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Who should pay for Stock Imagery?


There have been a lot of articles written about stock photography lately, many of which believe that the use of it damages our creative industry. Rather than finding the perfect solution for a design brief, designers and clients alike log onto sites such as istock, fotolia and shutterstock, complete a quick image search which turns out average images that are far from perfect for their intended use. These photographs or stock vectors are not bespoke and have often been overused. A classic example is the ‘call us now…’ image on a contact page or catalogue showing a man or woman with a headset on! This image screams ‘stock’ and should be extinct!

On the other hand, stock photography is a quick, affordable and easy way to obtain photography and vectors enhancing the look of many projects that without them would have looked awful. In this economic down turn many people have turned to stock photography as a cheaper alternative to a professional photographer. We always try to recommend a photographer where the project has a large enough budget as good imagery can be the making of good project. However, where the client doesn’t have the budget for this we do our best to source images that will fit closest to their brief as possible.

But who foots the bill?

The problem comes when we go to total up the clients invoice. Do you charge clients for their stock photography or should the designer incur the costs as it’s a part of the design?

Generally, we have identified two schools of thought on this. The first works along the lines that if you have incurred costs that you haven’t accounted for (ie the website needed 5 stock photos) then this most certainly should be passed on to the client. We have a specific clause in our quote and proposal documents that states any stock photography required is not included in the costs. OK, so that covers us for any third party costs but what about charging for the time it took to source the stock photography? It can be a lengthy and often laborious process, racking up many hours and this should also be passed to the client.

The second school of thought is that as the designer, you are quoting to design something for your client. Therefore, if you need imagery or vectors to enhance your design then you should absorb the costs of these. For example, if you have designed a brochure using several textures as backdrops for your design then surely you should incur the costs of these? Using stock photography has saved you time not having to find and photograph these textures yourself. Likewise, if stock vectors are used in a piece, this has also saved you the time in having to create them, therefore you should bear the cost of this.

What we reckon…

After a number of debates between Steve and I, we have decided that it is not always as black and white as the two options above. If the client requests an image or if we have suggested that they need a photographic header for each of their pages on a website, then we pass the cost of the stock imagery on to the client. We also charge for our time sourcing the imagery. Our reasoning is if they have specifically asked for something and they cannot supply it themselves then they should incur the costs of us getting it on their behalf.

However, if we have utilised stock imagery as a design element that was not requested by the client (and we have saved time sourcing stock as opposed to shooting or creating it ourselves) then we absorb those costs.

This is just our solution to the issue, what are your thoughts? Do you pass any and all costs that you incurr as a result of the project on to the client? Or do you allow for sourcing time and 3rd party costs in your initial quote?

Posted by Lu

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Posted on Monday, August 3rd, 2009 at 9:27 am
Posted In Design Resources, Freelancing, Graphic Design | Tags:

5 Responses to “Who should pay for Stock Imagery?”

  • dave vogler says:

    We find that imagery is one of the few costs the we can pass long to the client. We usually mark it up a little bit to account for the time spent searching, and give the client a verbal estimate of the image fees before (actually during) the image search. Clients tend to understand this is a separate fee, especially when we explain that they are saving money by not hiring a photographer (which is preferred, but often gets cut).
    Things like textures, fonts, icons, etc are less understood by clients, so we eat those. Plus, if we purchase them, we can potentially use them again.
    In the end our project fee should cover a reasonable amount of overhead.

  • IanJ says:

    Difficult one this, as someone who sells and makes a nice little extra profit from photos on istockphoto, I have a bit of a vested interest in us all buying lots and lots and lots of stock photos, all from istock! Hehe!

    Personally, I think all the costs should be passed onto the client. If stock photography is to be used, then we are using our expertise in both selection and placement of that image into the final design to warrant this charge.

    Bespoke photography can be/is expensive, and i just feel clients would be happier to pay the relatively cheap costs of stock photos, all be it at the expense of originality and creativity. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to bundle the costs of both the actual photo and the time spend sourcing a particular photography.

    After all, is there much different in researching and purchasing a photograph, to researching and/or buying/designing a new font set in terms of the client paying for our expertise, knowledge and creativity?

  • I think if “creative” type photographers feature good enough work on the Stock Sale websites then they will get a good enough return.

    Interestingly, I’ve been designing websites for nearly 7 years now and I’ve found that over the years we make more and more use of photography in the design phase. However, approximately 1 in 20 projects has “bespoke” photography done.

    The sad truth is, it has become easier for anyone to claim themselves as photographers as digital cameras are so much more affordable to learn photography skills though and work with on a day-to-day basis.

  • Tracey Grady says:

    It’s an expense associated with creating the design and this should be passed onto the client, but only with their advance knowledge and consent.

    It’s easy when the client has requested the use of images: I advise them of the different options (usually between using stock libraries or arranging their own photo shoot) and that there will be an extra cost as a result, including the cost for time spent sourcing stock images if that’s the avenue that the client chooses.

    It’s more complex when there has been no specific request for images from the outset. If/when it’s at all possible to anticipate that images will be needed for a design project, I notify the client as early as possible and explain why it’s going to be necessary to purchase images. Ideally this should be done before taking the time to source the images (so that you haven’t wasted that time if the client decides against using them) and certainly before you purchase them.

  • Lu says:

    Hi Dave – I see you seem to act the same as us, pass on the cost of images when the client requests them (or they are required) and absorbing the cost of “design elements” such as textures etc.

    Hi Ian – I agree that photography is expensive and I believe at the moment (especially in these economic times) it is becoming more acceptable to use it. I also agree that we should pass on the cost of time sourcing that photography as you mention they are paying for our creativity and knowledge.

    Hi Corporate Graphic Design – It does seem that bespoke photography is sadly becoming scarce, and as I mentioned to Ian you can’t blame people for skimming this from their budgets if they can get away with a cheaper alternative.

    Hi Tracey – I definitely agree that clients need to be informed of the costs of stock photography before you even start the search for them. However do you find yourself charging clients extra for items such as textures and “design elements” which could come under the cost of the design in the first place?

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, it’s been great to get your thoughts on stock photography costs!

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