

How to deal with commercial requests to use your blog images by magazine and online publishers

You’ve just received an email asking if magazine X can use a photo they’ve found online by you in their publication. What next? Well, there are three things to consider: fees, rights, and credits.

I say ALWAYS ask for a fee. Don’t expect to be given it, knowing how tiny most publication’s budgets are these days but please, do ask. (And scroll down for why, even if you end up not negotiating a fee, it’s usually worth saying yes to a picture request.) Being flattered and wanting exposure for your blog are two splendid things, but don’t let them blind you to the reality: you deserve to be paid for your content – and the time that it took you to create it, and that every other contributor to that publication will be asking for a fee for their work. Above all, do not feel embarrassed about asking: there is a very good reason to do so, and it is all to do with budgets.

I started my career on a picture desk at Conde Nast, so know of what I speak. Firstly, there is a set budget for pics, and another one for words. They are separate. (Connected to this is the average page budget, which means they can spend thousands on a ten page fashion story, and balance the books against an ed’s letter or merchandising page which are budget free, as they can just use an image from the magazine’s archives – or none at all). Incidentally, this is why main book fashion stories are always around at least eight pages: they have to work out cost-wise. If you see a twenty page story in Vogue, then you can guarantee that somewhere a managing editor is weeping over a pile of photo department invoices for acrobats/elephants/acrobatic elephants.

Anyway, the point is that if a picture editor DOESN’T spend ALL of their pic budget by year end, they are screwed as they can guarantee next year’s will then be adjusted downwards by the bean counters, as they clearly didn’t need all that lovely money they were given to spend. It just isn’t in the interests of a picture editor (or a commissioning editor) not to spend their available budget. So, anyway what I recommend for bloggers is saying always yes to picture requests (if the publication is right for you: Reader’s Wives no, Grazia, yes) and, at the same time, asking very politely what the picture fee for a bought-in image is.

What may happen is one of three things:

1. They’ll say oops sorry there isn’t one (probably because they are trying to subsume the cost of that fashion shoot with the acrobatic elephants somewhere else in the book)

2. They’ll say yes, £25 (ouch), please invoice me, or…

3. As happened to me with an international travel magazine last year, for whom I had a written a feature, when they asked for any accompanying images: the picture editor will say, there isn’t any allocation for this story as I calculated on using free call-ins, BUT when I’ve balanced the issue, if there is anything left over on my issue budget, I’ll pay you a picture fee… And bingo: I got a BACS for £175 a few months later. Not a fortune, I grant you, and way less than a picture agency would have charged for so many pics, but that’s my council tax and phone bills paid for a month. (And bragging rights over seeing my photography published.)

(And, speaking of bragging rights, that’s why if there turns out to be no fee, then it is not the end of the world. Here’s why: Having my photography published externally from the blog is a great thing to add to my media card, as it shows that the quality of my blog imagery is considered excellent by people other than my mother and the dog. This then adds extra value to sponsored posts that include photography, or to the paid online photographic collateral that I create for brands, – and they also know that good photography increases the likelihood of the imagery for paid content being shared on Pinterest etc, which makes clients verrrreeee happy. Net result: a very valid justification for higher client fees in the long run.)

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Make sure they confirm a picture credit. Send the wording you want with the image. (Don’t go cray cray here: I always try for Sasha Wilkins/, but they may only have room for either my name or the website details. And the credit will probably end up in the gutter (vertically in the fold of the mag) in 5 pt text, but hey, it’s still there.

Finally: Rights. It’s really down to you as to what you feel comfortable assigning in the way of copyright in your imagery, when you are letting it be used by other publications off or online. I’m quite tight about what I allow, as I don’t want my work to be owned by anyone but me, or used in a way for which I haven’t granted permission.

I recommend adding a line to your email, saying that you are granting a licence for a one time usage for your image to X publication. That way you keep the copyright in your pic, and they can’t keep churning it out elsewhere, in commercial projects, or other editorial collateral – like merchandising pages! The editor may come back re: additional digital usage, and you can specify that if the piece is reproduced online that you grant usage connected only with that piece.

BUT: If the image in question is being requested for online usage only, (and you probably won’t get a fee in that case as there is so much free online stock imagery available), don’t feel bad about requesting a link back to your site, as a condition of that usage, instead of a fee. That link may end up being worth more in visibility than the tiny fee online very rarely (pigs fly more often) pays for usage.

So bottom line: don’t ask, don’t get.

1. Ask for a fee – but be prepared not to get one.

2. Ask for your photography to be credited (but be prepared to use a magnifying glass to see your name).

3. And make sure you keep your rights in the imagery that you have created.

Good luck!

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