Common Cents
June 2003

by Mark Loundy

"Every success is built on the ability to do better than good enough."
— Author Unknown

When is enough enough? A lot of heat has been generated during the past couple of years about whether the NPPA has done enough to support its freelance members. Everything from accusations of the organization being "in bed" with publishers to suggestions that the NPPA should become a formal union have crisscrossed through cyberspace.

What the NPPA has done is on the record: They've amended their bylaws to permit commentary on, and educational programs about, business and labor issues. They've re-formed the Business Practices Committee. They've offered a number of business sessions at their various educational programs including the national convention, the Northern Short Course and Flying Short Course, among others.

But is it enough? Publishers continue to squeeze freelancers by demanding broad rights or Work For Hire agreements in exchange for rates that have not increased in decades or are actually decreasing. Schools continue to churn out graduates who are well-versed in technical and ethical matters but are lambs led to slaughter by one-sided contracts.

The times demand strong leadership and groups such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Editorial Photographers and others strain to fill the vacuum. But the preeminent organization of photojournalists has uttered scarcely a whisper. Not nearly enough.

What should the NPPA do?

  • Use the amended bylaws and condemn in the strongest and clearest terms one-sided, rights-grabbing business dealings.
  • Raise the priority and resources of the Business Practices Committee to address business issues as if the existence of the industry were at stake. Because it is.
  • Work with schools to create an effective and streetwise business practices curriculum.
  • Establish minimum contract standards that will allow independent photographers to achieve profitability. Publish a list of publications that meet those minimums. Will that be enough? Perhaps not. But it'll be a good start.

The Good: Not a one this month.
The Bad: Digital Photographer Magazine for its rights grab in its reader-supplied "Digital Photo Gallery."
The Ugly:

  • Good Housekeeping for sending a rights-grabbing contract to a photographer three weeks after the shoot.
  •  North Jersey Media Group makes the list again for a flat refusal to consider any modification to their contract - a true "take it or leave it" proposition. I say leave it.

    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 had just finished my session on The Cost of Doing Business at the Northern Short Course when a young lady came up to me. She had a fulltime job in the financial industry but was just starting out as a freelance photographer.

    She said she wanted to do things right but was a bit discouraged by what I had talked about during the session. I told her that since she already had a job, she actually had an advantage. That doesn't mean that she could afford to take bad deals and make up the difference with her day job. But it did mean that she could afford to say no to bad deals and go longer between assignments while she built up a well-paying clientele.

    I could see a lightbulb go on above her head. She looked up at me and thanked me for giving her a different way of looking at her situation. As I watched her leave the room and started to gather my things, I thought that the whole trip was worth that one conversation.
  • AOL Time Warner ended free access to the websites of some of their most popular magazines at the end of March. One of their VPs was quoted as saying "If the content is really great, we should be getting paid for it..." I guess he doesn't extend that same principle to the primary creators of that content their freelance contributors, who are still faced with Work For Hire contracts.
  • The person who suggested that I start writing this column is News Photographer Editor Jim Gordon. The issue of News Photographer for which this was originally written was the last to be published under his able stewardship. I thank him for the freedom to write what I want. I wish Jim and his wife Joan all the best in their retirement. Vaya con Dios, Gordo.


    American Society of Journalists and Authors

    NPPA Bylaws

    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.

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