I’ve done professional video production for a couple of decades. A number of years ago I was approached by a company that wanted to license some of my video content. At the time, my video business had been around for about a dozen years. I had shot a number of promotional videos for mid-sized companies where I had a lot of b-roll.
Many of my clients were non-profits for whom I charged a special, lower rate. A condition of that lower rate was that I would retain the copyrights to the raw footage (for my traditional corporate clients who pay the full fee, they gain access to the raw video).
The company that wanted to license my video content wanted a short clip from the b-roll of a project I shot. You know that feeling you get when you find a twenty-dollar bill that’s fallen behind the pillows on your sofa? That’s how this felt!
The business of licensing photo or video
The business of licensing photo or video content has evolved significantly over the years. There was a time when a professional photographer could easily earn six or seven figures a year from stock licensing fees. Videographers and filmmakers who shoot around the world could license their images to licensing agencies and also make a good living.
But the rise in popularity of CC0 (creative commons zero) sites like Unsplash and Pexels have completely changed the licensing model. And stock video licensing sites like--Artgrid.io, Storyblocks, Pond5, or Shutterstock--have made stock video licensing not as lucrative as it once was. (Although a creator on one of these sites can still make pretty good supplemental income if their content is great. Also, full disclosure: Artgrid is one of my clients).
Despite the popularity of these other platforms, it’s still not unusual for creators to be approached individually to have their work licensed. Larger companies may want the uniqueness of licensing a single image, or stock video, that isn’t available to millions of other people. In cases like that, you need to have a good understanding of how to value your work. I have often seen questions about this on various social media boards, so I thought it would be a good idea to address the issue.
(Note: I won’t be addressing the business of selling your content to those various stock footage sites. They all have different policies and procedures for how they curate content and how you get paid. This post is strictly about how to go about charging for footage you already have that someone else wants to license.)
The 6 elements of valuing your content
Here are the six key elements to consider when placing a value on your work.
The first thing to consider when pricing your content is whether the footage or photos you have is unique. How easy is it to replicate that content? Two lovers walking hand-in-hand along the Champs Elysées would be worth more than the same two lovers walking down any ol’ Main Street U.S.A. Two lovers walking down the Champs Elysées during a snow fall with Christmas lights twinkling along the trees worth even more so.
What’s the quality of your content? Are we talking 6K raw files shot on an RED Epic; or 720p iPhone files? Naturally, the higher the source quality, the more you can charge.
Photographer and filmmakers Shawn Reeder has an impressive collection of the most beautiful timelapse photography.
Another form of quality is the quality of the composition, lighting, etc. Is it a beautifully composed image, lit immaculately? Or is it grainy and dark (in which case, I doubt anyone would want to license it in the first place).
3. How badly do they want it?
Can you determine how badly the organization wants your content? Given the proliferation of stock footage and photo sites, if they want to specifically license your content, it must be for a reason. There’s something unique about it they can’t find among the literally hundreds of thousands of stock clips and photos already for sale at relatively inexpensive prices. Keep that in mind when negotiating.
How will the content be used? The wider the audience, the more you should charge. Is it going to be for a non-profit fundraising video that will only be shown at a benefit dinner with a few hundred people in attendance? Or is it going to be used in broadcast TV? Is it for a feature film or an indie short? A full page magazine ad in People Magazine, or a 1/4″ ad in the back of the Little Rock Gazette? And for how long? What regions (domestic and/or international)? All that should be taken into consideration.
With respect specifically to video content, how long is the clip you’re licensing? Theoretically, the longer the clip, the more you can charge.
6. Do you have releases?
If there are people in the footage or photos, do you have proper releases from them allowing you to license/sell their image? If not, you should reach out to them before releasing your content. Some of your clients may say “no,” in which case, you’re out of luck. Don’t risk your reputation by licensing imagery of your clients without their prior consent. And don’t risk a lawsuit by licensing content of people (or places) that you happened to capture that normally require such releases (e.g. major brands predominantly composed in the shot, shopping malls, etc.)
Setting the rate
There are a couple of ways you can go about determining what the license fee will be. Keep in mind there is no right or wrong price. It’s all based on the market and the factors I mentioned above.
Use recommended standards
You can find many online resources on how to price photo services licenses. The NPPA (National Press Photographers Association) has a good article about it here. You can also use a program like Fotoquote.
However you price your content, don’t use traditional stock image sites as a basis. That would be like charging a custom painting based on the price of a Hallmark card. They are two totally different things.
Charge whatever you want
Ultimately, you can charge whatever you like. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. I’ve licensed 10-second video clips for as much as $400. A previous business partner I had once licensed one personal photo she took at an event for $800! The quality wasn’t even that good, but it was a unique photo and they really wanted it for their book cover.
Getting your content found
Last but not least there’s the issue of discovery. How would a company go about finding you in the first place. There are a few ways you can do this.
- CC0 Stock sites: many photographers have found additional work from other companies using their free work they’ve posted to sites like Unsplash or Pexels.
- Instagram: Duh! If you build a following on Instagram where you feature your photography or video, you just may get a phone call from an organization asking to license one of those amazing images. Use a tool like UNUM's Storyboards to craft beautiful IG feeds that will make your visitors mouth water.
- Blogging or Medium: if you have the experience and talent to back it up, do a lot of writing related to photography or video production. Use your own blog, or a platform like Medium. If you write on Medium, find a publication that already has a decent following and audience.
- Give it away: I’ve known some photographers who have been able to grow large followings directly on their own website where they license their photography. They've done this by giving it away for personal use, then requiring brand and businesses to license.
The name of the game is getting your work found. Whether you use any of these ways, or some other more creative strategy, the more of your work that gets found, the better your chances.