Licensing Your Photography

4 10 2010

Lots of photographers want to license their artwork. This summer I was interviewed by David Walker of Photo District News about the subject of licensing photography.  I am sharing some excerpts from the interview here; and you can read the entire article on the All Art Licensing press page. Even if you aren’t a photographer, the insights and advice apply to art licensing as well.


PDN: What is art licensing, and what does it encompass?

Jeanette Smith: Art licensing is the process by which artists allow others to use their art on consumer products, in categories including apparel, accessories, domestics (sheets and towels), electronics, sporting goods, toys—there are about 20 categories, encompassing thousands of different products. Licensing can be a flat-fee model or a royalty model, where the artist is paid a percentage of the net wholesale cost for each product unit that is sold. I advocate the royalty model.

PDN: What are some licensing success stories that our readers are likely to be familiar with?

J.S.: Anne Geddes and William Wegman are great examples. One point I’d like to make is the importance of identifying a niche audience that your work appeals to, such as pet lovers, or environmentally conscious people. If you try to enter as a generalist because you’re thinking, ‘everybody loves my photography,’ then you’re competing with every other photographer, as well as stock houses such as Getty and Corbis. To succeed in licensing, you have to re-think your business approach and subject matter.

PDN: So how do you advise photographers to do that?

J.S.: You start small, become well-known within a niche, and grow from there. If you’re a horse photographer, you go to manufacturers that specialize in products sold at equestrian stores. Or someone who wants to photograph classic cars can find manufacturers that sell products to car clubs all over the country. Not everybody is going into Wal- Mart or Nieman Marcus with their first licensing deal. If you can do well selling to a niche audience, then you have a story you can sell to a mass-market manufacturer. So build your audience and marketing in stages.

PDN: How do you find product manufacturers?

J.S.: You find them at industry trade shows, on the internet, and in magazines. If you do pet photography, I’d be looking at both consumer pet magazines and pet trade magazines, to see which retailers and manufacturers advertiser there. Also, read the articles to find the names of the marketing directors for those companies. Then prepare your presentation.

Since Photo Direct News is a subscription-only web site, you can read the remaining nine questions and answers on the All Art Licensing Press Page.


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