Pricing Clinic - Discounting

Posted on 3/20/1998 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)




March 20, 1998

On a weekly, if not daily, basis small agencies and individual photographers hear the following

from their clients, after they have quoted a price.

"Why is your price so much higher
than XX Major Agency?" At that point the client will quote a price they say they got from this
agency that is often one-half to one-third of what the seller was asking for this particular

Some major agencies provide written quotes on every job so before you even
consider cutting your price ask them to fax you a copy of the quote. Make sure you are quoting
the exact same usages which is often the problem.

An Answer

Even if
the usage is the same Cheryl Pickerell at Stock Connection has developed a response that seems
to be working. She tells the client, "We don't do anywhere near the volume of business that XX
Agency does, so we can't afford to discount our price as much as they do." She follows this
statement with more explanation, as necessary. She may emphasize that we are more of a
"boutique" agency (implying that clients might be willing to pay more for higher quality)
instead of a K-Mart (where the clients get volume produced goods at lower prices). When a
client first calls, they often have no idea of the size of her operation, and assume they are
talking to a large agency. She turns small into an advantage, not a disadvantage.

first, she didn't expect to receive much sympathy for this line of reasoning, but figured it was
worth a shot. However, more often than not, the client responds, "Oh, I see. Well, then send
me an invoice," (for her higher price).

She also tries to get the message across that
since the larger agency does such a high volume of sales, there is a better chance that the same
image will be used by many clients. One strategy that is never an option is to match the large
agency price. The client often rationalizes that they can afford to pay more for a Stock
Connection image because they're saving money on the large agency image.

Why Does This Work?

A number of things may be happening. Not all of them will happen with
every sale, But, enough happen often enough to give the small agencies and individual
photographers an advantage over the discounters.

The client, often a graphic design
firm, has to have some kind of response to give their client if they are questioned about the
price. They have to be able to say that they made a good faith effort to get the image seller
to reduce the price. This is particularly true if your image is being used in a brochure with
an image from the large agency and the client is paying $200 for the image from the large agency
and $600 for yours.

If they are buying images from both you and the large agency, the
client can afford to pay more for your image because the large agency is giving them such a
deal. Thus, these large agencies are often doing their competitors a favor when they charge so
little for their work.

They called you in the first place because for this particular
use they liked your image better than anything the large agency was able to show them. Sure,
they could settle for something less from the large agency, but that's not what they want. THEY

  • Some people like to buy at K-Mart while others prefer to buy
    at "boutiques". Different buyers approach the marketplace in different ways. Small agencies
    may have to lose the K-Mart shoppers, but they must ask themselves if they will ever be able to
    make enough sales to the people who expect discount prices to justify chasing after them.

  • Some clients insist on always buying the cheapest product, even if it doesn't quite
    fit their needs. You probably aren't going to be able to sell to these clients, but hopefully
    you will make more money by selling at higher prices to those who are willing to pay a little
    more for the image that is the best solution to their problem.

  • Your price, while
    higher than the large agency's is reasonable considering what it costs to produce images. If
    the designer can justify the price to their client, that's all they need.

  • Considering the overall cost to the client of this project including design costs, printing,
    mailing, placement if it is an ad, etc. an extra $200 to $400 for the right image is

  • "I've seen this picture from the large agency used everywhere." If
    you are going to sell at K-Mart prices you have to sell it a lot to justify the low prices. All
    designers don't act in the same way. Some would prefer a picture that hasn't been used by
    everyone else.

  • In their race to the bottom price and in an effort to compete with
    the royalty free producers, the large agency and other discounters are creating the idea in the
    minds of the buyers that their licensed images have the same extremely high volume usage as RF.

  • When we talk about the large agency "discounting their price" it plants in the mind
    of the buyer that this is a discount product, and ours is not.

  • In some cases the
    client is simply using a negotiating strategy to try to get you to reduce your price, and in
    fact doesn't have an offer from the other agency in question.

What Sellers Can't Afford To Do

Photographers and some stock agents often tell me that they get
"mad" when they hear these low prices. The one thing you can not afford to do is Get Mad. It
will accomplish nothing. You'll lose the sale and probably the client. Recognize that it is
the client's duty to try to get the lowest price they can for the image they want.

also can't afford to match the big agency's prices. You'll never be able to generate the volume
they do without their advertising budget, and at the lower prices you can't hope to survive
without that volume.

Look at other industries. There are major suppliers, but there
are also minor suppliers who charge higher prices and survive very well.

Be willing
to lose some sales. Decide how low you are willing to go, based on your costs of doing
business, and don't go below that price. Don't be influenced by someone else's lower price.
Always try to stay positive and friendly with the client.

Interestingly, some smaller
agencies have noted that the price discrepancies are mostly for small sales under $1,000. When
it comes to larger sales these large agencies seem to be asking the same kind of money as
everyone else. The theory seems to be that on these large uses, price is not a major factor.
The client is much more committed to a specific image and is much less likely to switch images
just to save a few bucks. Consequently, on these sales everyone asks top dollar.

Unfortunately, discounting is probably here to stay and something we all all have to live with.
The discounters may do the largest volume of sales, but they don't necessarily end up with the
greatest profits at the end of the day.

Organizing Photographers

Some have indicated that we should try to organize
photographers who are represented by the major agencies that are discounting, in an effort to
get them to pressure their agency. For a variety of reasons, I don't think that will work.
Therefore, I won't be getting involved in such an effort.

Most photographers with these
agencies are satisfied enough with the size of their overall check that they refuse to worry
about individual sales. Discounting has been going on for a long time, although not to the
extent that it is occurring today, and none of these photographers have taken a stand so far.
It is very easy for them to identify discount prices by looking at their sales reports and
seeing how much they are being paid for individual sales.

Many of the major
photographers get enough high ticket sales for advertising uses from their agency that they are
willing to accept low prices for small uses. The photographers who really lose on these low
sales are those who
produce images that usually sell for insert photos and other small uses, and who
seldom have an image used for major advertising purposes. They end up with only small sales and
nothing big to offset.

Most photographers feel that their agency will not hesitate to
get rid of anyone who complains, and that there are enough photographers waiting in the wings
that the agency will have no trouble replacing them. If they protest at all, they tend to
simply stop producing.

It is interesting to note that the agencies that are discounting
are also arguing that they must have a higher percentage of gross sales because they can't
support their operation on 50% of gross sales. It seems not to have occurred to them that
another way to get the additional money they need to operate their business is to hold the line
on pricing.

The big problem is that photographers will not see a big drop in their
gross checks, but rather a slow withering away. Based on my experience it is almost impossible
to get photographers excited enough about a long range problem to motivate them to take action.

Thus, I feel it is better to recognize that discounting is here to stay and focus our
energies on structuring our businesses with an eye to co-existence with discounters. People in
other industries do it. Photographers can do it too.


The above copyrighted article(s) are for the sole use of Selling Stock subscribers and may
not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner to non-subscribers without
the written permission of Jim Pickerell, the editor. For subscription information contact:
Selling Stock 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720,
fax 301-309-0941, e-mail:

Copyright © 1998 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff