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Seeking "best practices" from experienced designers....


  • A design is completed for a direct mail sales piece.
  • The piece is printed, mailed, and used by the client.
  • The project is paid for and thus considered complete by the designer.
  • The client presumable gains sales due to the mailing.

  • The following year, the client reprints the same piece again,
    without any changes, and mails again.
  • The client presumably gains more sales due to the second mailing.
  • The designer receives nothing for this second mailing.

So my question is, should the designer be compensated in some manner for the reprint?

After all, if was a successful campaign when initially mailed. So successful that using it again is seen as having merit. The success is, at least in part, due to the designer's work on the project.

I know copywriters traditionally tend to get a per-piece royalty on each printed piece. Usually a small number such as 0.01¢-0.05¢ per printed piece (which can add up). So if a piece is reprinted, the copywriter is eligible for those royalties again. I'm also aware, that in today's world, even copywriters may be struggling to validate these royalties to clients unfamiliar with the traditional structure.

But.. designers really can't gain clients with any sort of "royalty". Merely using the word "royalty" in client conversations can ensure you do not gain the work, especially on something such as direct mail. At least that's been my experience.

Is there merit to seeking a "reprint fee"?

Something such as a flat-fee paid each time a design is reprinted.
Not a "royalty" per say, but more of a reuse fee?

What I'm think is something like $500 for each time the piece is reprinted. So, the initial project may have cost something like $5,000, then the following year, the designer would be paid $500 when the piece is reprinted.
(Above uses random dollar amounts. not real dollar figures.)

I would, of course, disclose such fees prior to any work starting during contract negotiations. I am not considering some specific project after it has been created. I'm just presenting a broad, general, scenario here.

Anyone with any experience regarding this? Are there any recommended phrasing/arguments to persuade clients? Is there a solid basis for my thoughts on attempting to implement such a thing? Am I merely nuts and it'll never work?


Of note: I am not thinking of this as an all encompassing "blanket" policy for everything I create. Certainly a client should never be charged by the designer for reprinting their business card, or stationary in general. As well as many items seen as necessary "to do business" such as general promotional items. Unless the designer is also subcontracting printing services. However, these items are typically much, much, smaller in terms of cost to print than what I'm considering.

I'm considering this for more (non-web) direct sales venues where perhaps 100,000 pieces are mailed and response rates offer direct quantification for how well a design works.

As an off-the-cuff example... a sales letter designed to get buyers to purchase lots of land. When that letter gets a response resulting in a purchase of land, the return the client sees is a direct result of the designer's work. Wether that work was performed last month, last year, or last decade. If I were a salesman selling the land, I'd get a commission - I'm seeing a reprint fee as more of a small commission without any direct tie, in terms of dollars, to the revenue the sales piece may generate.

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  • I don't know if this has some legal substance, but to enforce this with the clients we have would be practically impossible. A "reprint fee" would be seen as some sort of trap. I guess I see graphic design more as a craft than an artform. You create some sort of custom built "tool" the client can use to make money. Not sure it seems fair to charge them for how many times they choose to use that tool. If we know that a design will be used for several things (like a spread in a magazine which can also work as a stand-alone poster) we just tend to charge more for the design itself. – Wolff Feb 8 at 23:54
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    A way to make sure to also earn a buck when a design is reprinted is to also provide the print service. 99% of the time the client will ask you for additional prints because it's convenient. – Wolff Feb 8 at 23:56
  • Businesses that rely primarily on licensing certainly brigng in interesting power dynamics into play. You could try to argue that reprinting fee is actually a way to keep your initial price lower, because without this clause you would need to price based on unlimited copies. So say imaginary price of 6000 without reprinting fees. Thisway your incentivizing clients to go for the reprint fee. – joojaa Feb 8 at 23:58
  • If then client asks why would you go for such a rebate tell them that this also incentivizes clients to buy new services. Anyway, i have only ever seen this argument work once. In a different industry. – joojaa Feb 9 at 0:10
  • @Wolff really.. I'd rely on client ethics. I'm aware that actual enforcement may be difficult if not impossible. :) And I'm not considering a blanket policy for this.. merely for some specific types of projects. There's some direct quantification to how well a design works with things like direct mail and reviewing response rates. – Scott Feb 9 at 0:36
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This could work, if its part of the original arrangement.

I've had my share of pieces that failed to get a decent ROI as well.

So, if this particular piece is so beautiful and successful, you'd like to have a recurring piece of it, but if other items are not so successful, will you be willing to offer discounts ?

I'd say while it does sound tempting to ask for reprint royalties (or bonuses), it is more on the unusual side.

Even if your design is so amazing and delivers a precise selling point, the client puts in internal resources into any kind of marketing effort. It is their employees who are burning time and getting paid for the campaign to work. That means phone calls, upfront payments, deliveries, distribution, taking the boxes from the car and moving them with the elevator, all of that back and forth which is done by them, not you.

The following year, the client reprints the same piece again, without any changes, and mails again.

Unless there was a specific agreement at the beginning of the contract for you to get paid reprint royalties, or provide limited usage, or be given shares in the company (which some companies actually do offer to their designers) I'm afraid they probably own what they pay for, with unlimited usage.

