John Harrington's windfall negotiation (Common Cents September, 2002) caused more than a bit of moral outrage for some readers. They felt that Harrington took unfair advantage of his client.
James Jernigan writes, "Shame on John Harrington for overcharging his client! What he did in my book is what gives any industry a black eye. It is like asking a foreigner what their budget is for a cab ride and taking a 700 percent mark-up if the customer is gullible enough to pay it. In most states he would lose his license and certainly be fined or even possibly arrested. But not in the creative industry he proves that it is still 'caveat emptor'. I truly don't understand why he didn't tell the client that his normal rate would be the $2000.00 dollars which is what he would charge anyone else for the job."
Michael Birchenall, Editor of Foodservice Monthly wrote, "It's one thing to get what the market will give — but to obviously take advantage of an inexperienced client is not negotiating, but outright gouging. To brag about billing and collecting on a job for $14,000 that was worth $2,000 is the kind of nightmare that makes ugly the favorable comparison of photographers to car salesmen in Loundy's opening paragraph. Photographer Harrington then refers to a potential loss of dignity — it's a scary reference."
It's important to remember that photography is not sold like widgets from a catalog. It is licensed according to widely varying usage rates that take into account, among other things, the value to the client. If a buyer has budgeted $14,000 and I might have quoted $2,000, it's probably time for me to examine my pricing structure.
Jernigan also took issue with my presentation of the negotiation, "Obviously, from your opening paragraph you don't see anything wrong with what Mr. Harrington did. I think it is a shame that printing this approach may breed copycat crimes. By the way, if you think the freelance business is like a car dealership and this practice is OK then the freelance photo industry will end up just like the used car business which is one of the most hated and fraud-ridden industries and no matter what they do now to change their image people still think of them as such."
Not to step on my friend Paul Lester's toes, but ethics are critical in any business — even if only to encourage loyal clients and referrals. No freelancer can survive long if they don't keep their clients happy.
Michael Birchenall was also concerned about my son Harris developing a weight problem after scarfing down those eight cookies he traded for. Not to worry, Michael. Harris is on a local gymnastics team and burns about 50,000 calories an hour. He eats the cookies and I gain the weight.
The Good: According to Woody Allen,
"It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The
good ones slept better... while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking
hours much more." Please send in some news about good client practices.
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.
Kudos to Doug Thompson, owner of Blue Ridge Photography, for giving his interns "tough love" about the realities of the business of photography without destroying their passion for their craft. I'll be writing more about Blue Ridge's interns in a future column.