Common Cents
September 2003

by Mark Loundy

If we're looking for the sources of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.

— P.J. O'Rourke, 1992

A picture editor for a national weekly trade publication recently wrote to me. I promised that I wouldn't use his name, but what he said disturbed me. He said that he was a recent graduate and was shocked and troubled, "by the greed of photographers."

I kid you not. He really said that. He went on to say, "I know that there are good photographers who can, rightly, demand high-end rates. However, I get the feeling that organizations like Editorial Photographer, are giving photographers the idea that they can demand the same price across the board. I can't tell you how many poor photographers I've had to make excuses for because they didn't/couldn't do their job."

After the paramedics took the defibrillator paddles off of my chest, I struggled back to the keyboard and wrote the following:

When I talk about business practices, I'm addressing competent reliable photographers; people who deliver high-quality work time after time. There is really no room for photographers who do not deliver. At the same time, there is an oversupply of photographers who can do excellent work but do not understand how to run a business.

Is it "greedy" to charge a fee that covers not only the basic costs of doing business, but also allows the photographer to pay himself a decent wage? I don't know how much you make per year as a picture editor, but add $40,000 (average yearly cost of doing business) to it. That's approximately how much it takes an independent contractor to make as much as you do.

Now take that amount and divide it by 100. That's how many billable days a very successful freelancer works in a year. An average freelancer might only work 80 days a year. That number is how much the freelancer has to make on each of those billable days.

If you make $35,000 a year as a staffer, that would mean that a freelancer would have to work at least 100 days at $750 per day to end up with a $35,000 paycheck. If the freelancer only worked 80 days a year, he'd have to average more than $937 a day.

I'm guessing that $35,000 doesn't go very far in your town. If a photographer with an average cost of doing business averaged $500 per day he would gross $50,000 but end up making the equivalent of about $10,000 per year or about $193 a week and still owe income tax on it. Do you still think that $500 a day is being greedy?

An editor doesn't hire stringers for any amount unless they can prove that they can and will deliver the goods. There are too many good people out there to do anything else.

The Good: Kinko's, for refusing to duplicate images for a model without written permission from the photographer.
The Bad:

  • The Providence Journal for their all-rights, all media, forever and ever contract. And this was for stock use. Plus, they reserve the right to relicense the images without further payment to the photographer.
  • The Wall Street Journal for claiming "Fair Use" when they used a photographer's image to create one of their cover portraits. This one is in Federal Court. I'll keep you posted.
    The Ugly:
  • See Leftovers. This one is just too too Ugly.

    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.

  • Normally this would have been an "Ugly," but it deserves its own mention.
    OnRequest Images takes image requests from its clients and distributes them to its member photographers. The photographers all shoot the same assignment and the customer gets to choose which one to license. The rest get nada. Pardon me while I search for my lunch, I lost it when I first read about this one.

    Apologies to Jean-François Millet, wherever he is, for the misuse of his 1857 work "The Gleaners."


    Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko's Graphics Corporation

    OnRequest Images

    Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

    Editorial Photographers Cost of Doing Business Calculator

    Small Business Administration

    Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

    Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

    NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

    © Mark Loundy

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

  • Write a Letter to the Editor
    Join our Mailing List
    © The Digital Journalist