What Publishers Don't Understand
Editorial by Dirck Halstead

Recently, there has been discussion on the National Press Photographers' Discussion list regarding the rights of newspaper staff photographers putting their unused images on their personal websites. In many cases, publishers are taking a negative stance with regards to these efforts. One of their concerns is that "publication" of outtakes not used by the newspaper could be called by police or lawyers in court trials. 

Although there may be some merit to this position, I think it is more likely a cover for the ever-growing tendency of publications to own "all rights" to what they consider "work for hire," which has now migrated from staff photographers---who have fringe benefits such as pension vesting---to freelancers for whom ownership of their images represents their personal equity in their futures. 

Publishers have the right to demand work for hire from their photographers, however, I think there is another issue unique to the Web, which today most of these organizations really don't understand. 

A traditional concept in publishing is to create "exclusives." In the old paradigm, having a set of photographs which the competition did not have was the coin of the realm. Now, in the world of the Web, old rules change. The premium in this new publishing venue is to create "mindshare" that promotes the "brand" of the publication. To achieve this goal, it is desirable to extend the boundaries for exhibiting the work of the brand as widely as possible. Therefore, any use or distribution by other sites, whether they are personal or corporate, serves this purpose, as long as the brand is associated with the image. 

This is why, for example, when we got the exclusive on David Kennerly's Seinfeld essay, one of the first things we did was to send six of our pictures, along with audio, to MSNBC on-line, offering them free of charge as long as MSNBC would link back to The Digital Journalist to view the rest of the story. The result was that on the day MSNBC ran the photos on the front of their "Living" section our hits went from an average of 1,000 per day to over 18,000 in a 24 hour period. 

What we did was to leverage MSNBC's wider "door" to benefit our brand. Increased hits means more interest by sponsors, which generates cash flow for us, which in turn allows us to commission more stories. 

It is this fundamental concept that most print-based publishers don't understand. On the Web, you can't think in terms of sequestering your images, but rather, how you can share those images with other sites in order to help your own numbers. 

All of this reflects an increasing tendency to regard photojournalists as "picture providers," and disregarding the contributions that they can make toward the advancement of the publisher's brand. 

If I were a publisher I would actively encourage my photographers to use their photos on their own sites---to extend their reach as far as possible, as long as their work carries with it the trademark logo and link that would encourage people to visit my publication's site and be exposed to my product. 

This is an example of how we as photographers and the industry as a whole, including the NPPA and the ASMP, need to start engaging the publishers at their conventions. They need the education as much as we do.

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