A Modest Fee

Cedar Falls Dam 1

Every now and then someone DOESN’T outright steal my photograph, and actually asks permission for use. Yesterday I received such a request. The message said that the photo (shown above) would appear on the cover of the regional version of Yellowbook, an off-brand version of The Yellow Pages™. Initially I was quite flattered, but I had a hunch this wasn’t going to turn out well.

I respond with my terms. I would be happy for them to use the photo given certain restrictions and…a modest fee. I had a suspicion that their art director was trolling online photo sharing sites looking for images to grab for free. At least this one had the integrity to ask. I would be credited with “photo credit on the first page of the book where you can put your contact info, website, short bio, etc.” Even that’s more than some of the freeloaders have asked. Yet, since this was a for-profit organization, I had no problem requesting that they pay for use of the photo.

They declined.

Oh well, I’m not going to be famous after all. I understand the budget restrictions these art directors must be under, but they need to consider my position, too. Let’s look at this realistically from this specific example. I’ll list the purported benefits, and show how these would actually play out.


My photograph would be on the cover of a publication that would go to everyone household and business in the area. But…how many of you have ever looked at the cover of a phone book and wondered who did the photography? In an age when contact lists and online directories have made paper phone books about as archaic as phone booths, who would even look at it? In our case, whether Yellowbook or Yellow Pages, it usually goes straight into recycling without so much as a glance at the cover photographer’s name. I expect the true exposure to be zip, nil, none.


The argument is that if people see my photo published so prominently, they might want more. Well, they have to see it in order to recognize it. I refer back to the argument above. I expect any potential revenue to be zip, nil, none. Anything I would make out of this deal would have to come from fees charged.

Am I being unreasonable? I don’t think so. I think of myself as an amateur, but I am a paid, published photographer. My photos have appeared in regional magazines, and I have received remuneration for their use. My fees are flexible, and I may even be inclined to waive them entirely if I have a vested interest in the organization. I’ve allowed use of photos for non-profit organizations and other groups for free, but I’ve also gotten rather irate when businesses and for-profits (and even some non-profits) have tried to use the photos without asking.

I hope that Yellowbook can find something they like. They have been civil, and I appreciate their asking to use my photos. Should they change their minds about my fees, I’ll gladly try to work something out.

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