The Digital Journalist
Common Cents
November 2004

by Mark Loundy

"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime ..."
- Chinese Proverb

Light from the setting sun skims across a perfect crescent of sand in the south Pacific. Small boats bearing tourists and commercial fishermen head for hotels and to Miller Time. Ah, paradise.

FishNot so fast. During the 1998 Asian economic crisis desperate local fishermen in this north Bali bay resorted to dynamite fishing and nearly destroyed the coral reef that supports the fish that they depend on. The practice would have ended their livelihood forever.

Photographers who accept bad deals saying, "it's better to get a little money than no money" are performing the business equivalent of dynamite fishing. They're destroying their own futures by lowering market rates and terms to the point that they won't support a profitable business.

But it's not enough to complain about the problem. Education is the key and we can't wait for official photojournalism curriculum to include business courses. We have to take responsibility ourselves to assure that young photographers understand the realities of business and to help make sure that they will have a viable profession from which they can retire.

Ask to make a business presentation to your local high school or college journalism classes. Talk about contracts, copyright and the Cost of Doing Business. Come back every year and give the new students the Straight Skinny.

What happened back in Bali? The reef and the local way of life were barely saved by education and intervention by conservationists and by the fisherman themselves. Informed fishermen spread the word to their easy-money colleagues and stopped the destruction just in time. With enlightened conservation practices the reef is now coming back to life, assuring a future for the fish and for the fishermen. There is hope for us all.

The Good

None this month.

The Bad

Knight-Ridder Tribune (KRT) for their '"co-ownership' but we can use your work forever without paying you again" contract."

The Ugly

America 24/7 for contracting with Getty Images to syndicate the work of the hundreds of photographers who shot the images for the project. Getty gets a 50 percent cut of the sales. Instead of the remaining 50 percent going to the photographers, America 24/7 keeps 40 percent of the remainder for performing ordinary agency administrative functions that Getty should be performing in the first place. The deadline for contributors to sign was last month. I hope they all realized what a bad deal this is. Ick!

Kennesaw State University wanted to hire a photographer to shoot two soccer games during a three-day out-of-town tournament. In return for all rights to the entire shoot, they offered a whopping $150 and no expenses. The photog countered with a reasonable offer and was flatly turned down. The real "Ugly" in all of this is if any other photographer accepted the deal.

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.


One more reason to make sure that your paperwork is in order before the shoot: In a recent case in New York a photographer sued for unauthorized usage when a client used more images than he agreed to. The trouble was that he did not submit a delivery memo and had no signed agreement from the client. In short, he couldn't prove his claims and the judge ruled against him.


NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers Cost of Doing Business Calculator

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

© Mark Loundy

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