Seller Beware

Photographers who sell their work to magazines, calendars and books as stock photography know all too well the idiosyncracies of the publishing industry. Photographers have a product to sell, namely photos. But who sets the prices for these photos, the seller or the buyer? In almost every other transaction on the planet, the seller sets the price of his goods. Makes sense eh? But in photography it is often the buyer that tells the photographer what the usage fees will be! Strange but true. It’s like going to the supermarket and telling the cashier that you only pay 50 cents a pound for coffee.

Even worse, after the publisher tells you his going rate for buying your pictures, then he sets the timeline for payment! Most publishers pay after publication. That means that although they order your picture now, they will not pay for it until after they use it. Imagine going into a grocery store and getting food but not having to pay anything until you eat the stuff! 

And then, to add further insult, many publishers have ‘terms’ that  payment will be made within three months of publication. So If I ‘sell’ a photo to a magazine in January, it often takes until 3 months to go to press, and then three more months until I get paid. Six months! Imagine not having to pay for your groceries for six months after you ‘bought’ them?

Ok, the scenario above is ‘standard’ and in my mind pretty darn unacceptable, but this is how the industry runs. Collectively we might be able to change things but photographers are fiercely independant and there is always someone willing to sell photos for crappy terms. Chances of things changing are slim if we all just go on accepting the publishers terms. More and more, I am weaning myself off of publishers who I think are not worth dealing with.

On several occasions I have dealt with Firefly Books in Canada. This company buys a lot of photos from freelance photographers and stock photo agencies especially for their line of calendars. If you plan to deal with Firefly be warned that getting paid may be more difficult than anticipated. In my experience, not only is Firefly extremely tardy in making payments (way beyond that described above), I could only get paid after threatening legal action (on more than one occasion). Other photographers I have talked to have had similar experiences so I am not alone on this one.

Maybe someone out there has had great experiences with Firefly and would love to present another view. But for me, this is one company I will no longer sell photos to. The hassles of dealing with any company that is truant is just not worth including in my business model. Firefly has been banned from my list of potential clients. I now only deal with ‘reliable’ publishers and though I make less sales, I am happier and less stressed, and running my business by my rules, not someone else’s.

Update – Feb 9 – Here is a note from a photographer who shall remain anonymous about working with Browntrout, one of the major calendar publishing companies:

“I submitted 2010 images to Browntrout in July 08; calendars on stand on June 09 for Tourist season; re-printed and out with a vengeance for Christmas season in Nov 09. Contract states “will commence payment in March of year following publication (March 2010). Typically I start screaming at them in Sept of payment year and usually see cheque in early Dec (2010 in this case). So, what’s that … 2.5 years! 

To add insult to injury three years ago they said digital files only (no increase in fees for saving them scan costs); two years ago the files had to be profiled CMYK to their colour space, and this year they had to be keyworded to their specs. Oh ya, they also wanted contributors to agree to a 20% decrease citing global economic difficulties.  Mmm – I guess we photographers are immune!”

14 Responses to “Seller Beware”

  1. AMEN, brother. I’ve never sold stock photos but I’ve heard nightmare stories about it and our grocerie analogy is perfect!!!

  2. YOUR grocerie analogy, missed the Y there

  3. thanks for the info, Darwin.
    at least you are taking action….and choosing not to deal with this company further….this is what more photogs need to do…learn to just say ‘no’ to shitty deals and we’d all be better off.
    as independant business people photographers only have themselves to blame if they keep accepting poor prices or poor business practices of companies you deal with.
    congrats on having ‘standards’ that exclude dealing with these types of scummy companies.


  4. Hi Darren,

    The only way we as photographers will change these people is we have to speak with one voice.

    You mentioned photographers are an independent bunch, true in some ways, but I for one would be willing to gang up on these crooks.

    I don’t sell to these agencies because I make more selling locally and I get my money ASAP.

    We have to set standards and stick to them. The problem is there are no standards, maybe you have standards, but there are a lot of photographers that don’t. I have been telling photographers this for years and I know some laugh at me.

    If we don’t try to stop it now, it will only get worst for photographers like yourself. I have some ideas I will not bring up in this forum. I think the answers are out there we just have to find them.

    Remember the saying, “Power in numbers”.

    Darren, I don’t think you can fight this battle by yourself and win. You need help from the photography community. If these crooks don’t buy from you they will find someone else. If you make waves, the wave will echo throughout the publishing world and the next thing you know your name will be mud.