I know copywriters traditionally tend to get a per-piece royalty.

Probably some lucky few, with possibly a larger audience, but certainly not all of them. Look at this paragraph in that sourced article: "Are there other pay-for-performance arrangements?"

This sounds like a significant contract overall, so instead of focusing on recurring royalties for a specific item, which could be a sensitive, one-time only discussion, better focus on getting your overall rates higher with them, or be awarded some shares in the company if your work is that critical to their workflow (I've actually managed that with one of my clients and working on the second, similar situation).

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  • The dentist does not get a automatic copyright on their work either. So not a entirely relevant similie. On the otherhand software vendors do do this. – joojaa Feb 9 at 13:24
  • Yeah the dentist comparison is way, way, way, way off. Nowhere did I mention this would be implemented after work started or was complete. Of course any reprint fee would be disclosed/presented at the beginning of project conversations. I think perhaps because of how I structured the question there may be some assumption that I'm thinking "after the fact" when I am not. I'm speaking in general terms, not of some specific project. – Scott Feb 9 at 17:48
  • Ok, the dentist thing sounds out of place, I've just removed that. Yes, the question is built in a way that kind of pushes the royalties to after the fact. Sounds like they printed this again and again, then "surprise, I'm not getting any extras" for all the reprints :) If you can arrange that before the work is done, then I guess its great if it works out. – Lucian Feb 9 at 17:51
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    Was not referring to "bad" piece reprints, was actually saying do you take responsibility if a client does not achieve ROI with an item via first print, so as to offer a discount ? That would sound silly, right ? It must be their problem if the ROI is missed, right ? You only get the good extra cheesy stuff if they achieve the good ROI, correct ? :) Regardless, it makes perfect sense that if you manage to agree on royalties before the fact, that would be quite good actually. – Lucian Feb 9 at 18:56
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    Yeah.. why I'm contemplating more of a small reuse fee, not royalties directly. The designer is certainly not the sole reason a piece does or does not do well - the copywriter, list manger, etc all share some credit for ROI - So I'd like to avoid any sense of a "guarantee". Naturally everyone involved wants a great ROI, but no one can guarantee such a thing. It's only if a piece is reused, meaning it's been successful, that there'd be any additional fee. – Scott Feb 9 at 21:30
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It is better to ask these questions before starting work with a Сlient. Everything always depends on the details of each specific project including paperwork that was carried out.

With typical contracts, I don't think graphic designers have any chance to get any "reprint fee". In most cases, the resulted print-ready file is the Client's property, and the Client decides what to do with their own asset. It also looks unfair to the client from this point of view.

If this is your direct client, it is better to ask why he did not come to update the material?

The client presumably gains more sales

You never knows for sure (except if you see the campaign performance on your side).

Is there merit to seeking a "reprint fee"?

No. It may damage your reputation if you have not covered this by the contract. My advice to you is to pitch that client for a new project or an update. The time is running, and re-using the material maybe not the best practice for the audience or market?

A layout design is not copyrightable. But the photos you take on your own, the illustration you have created for this project can be considered as your Intellectual Property.

Anyone with any experience regarding this?

On several occasions, I have included the original artworks (illustrations and photos) without transferring the copyright. The Client always was well informed. This helps to negotiate with the Сlient about the reuse of the artworks for the other projects. Also, get the client to come back to update the materials. To do this, you need to treat the project as several different tasks before starting work. And explain everything to the Client.

Are there any recommended phrasing/arguments to persuade clients?

It is always on a case-by-case basis. The best-case scenario is not to run this way. You can be happy or add a note to your portfolio that your design has been working for years!

Is there a solid basis for my thoughts on attempting to implement such a thing?

Not too much. If you have created the logo, illustrations, photoshoots for this project, then maybe (yes).

Am I merely nuts and it'll never work?

Definitely, you are not merely nuts. Seems you few steps from creating the studio or an agency. Run a direct mail as the service. And charge for re-prints whatever you want (and reasonable on your market).

Best luck!

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  • Welcome to the site! :) -- Clearly for something like direct mail.. if the same piece is mailed again at a much later date, the cost incurred by the client for that later mailing pretty much ensures they feel it is their best option to gaining sales via that venue. This is exactly why copywriters tend to get those royalties with every print. I am referring to design, not merely "layout". "Design" always encompasses original artwork, photo editing etc. – Scott Feb 9 at 1:08
  • Thank you for welcome here! – independence creations Feb 9 at 22:27
  • Of cause, the "design" is not the only layout. I mean the colors+typography+visual hierarchy. There is no legal way to protect such things as Intellectual Property. If you have included your original artwork, this is a different story. But make sure you know what the original artwork means. There is no room for etc. when money talks start. – independence creations Feb 9 at 22:55
  • The original question was about graphic designers. The idea your raise up here stays far from the industry standards. This is more close to what agencies do and makes sense if you getting paid for the campaign results/efficiency too. It possible If you have all the statistics in detail, or (ideally) providing the detailed campaign report to the client. Such things outside regular graphic designer's expertise. – independence creations Feb 9 at 22:55
  • A small reuse fee must be named well and reflected in paperwork to get it works the way you described. – independence creations Feb 9 at 22:55

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