Common Cents

The Perfect Storm
June 2008

by Mark Loundy

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Remember the scene in "The Perfect Storm" where George Clooney and his crew had sailed through meteorological purgatory and survived only to encounter a gi-normous wave, which sends the boat to the bottom? Well, the already failing newspaper industry has encountered the reality of a recession along with a flattening ad market.

While the results won't be quite as immediate for the industry as a whole, more and more newspapers are announcing cuts, buyouts, consolidations and layoffs. Newly laid-off staffers are finding themselves involuntary freelancers — often with little business knowledge.

This means fewer dollars available in a market segment that was already barely viable for freelancers.

Two photographers who frequent separate online discussion forums I read recently announced that they were taking up wedding photography full-time. They had done their homework and will probably do well as long as they stay a step ahead of dangerous market trends such as giving away full-resolution files to clients.

Diversification is even more important for freelancers in a down market. You cannot depend on any single market segment, let alone any one client. The more different services that you can offer, and the wider variety of clients you have, the more likely you are to survive rough financial weather.


• Nothing Good this month.


• The "small academic book publisher" trolling for freebie images of the Supreme Court Building. There is no upside for the photographer in taking a deal like that.

• The upscale Boston Magazine for soliciting photographers on Flickr to supply images for, you guessed it, credit only. The posting actually stated that they had a zero image budget for the project.

• The professional photographers (if any) allowing their images to be included for free in Schmap Guides.

• The producers of a television show that will air in the metro D.C. area who want to hire a professional photographer to shoot production stills — for free.

Portland Urban Pages magazine. $10 per published image. Argghh!

The Knot for its all-rights contract that adds injury to insult by asking for everything in exchange for nothing. On top of that, they demand 12 months of market exclusivity.

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.


• Determining your Cost of Doing Business is critical. But it should only be used to figure the minimum that you can charge. Most jobs will be priced according to actual usage, which, with any luck, will be much higher than your minimums.

• Be careful if you're considering signing with the Mavrix photo agency. Their standard agreement calls for images submitted to them to remain in the agency's files "in perpetuity." You should always be able to pull your images and take them elsewhere if your agency relationship doesn't work out.


NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Business Manual

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group (Message Archives)

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

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© Mark Loundy

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