Selling digital files

I have not done commercial or wedding work since the film-only era.

Currently, I am doing a project that is documentary, and I am doing the field work pro bono for the non-profit organization.

LINK:  Web page for project

However, the work has been well received and I have been able to sell quite a number of prints to supporters and to the non-profit itself for their archives.

Now a regional magazine that is doing an article on the organization has contacted me. When the director of the organization was called about sending a photographer, he told the editor that there were already pictures he could use, i.e. mine! (There are probably other reasons he didn’t want an unknown photographer showing up, but that’s another issue.) So, the editor called me to purchase digital images for publication. Well, that’s fine, but I had no idea how to price such things.

I can deal with prints, and I already have a price list, obviously. But giving a digital file to a publication, or to a church for their website is new territory. (I’ve been contacted about pictures for a church website, too, but they never followed up when I mentioned they would not be free.) This may be old hat to many, but it is new to me. I know there are still a lot of questions, because it comes up all the time on internet forums and in blogs.

Is there a convention here? A percentage based on what prints go for? A standard rate for publication? A web guide?

I was clueless, but the internet to the rescue.

Most of the websites I found fell into one of two categories. The first want to sell a photographer a software package for determining costs. The software is based on the cost-of-goods-sold COGS model of pricing. The second types offer free advice, but also based on COGS.

I finally found a site that said to forget COGS, and use opportunity cost as a basis. For those unfamiliar with the terms, opportunity cost is what you may give up by doing something or selling something a different way.

Each situation is, of course, different; but in simplest terms, if I am selling a single file (as in this case) for one time publication, then the opportunity cost to me is the revenue from the print I would have sold them pre-digital. The price of the digital file is equal to the price of the equivalent print. This particular website recommended the price of an 8×10, for instance.

Since I already have an established price list for prints, I’m going with that.


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