Magazine Photographs

Attempting to provide an approximation of the value of a photograph published in a magazine is difficult since there are so many variances. Some publications receive only small local distribution, others are regional, and the most widely circulated publications receive national distribution. The total circulation of a magazine is one of the primary criteria for establishing a print price, as is the size and location of the photograph used in print. Inside editorial usage seldom pays much, while any advertising usage of a picture will normally command top-dollar return for the photographer.

A small reproduction of a picture used to illustrate a story or article will naturally receive far less attention—and payment—than an eye-catching photo used on the cover. Cover photos rightfully receive the most pay, especially those used on newsstand publications, which depend on attracting the attention of shoppers and enticing them to purchase that issue of the magazine. An exclusive, unique, or rare photograph, especially one of a news event or some unusual happening that nobody else was able to photograph, will command a much higher price than a merely attractive or outstanding photo that anybody could have the opportunity to make. In fact, one photographer made thousands of dollars for his dramatic photographs of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption—but he almost lost his life in the process of making those pictures!

Large-circulation (or distribution) magazines pay the most, while controlled, low-circulation magazines that number their readers at 50,000 or fewer will pay considerably less for a similar photo.

One-time use rights are normally stipulated with the sale of any photo, so the picture is merely "leased" for this one use only. In actuality, one photo can be resold many times for use in different publications if it is unusual or commands attention. Thus, the income derived from rare or especially interesting pictures can continue for years. Conversely, sometimes a picture is sold outright, with all rights going to the buyer, who gains full control over its use. For this type of sale, a higher payment should be contracted since the photographer no longer owns the picture after the sale. There are other types of image rights that apply to photographs and their publication, but we will not go into detail about them.

A good source of information about markets for photographs is Photographer's Market, edited by Donna Poehner (Cincinnati, Oh.: Writer's Digest Books, 2003).

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