A marketer whose agency is updating their website said her agency is charging $800 per photo. She thought this was high and wondered if this is the norm. She also said other designers quoted her website development fees "inclusive" of photos and was curious about the vast difference in the two approaches.
Here's my answer:
Most often, stock photos and all third-party costs are ancillary to the price of design, whether print or digital.
But this is because costs can vary SO much and the client's final artwork choices determine the cost to the designer. And it is standard for agencies to front the cost of the art and to mark this up. Sometimes mark-up covers their time for image search which can take forever, especially when clients are very picky and reject lots of proposed images. Other agencies charge less mark-up and bill the client hourly for "search time."
Even so, these days, paying $800 for stock art is ridiculous unless you are buying exclusive (and/or permanent) rights to a photo. Buying "rights" at this level is wise if you are using an image as your brand's centerpoint and you don't want to see it popping up all over the place. If paying this price per image without such rights, you are probably being seriously overcharged.
If you have designers/agencies offering inclusion of stock art in their price, they are most likely using cheap sources like istockphoto.com which can be less than $10/image for low resolution (website quality) use.
You can find some really great art there, too. These web designers definitely are not including $100+/photo images, I assure you. Sometimes you'll want more unique art and can expect to pay $100-350 for that. Again, $800 sounds like either custom or exclusive or large format, very high-resolution images which you can use in print.
If you keep your agency, and want to keep costs down, tell them you would like to find/buy your own images--but hunt for images within their artistic/style guidelines or you may very well end up with a less professional looking final product than they would otherwise provide. Or offer to pay them for some "time" to search for images within your preferred price ranges, or from your preferred vendors, so you can control costs.
The questions I'd ask them are:
1. For $800 per image, what exactly am I buying? (rights, usage parameters, image size/quality... who owns the image? can you use in more than one ad/print piece? etc)
2. What are my options for using less costly images? (provide your own? price parameters? etc)