How do you explain the value of native files to an uneducated client?

If you design a piece for print. It gets reproduced several times over the course of a few years. Then the client doesn’t return for any work for a few more years. And suddenly you are contacted asking for native files (Indesign, Illustrator, Photoshop). As the client puts it, “We just want to be able to make minor changes, we aren’t designers.”

Now, there is absolutely value in the native files. They are my “secret recipe” as a designer and anyone asking for that recipe should provide compensation for the ease of reusing, repurposing, and altering the recipe.

How do you explain to this client that there is value in the native files?

How do you counter the “But we already paid for the design.” argument?

Note: I know I own the files. I know my contract states I own the files. Heck even without a contract, US Copyright law states I own the files.

What I’m seeking is an elegant, less argumentative, method of explaining the file ownership to the uneducated client. Reciting legal statutes and contract clauses doesn’t often make for friendly client relations. My goal is to find a method of explaining so it is fully understood by the client without the appearance of a contract clause which forces them to do something against their will. I want the client to respect and not resent these types of contract clauses.


To one of @SteveA points, no client of mine has ever cared that I need to make money from my work. To a one, they pulled and pulled and pulled to extract every penny they could out of me and my work. I could see the incessant revisions and last second changes the hour before delivery coming down the pike and would try to head them off at the pass based on the contract, (and here is my point) they will argue that they are helping me by paying at all and that their word of mouth will bring me more business. That, somehow, by trying to limit their abuse of my time, I am throwing away a great opportunity to expand my business.

And since I’m kind of a hothead, I’d usually just take the hit and drop them as a client right there. 3 times in 10 years. But that’s me.

Therefore, I recommend staying away from the pity angle “this is how I put food on the table” kind of thing. They simply don’t care.

My Recommendation

What you do is write a script. It’s a common enough occurrence that you really should have a Marketing Call Center script memorized about how to deal with it. Something like this…

Could you email those files? We just want to be able to make minor changes, but we aren’t designers.

I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t do that. (lol) That data was not covered as part of the original contract.

But we already paid for the design.

Well, yeah… exactly. You paid for the design; for the art. And you’ve seen value from the art. What you’re paying for here is data and convenience. It’s data, files, that I created, that will provide you with a level of convenience that has value beyond the contracted design.

If we’d had this discussion at the onset of our relationship, I’d have said the same thing, and it would have been extra to provide the source files along with the art.

Of course, it’s a little more convenient than just having me make the changes, but at that point the data, the files, have nothing to do with it.

You’re just trying to hold us ransom because you think you have us over a barrel.

As I said, it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d closed the contract yesterday. The data, source files, would have been a cost over and above the design, the art.

That dude over there didn’t charge us for the files that one time.

Well, that’s the price he requests for his data. (BONUS ROUND! …if you know that guy and how your work compares to his. But don’t thrash on him, take the opportunity to promote your own work.)

Occasionally you’ll hear a different complaint, and may have to think on the fly. I wish you luck, but it’s something to work into the script.

Last point

The gorilla in the room: It’s Contract Etiquette vs Human Nature. You don’t want to be a Hat, but you want to be paid. If they insist, then they’re being a Hat and your professional demeanor will serve you well.

  • The person that knows contracts won’t even try to do this. They would probably just call you to make the changes and send over new copy. “Thanks.”
  • The person that called you likely already knows better and they’re just trying to get something for nothing for whatever reason. maybe getting purchase orders is a pita, or petty cash is low, or the design budget for the year is ripped.
  • The person that doesn’t know contracts will expect you to give them a one-off because they believe that they or their business was somehow special.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about money. It’s the crux of the entire conversation. They know it, you know it. They don’t want to pay you, you want to be paid. How you go talking about it (techniques, words, phrases, etc) is an age-old argument that I’ll let you research elsewhere.

[edit] Here’s a video that covers the topic well. PG-13 for expletives. (Be careful with start volume.)

“Mike Monteiro: **** You, Pay Me”

Source : Link , Question Author : Scott , Answer Author : Community

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