Pricing & Negotiating: Custom Publication

by Jess Dudley Wonderful Machine Producer

One of our Midwestern photographers recently asked me to prepare a cost estimate for one of his custom publication clients. Custom pubs look very similar to regular magazines, but they’re commissioned by a single sponsor and they’re designed to reach a targeted audience of customers, users, members or employees. Custom publications can be produced in-house, by custom content firms or by traditional ad agencies and design firms. It’s big business. They even have their own association, the Custom Content Council.

Custom publication estimates can be structured in the same way as a regular magazine contract but the rates tend to vary more widely. If the publication is focused on a commercial brand or product, you can expect to charge more than your typical magazine rate. If the custom publication is for an association or charity, you might get less. And if it’s a magazine for an airline or hotel, which tend to have content that’s comparable to regular editorial (and often contain third-party advertising), the fees will be about the same as regular editorial.

The publication in this quote was produced by a small ad agency. Though they aren’t a custom pub specialist, they are definitely experienced with custom pubs and their client is a Fortune 500 company. The assignment was to shoot an environmental portrait of a worker at a manufacturing facility in New York City that uses the client’s services, plus to provide documentary coverage of other aspects of the factory.

To get started, I called the art director at the agency to learn more about the project:

  • Who is the audience? Company employees.
  • How often does the publication come out? Quarterly.
  • How many copies do you distribute? 500,000.
  • How many images do you plan to use? 2-4.
  • How many pages have you allocated for the images? 2-3.
  • Would you like to see pricing on any other licensing options? 6 Months Intranet.
  • We’d like to scout the location the day before the shoot. Will we be able to get access to the facility? Yes. The art director will attend the scout as well.
  • Do you have an opinion about the style of the pictures – available light? Strobe? Existing light for the manufacturing shots. Strobe for the environmental portrait.
  • Will we need to handle any wardrobe, propping or styling of any kind? Subject will arrive camera ready. No additional styling, props or wardrobe needed.
  • Will anyone from the Agency or Client be present at the shoot? Just one art director from the agency.
  • Will your AD want to review images on a monitor the day of the shoot? No. No need for a digital tech or display.
  • Should we include catering on the shoot day? No. You can just order in lunch on the day of the shoot. The AD will pay for his own meal.
  • How many other photographers are you considering? 2.
  • Are any of them local to the shoot or would all of them have to travel? All three would have to travel.
  • Do you have a budget in mind? Nothing set in stone, but generally we don’t spend more than about 10-12k per assignment.

With all that in mind, I assembled the estimate and terms & conditions:

-For the fee I looked at a comparable editorial space rate as a starting point. If the space at a publication with a comparable circulation (like DetailsLatina or Town and Country) was in the 500-750.00/page range including concurrent web use (check out our day v. space rate post for more on how to structure that type of contract). Three pages would be worth 1500.00-2250.00. I looked at previous projects I had quoted for this agency and other similar custom pubs. I considered the prominence of the client and the fact that the assignment was coming through an agency that liked the photographer enough to pay for travel to a market saturated with photographers. I decided that the fee was worth 3500.00.

-We budgeted 350.00 for a local assistant (assistants in New York City tend to be a bit more expensive than in other parts of the country).

-The Digital Capture Fee covers the time, equipment, software, internet access and expertise necessary to create the web gallery for the agency to edit from. For most editorial clients, we charge 150.00-300.00 for a simple shoot (for bigger productions, we’ll charge for a digital tech instead). But 500.00 is more reflective of the actual value of this part of the job.

-We budgeted for 2 tech/travel days. The day before the shoot, the photographer would travel and scout the location. And the actual shoot day looked pretty long, so I planned on a third day to travel home.

-The photographer used his own photographic equipment (in this case, two camera bodies, four lenses and a lighting kit), but we tend to charge a separate line item for that instead of bundling it into the fee. We looked at what it would cost to rent the gear locally, then backed out the baggage charges.

-I got a quote of 468.00 for the airfare, but I rounded up. Airfares can change a lot between when you send out the estimate and when it gets approved. So it’s important to say that you’re going to charge for the actual cost.

-The photographer told me he’d need to check three bags, so after referring to the airline’s baggage policy (25.00 for the first, 35.00 for the second and 125.00 for the third – each way) it came to 370.00.

-Lodging in NYC is expensive (and it’s one of the reasons that we chose to hire a local assistant). I found a hotel near the factory for 378.00/night. Again, I rounded up. I’d rather have the invoice come in a little bit under the estimate than a little bit over.

-The file prep charge covers color correction, blemish/spot removal, minor retouching and delivery of three high resolution images.

-Miles, Parking, Meals, Taxis, Tolls, Certificate of Insurance & Misc. covered all of the estimated miles to/from the departure airport, parking at the departure airport, meals for the entire trip, local transportation in NYC, a certificate of insurance likely required to shoot at the manufacturing facility and any unforeseen miscellaneous expenses that may arise.

-Lastly, just to avoid any confusion, I listed the items that would be provided by the client, the agency and the subject.

If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing one of your projects, contact Wonderful Machine.

There Are 21 Comments On This Article.

