Photography is an investment. No, not the “I buy a lot of expensive equipment and resell it later ” type of investment. It is an investment for the image buyer.
A photograph, or a series of photograph, can increase the value of anything around it. Like a multiplier. In it’s raw format, few images have any power. It sits on hard drive, or on a print, and does nothing. Once associated with words in a magazine, or slapped next to a product or service, it start doing its magic. It blends, merges, and adapts to its surrounding and creates a powerful communication funnel with the viewer.The message is suddenly increased.
The trick is to match the right image. That is where the investment comes in. A photo editors job, or anyone that purchases images, is to find the raw, and if possible cheap, image that will make the perfect combination. If it’s properly done, the returns can be spectacular. For a few hundred dollars a magazine ( think LIFE Magazine) or a campaign ( think Marlboro) can achieve legendary status.
Like any investment, there is part gamble, part luck, part intuition, part research. When licensing an image for a particular project, one has to juggle these skills in order to get the proper result.
Why is this important? Because those who license images should keep that in mind when they license their images. Sure, pricing can be based on usage, or size, or a subscription, if you so desire. But what about pricing based on predictive impact ?
An image buyer calls you because they want to purchase one of your image. They have a definite feeling that your image will enhance their message, whether an ad campaign or an article . You will ask about usage because that is quantifiable. But will you ask about the expected impact and enhancement value of your image ? No ? Probably because you do not expect them to tell you the truth in order to keep the price low. However, that is where the real value of your image is. Not how many times it will be used and in what format but rather how it will be perceived by those who see it in its new environment. Not in usage, in result.
Of course not all images end up creating value for its surrounding. Most often, it does nothing and sometimes even devalues its surroundings. But that is not the fault of the photogrpaher but rather the photo editor, or the art director.
So, how do you price potential impact? Well, the same way the image buyers does : Part gamble, part luck, part intuition, part research. Mix them up properly and you have the correct price.
And like an investment trade on a stock market, the final price resides in a perfect balance between offer and demand. Not in quantity but in quality. The buyer has a price based on his perceived value of the image and the seller has to find it and match it. In the end, the market will decide its real value, but only after price negotiation has been finalized.
Maybe a new way to price images should be after a campaign or a article has been published . Both party would reunite and review how well the image did, or did not do, its enhancing job. Did people rush to stores and purchase that item? Did the magazine double it’s readership ? Then the image (s) were successful and thus should licensed at a very high price point.
Sure, these are hard to measure values. But quite frankly it would be a better system than to price an image based on how many pixel it has.