Mark Loundy
Common Cents

Tough Choices

Paper or plastic? Leaded or unleaded? Betty or Wilma?

Life is full of tough choices. The toughest for freelancers is whether to sign a Work Made For Hire (WFH) contract. But the choice is more fundamental than many realize. It's not a just choice of signing or not, it's a choice of professions.

Richard Owen, a freelancer from Florida, wrote on NPPA-L, "People just getting into the profession still have rent to pay, food to buy, equipment to keep maintained, etc. Sometimes you have to do something in order to survive."

He's right, but survival is more than just getting a check. Survival is for the long run. That's why even a rookie shooter has to start with sound business practices. If you want to operate a money-losing business, it'll have to be subsidized by your spouse or your parents. Or maybe Lotto.

Signing a WFH contract without adequate compensation or working for money-losing rates sets you up for financial failure. You'll never be able to raise your rates for your existing clients and you will have contributed to the not-so-slow decline of rates and deterioration of contracts.

The sorry fact is that the nearly the entire newspaper industry is no longer a viable market for freelance editorial photographers.

Conan Owen wrote on NPPA-L, "There are too many photojournalists in this world." He went on to say that publications have, "no shortage of capable photographers who will go to great lengths, suffer great hardships (including lower pay) and crawl over their fellow photographers to get a day-rate and a by-line..."

Conan is right. One solution is to reduce the supply of photographers. This can happen in two ways:

* Freelancers can continue on as they have. Eventually, they will go out of business. (Would you like fries with that?)

* Freelancers can adopt sound business practices. This will reduce the supply of cheap photographers running failing businesses. Publications will be forced to increase their photo budgets or reduce the amount of photography they use.

Photographers who operate real businesses are faced with a tough choice. Sign only livable agreements, or do something else for a living. Even those living in denial (not the river in Egypt) will eventually be forced to choose.

More from Richard Owen (too many "Owens,") "Let's work at changing what stops us from organizing like the Screen Actors Guild and build some organization into something with some LEGAL teeth behind them."
That's why the Conyers bill is so important. If you haven't already contacted your congressional representative about it, use the links blow to do so.

Now back to those choices. Samantha or Jeannie... candy mint or breath mint?

The Good: Somebody submitted USA Today, but they were in my March column.
The Bad: The Dallas Morning News moves up one notch for limiting its rights grab to 30 days. Kudos for the change, but this is still definitely a very bad deal.
The Ugly: Family Fun magazine. Indemnification clause. Not so fun.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

I'm hearing reports of a new shenanigan being perpetrated by at least one major news publication. They call to see if a photographer is going to be attending a particular event. They don't actually issue an assignment; they just suggest that they might be interested. Then, if they do want images, they avoid paying an assignment fee entirely. Don't fall for this. If you get such a call tell them that you plan to be there ONLY if you have an assignment.

I haven't checked this out, but it sounds promising. Freelancer Stephen Wallace has created an online image distribution system called the Wirephoto Lightboard designed for independent photographers. The service handles multiple clients, copyright, distribution, and licensing fees. You can find more on the website. If you use it, let me know what you think.


Congressional representative look-up page

National Writers Union HR 4643 resource page

Graphic Artists Guild HR 4643 page

The Fugitive

Picture of Loundy on the run

Editorial Photographers Estimating Tools

Boston Globe Freelancers Association

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

© 2002 Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.

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