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Pricing & Negotiating: Custom Publication

Wednesday February 1st, 2012

by Jess Dudley

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 Details, Latina 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.

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