Common Cents
February 2009

by Mark Loundy

"When someone says that the free market isn't working, what he means is that he doesn't like the way the free market is working."
Nicolas Martin

Sometimes a pundit is so blatantly provocative that they can't be taken seriously. So rather than assist in the pandering for blog traffic, I will let David Hobby in The Strobist remain anonymous.

My concern is that a casual reader will take Hobby, uh, the blogger, to heart when he talks about why it can be good for your business to work for free.

Every photographer who works for free increases the belief that photography is not worth paying for. It becomes just a bit more difficult to negotiate a reasonable fee when photographers think that they can use free services as an entrée into future — paid — work.

If I were a photo buyer I would look for photographers with "downtime" who would be interested in working for free. Why would I pay for something when my budget just got slashed due to the economic downturn?

Photographer David duChemin does a lot of work for charities and NGOs. But he doesn't do it all for free. He blogged about his philosophy of working with organizations that constantly plead poverty. "You are responsible to steward your time and money, your family and your business," he wrote. "This doesn't mean you can't find creative ways of doing the latter while working for the client, but it does mean you need to know what your cost of doing business is, and whether you can actually afford to give it away. You need to remind yourself there's no such thing as FREE."

Well said, David. Besides, if you're doing it for free, it's just a, uh, hobby.

The Good

• I wish. Not this month.

The Bad

• for their $50 offer for shooting and uploading 100 images at a state cross-country meet.

The Ugly

• The Portuguese author asking photographers to pay him the equivalent of $450 to have their images published in his book.

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 almost added a "The Stupid" category just for the Breeders Cup, which has shot itself in the hoof by demanding all rights from photographers credentialed to its events. Horse racing as a sports business has been circling the drain for some time. They need all the coverage they can get.

• If you live or work in the UK, check out the Own-It site. The folks at the London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts London, have put together a treasure trove of intellectual property advice for creative businesses.

• Here I've been writing this column to help photographers succeed. But PhotoShelter CEO Allen Murabayashi may have had other things on his mind in his article, "How To Fail As A Photographer."

• The National Geographic CD case is over. Photographer Jerry Greenberg failed in his attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to examine the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision which found that NG's CD-ROM compilation of its back issues did not comprise a revision for the purposes of copyright law.


David duChemin's Blog About "Free"

Four Reasons to Consider Working for Free

How To Fail As a Photographer

Supreme Court closes book on photographer's case


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.