Jim Colburn - Don't Ask

Dear Mr. Uberagentur

Dear Mr. Uberagentur,

A photographer is a person with a certain amount of artistic sensibility tempered by experience, education or both. He or she is an intelligent human being that doesn't take well to being treated like a idiot. Now I understand that you may be under the impression that photographers are, in fact, children, but that's probably because they usually enjoy what they do and all that smiling and laughter does tend to confuse people like you.

Some photographers can be sent out (on what we like to refer to as an "assignment") to document a scene or an event. Some photographers stay in one place (in what we refer to as a "studio") to take pictures of things that some people want other people to buy. Some photographers even travel all over the place just to take pictures that other people might want to hang on their walls.... It's a crazy old world, isn't it?

Some photographers are good at selling their talents and their photographs and some are less than good, but even the good ones would rather be out taking pictures than sitting at a desk, answering the phone, sending out bills, sending out statements and all that other stuff that's generally referred to as "business." But business is important because even photographers have to pay for food, rent, cable, CDs and all that other stuff (that we often refer to as "stuff.")

That's where you're supposed to come in. You seem like a nice guy. You seemed to enjoy talking on the phone and selling stuff and there really is an art to selling stuff. It used to be that there were agents and photographers living and working in a sometimes-harmonious symbiosis but these days it feels as though there's a dark cloud over Mordor and that life isn't as good as it used to be.

There's this whole "content provider" thing. A content provider would seem to be one of those guys that puts ketchup into bottles at the Heinz factory or, perhaps, the guy that squeezes the milk into the bucket under the back end of the cow. Maybe it's even the cow itself. I'm not really sure abut all the details but I am sure that a photographer isn't a "content provider."

Then there's your Wal-Mart approach to selling pictures, but it's an approach that would've driven Sam Walton back to Bentonville with a stop at bankruptcy court long ago. It seems that you used to be able to sell a photograph for, say, $1000 to one magazine (something we refer to as an "exclusive.") You'd take $500 and send the photographer the other $500 and you'd both be pretty happy. Then you came up with the idea of selling that same photograph to 30 magazines for, say, $200 each. That would mean that you'd get $3,000, the photographer would get $3,000 for the same darn picture and you'd both be really, really happy. The only problem with the idea seems to be that you were only able to sell the picture to three magazines for that $200. So you wound up getting $300 and the photographer got only $300 and neither you, the photographer nor the photographer's landlord were either very, really or even quite happy.

Recently you came up with another idea, maybe it's the "new economy" idea, or maybe it's just a bad idea. It's seems that you want the photographer to take a picture for which he or she gets $200. You take it and sell it to ten magazines for $50 each and keep $300. You hand it to someone at a computer (making a little over minimum wage) and they combine it with four other pictures that cost you $200 and you then sell it to a car company for use in an ad and get another $5,000.

Hmmmm.... Remember when I wrote that photographers were "intelligent?" it seems to me that a whole lot of them are starting to understand how badly they're being treated and they might be starting to figure out how to change things to work a bit more in their favor.

If you've ever done a Google search (and who hasn't these days) you might understand that all it would take to replace your and your modern "on line" agency would be a similar, searchable, web site with links to photographers' own web sites. Maybe that'd be something for those folks at Google to think about. A little scanning, a little cataloging, a little web page design, a little arrangement-with-any-one-of-ten-companies-to-take-credit-cards-on-line and the photographer could cut out the middle man.

That would be you Mr. Uberagentur.

Jim Colburn
Contributing Writer

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