  1. This post is great. I really appreciate including the questions asked of the client alongside their answers, and the thought process determining the fees and expenses. From what I can remember, previous estimating posts didn’t seem to have as much of this. Thanks Jess and Rob for sharing.

  2. I love these posts. They’re all very interesting and informative. The one thing about this estimate and I’ve heard this for years is the charging “rental” on your camera gear that you own. I understand why you do it(recoup costs, etc.). But it doesn’t sit right with me. When you drive to a shoot, do you charge rental on your car? If it was a special piece of gear I could see it. It’s like having your house painted and the painter wants to charge rental on his brushes, rollers, pans, drop clothes, and ladders as well as his labor fee. I never heard this until the digital age come about. To me, it’s the cost of doing business. Having said that, it there are clients that will swallow it, then what the heck,……If I was the client, I’d have a hard time with it. Thoughts?

    • Kerry,

      You may not charge rental on your car, but you often charge for mileage right? This is not only supposed to cover gas, but wear and tear on your car as well.

      • If I’m local, I don’t charge for the car. If I travel, then I do charge mileage. That may be enough for gas, but it certainly doesn’t cover wear and tear on a $25,000 car.

        • Your mileage charge should cover oil, tires, insurance to the best of your assumptions.

          A lot of businesses go with the IRS $.55/mile measure, which is a little on the low side with high gas prices.

    • It’s easier to add a line item for equipment rental than to charge more.

      As far as clients go, it’s been my experience the richie riches who own magazines have no problem paying ten thousand dollars in expenses but suddenly get upset if the fees go up by a thousand. So putting your CODB in the expenses makes sense.

      • Here’s how we do it:

        Small local client: roll such expenses into the photo fee (line items inspire fear)

        Corporate client with an accounting dept: Accounts payable likes to see line items galore and not seemingly opaque (to an accountant) big tickets.

    • Prior to digital film fees did the duty. Since digital cameras (and computers, and software…) require relatively frequent and expensive upgrades, a kit fee is appropriate.

      • Film and processing fees covered film and processing costs plus a bit extra to help cover editing time. It never covered a slush fund for new gear. Now the film&processing line is called a digital capture fee.

        • New computer – every 3 years at the longest – $2000 – $4000
          Displays, printers, network storage etc – $4000 every 4 – 5 years.
          Photoshop, Capture One, misc software upgrades – $800 to $1000 every 2 years
          Camera – $3000 – $50,000 every 3 or 4 years.

          Generally a minimum of $4000 a year goes into these items. This is not a slush fund, this is business.

          • I know what things cost. CODB is much higher than it used to be(in the business since 1981). You were saying that F&P covered the duty of kit fees. I was saying it wasn’t even close as a slush fund. So now there are “kit fees” or rentals for every day basic gear that every photographer should have. Just trying to justify it in my head as a line item vs. built in.

  3. This is a great representation of how to work as a professional in the industry. The reveal budget range was 10-12k and the estimate is under. It doesn’t mean the project was low balled but careful consideration was given to the costs associated with each aspect of the job. Great way to determine the fee with the comparison to a regional publication with similar circulation and the cost of space. Great example to tuck away for future reference. Thanks Jess and Rob!

    @Kerry if you add the cost of a vehicle into your CDB that is great, however, you should be charging for mileage when you have to travel for location work. I don’t think adding it to the creative fee or other areas related to the actual production of a shoot is a good way to capture the mileage rate. The itemization of the misc fees is one place and often may need to be a line item.

    • I replied to this above. If I’m driving distance, then I charge mileage. Always have in my 25 years of doing business. But if I’m diving downtown to shoot, I’m certainly not going to charge mileage. Just wondering if anyone else charges rental on their gear? And where do you draw the line?

      • I observe the TMZ – thirty mile zone. No location charges for up to 30 miles.

        Kit fees are either line item’d or rolled into the principal photo fee depending on the client. These days I try to steer clear of clients that won’t pay a kit fee…they are small potatoes.

  4. I think where people have a hard time with itemizing items like mileage kit fees, digital processing and the such is it wash part of a larger fee. What’re gang at WM have brought to light that the clients want to see individual costs. The trend has caused photographers, if working with that type of client, to seperate, rates, fixed costs from fees for the useage. So I charge for a kit a percentage based on longevity, insurance, and CPI.

    • The practice/debate of charging for a kit is interesting. Anyone out there charging for use of a film based kit? In many ways its becoming more rare, unique and requiring more skill in use than digital.

      • I would say it’s especially important to charge a kit fee for film kits. They arent as ubiquitous as they once were. Repairs, CLAs, finding replacements, lenses and accessories at an un-inflated price…

        I think charging just makes sense. If you didn’t have it, it would have to be rented anyway. And if the client is willing to spend that money either way, might as well go into your pocket instead of the rental shop.

  5. What is the legal status of the other images from the photoshoot (the ones not chosen/published by the magazine)? Is the photographer able to use a different image for his portofolio for instance? What about other commercial uses?

    Great post and great blog!

  6. Love these posts. They’re always super helpful in themselves, and then they get even more helpful as a result of the ensuing comments/discussion.

  7. Valen Hunter

    Whoa. This is better than anything I could have learned in my business photography class. THANK YOU!