    Just my two cents worth.

    Have a good day.


  5. Hey Darwin,

    Just found your blog. Great stuff.

    I can second the comments on Browntrout. A friend of mine in GA has had exactly the same frustrations as those expressed in your updated post. Makes it hard to get all motivated to send out submission (what an awful word that is, eh?).

    The image banner at the top of this blog is amazing, man. You blow me away.



  6. […] if you don’t believe me just look at the comments on this blog, there it is again, […]

  7. Hello Darwin – – A freind passed your blog address to me.

    Over the years I’ve known hundreds of photographers who have figured out how to sell their photos to the book and magazine insudtry (many publishers have a $20,000 to $50,000 budget for photography).

    Some work at it part-time, others full-time.

    I’ve enclosed a URL that will give you an idea of the marketing system that most of these photographers use.

    You make great photographs. I hope this marketing tip will help brighten your day and show to how you can be selling them to the right markets.!

    –Rohn Engh

  8. Thanks for the link Ron, you are famous for your tips on marketing, something all photographers should spend more time in! Darwin

  9. Hi Darwin.

    I relate very well with your thoughts here.
    My most extreme story is about a chinese/malaysian art design company wanting to purchase one of my images to hung on a business company reception wall.

    There was so much back and forth about the price (and I finally gave them a most generous price for it), and I had to talk to 4 different people about basically the same stuff…very tiring communication system they had and normal politeness was NOT their best quality…at all.
    After a while they suddenly wanted the high-res digital file (as the print would be huge) I told them about ownership etc. and that the price would be higher when buying a high-res digital file.
    Then they actually got mad at me and ORDERED me to send the high-res file right away and that we had agreed on a price and that`s it!
    But…the price agreed was a single fine art print, printed by me and personally shipped to China.

    At that point, I`ve had enough and told them to forget it!
    Rudeness, trickery, two weeks of price dealing etc. and lack of professional behavior made me decide it wasn`t worth it and who knows how they would use the file when in their hands.

    So…giving up a quite amount of money, but much happier knowing my file wasn`t falling in the wrong hands and not worrying about being fooled.
    For an artist, money is quite important, but…not all 🙂

    Take care Darwin (not Darren:-)…looking forward to see more of your stunning images and latest news in your blog.

    Warm regards
    Seung Kye

  10. Hello Darwin,

    I have this problem too, not only in Canada but also with my European calendar publishers (actually not only calendars also book publishers). We, my wife and me decided 2 years ago not to take insult anymore from publishers at all. We simply ask for pre payments OR as we all know this is not always possible we tell them from the first day that we will withdraw our image license if not paid on time.

    I still do this up to date with success. Sure, we miss some sales but who really knows if we missed a sale or actually a payment.

    We are fortunate enough to make enough sales to survive but we still got our Kraft dinners as a backup at all times.
    I must say it is very difficult to get into the Canadian market (I moved from Germany to Canada 6 years ago).

    We meet many years ago in Montana. I still got one of your books I bought a long, long time ago, when I was visiting Canada.

    Your work is amazing!

  11. […] policies and all round unprofessional attitude of Firefly Books and Browntrout Publishers  over here, I figured it was time for some good new about publishers. So here it […]

  12. Darwin,

    Just wanted to let you know that I have recent dealings with Brown Trout that have not been the best. Unfortunately, in addition to what you have mentioned I have found their staff to be hard to work with and unresponsive. I guess they feel that there are lots of people willing to go through the hassle to get their photographs published that they can afford to infuriate…..

    Great info in here and glad to see you’ve joined the blog community. Sorry I couldn’t make it out in November. I hope to come back up that way again in the fairly near future.

  13. BROWN TROUT PUBLISHERS HAS RECENTLY BEEN SOLD . MICHAEL BROWN founder has now moved on to form a new umbrella company. Wife Marilu Henner will remember the details for ever. My payment for images used in 2012 calendars has not been received. Their conformation of use agreement states that payments will begin in March of 2012. That could mean I could never get paid. Should have been more diligent reading the agreement.

  14. I can not get payment out of Brown Trout Publishing either. Despite my many attempts to contact them, nobody responds. I’ve worked with a few different publishers and I haven’t had this problem with any of the others. If anyone has some helpful experience with this, I would love to hear about it.

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