What to say… when a client asks for “source” files

I've been reaching out to creatives lately to find out if there are times when they don't know what to say.

Troy Birdsong of Birdsong Creative has been getting this question often as "the digital age soars ahead." Here's his question:

Clients are asking for “source” files. With a new client I have the standard “proprietary process” that I’ve pulled from the Pricing and Ethical Guidelines book. I can usually get them to understand, but they aren't always happy. 

However, with existing clients that I have long standing relationship with, it gets a bit stickier. I don’t want to offend them, but I also expect them to respect that line.

When asked for source files, I usually say “we don’t typically….” and explain the reason’s, but give them the files anyway for the sake of the long term relationship. Larger organizations that are used to dealing with creative agencies get it, but in this economy we’re dealing with smaller companies that don’t. Either way it’s awkward.

I feel like there’s more that I should be doing on the front end to derail this conversation before it ever arises.

Any suggestions for Troy?

Are there ever times when you don't know what to say?

4 thoughts on “What to say… when a client asks for “source” files

  1. elizabeth malpass

    I have the exact same awkwardness, followed by referring to Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, followed by more awkwardness.
    Or with longstanding clients, “i don’t typically…here’s why…but here are the files” …followed by more awkwardness and often resentment.
    It’s in my contract, but it also feels awkward referring to the contract.

  2. H.

    My rule is to not deliver source files to a client. However, in the event that they insist on getting them, I charge an additional, substantial fee for those proprietary files. I also stipulate that any components of those files cannot be used in unrelated projects.

  3. Stephanie Jones

    I have language in my contract about my ownership of the native files and also about how pricing can be negotiated to obtain the source files, so when asked about it I can say, “Sure, I’d love to prepare those for you. As you’re aware from our contract, the ownership of the source files belongs to the me as is standard in this industry and consistent with copyright laws, however I am open to discussing a reasonable price for the files.” Then I discuss the value of the source files and why they incur more cost. The conversation is never really fun to have, but by outlining expectations early in the process in my contract I can at least fall back on that so it doesn’t look like I’m trying squeeze more money about of them willy nilly.

  4. Sabine

    I have a medium sized long term client for whom I had made many brochures, and corporate design items in the past. I gave them files and templates to pass on to printers and ad agencies when placing an ad.
    Recently I they try to save money and their engineers and assistants DIY. It has created incredibly difficult situations for me as they are not working with professional software, outdated operating systems and PCs. They lack the knowledge of working with their software efficiently and they have no eye for design whatsoever. The quality and look of files I have seen printed or I get back only for special problem solving are appalling.
    I was asked to do foolproof templates for engineers to roll out brochures. Quite suicidal for a designer. The results are nothing to brag about.
    The damage of this practice is bigger than the savings. Besides I don’t think that it is cheaper to have an engineer or even assistant full time on staff who spends a lot of time in designing an ugly brochure instead of hiring a designer on occasion.