The Digital Journalist
Common Cents

by Mark Loundy

"People may or may not say what they mean ... but they always say something designed to get what they want."
- David Mamet, playwright

In a story attributed to photographer Gregory Heisler, a client tells Heisler's agent that they need a buyout. Heisler's agent enthusiastically tells the client that they love doing buyouts and asks them what kid of buyout they want, local, regional, national? What kind of usage?

Of course a buyout means all rights, including copyright. But few clients really need all rights. Software such as FotoQuote will generate fees running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars if every possible usage is included. Sometimes, a client merely needs to be able to check off a box and tell their boss that they got a "buyout." Heisler's agent got creative and characterized an ordinary limited-rights licensing deal as a "buyout." The client was able to check-off the "buyout" box and Heisler's agent was able to negotiate a reasonable deal.

When a client asks for something unreasonable, you don't have to use scorched-earth tactics and blow the deal. Make the client understand that you are there to help them solve their problems. After all, that's why they came to you in the first place.

Every unreasonable request is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are there to help. Guide your clients through what they really need and craft a win-win deal. They will appreciate your professionalism and will want to work with you again.

After all, how many clients really need Lithuanian-language-DVD-cover rights?

The Good

  • It seems that too many photographers refused to sign the National Post's egregious contract (see February Common Cents.) So the heavens opened and the paper recalled it. We're keeping an eye open for what, if anything, takes its place. What I want to know is why anybody would have signed it.
  • Inc. Magazine, for good-faith negotiations, including agreeing to reasonable expense fees for an assistant and accepting one-time print rights. But the photographer did have to negotiate. The initial offer was not nearly that good.

The Bad

  • We may be bad, but we didn't get any "Bads" this month.

The Ugly

  • Canada News Wire, for treating freelancers as if they were employees - except for the benefits and job security.

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.


  • Stop using the term "sell." Photographers "license" their images for specific uses. "Sell" only supports the misconception that many clients have that they can do anything they want with images that you produce.
  • Two sides of the same coin: Staffers at one paper are starting to turn down freelance assignments for publications that demand all rights. At another paper, the staffers are angry because freelancers hired by the paper get to keep the rights to their images. What those staffers don't realize is that if the freelancers gave up all rights, there would be less justification to employ staffers. When the freelancers get a fair shake, the staffers enjoy enhanced job security.
  • Editorial Photographers President Brian Smith has collected a goldmine of advice from some of the top leaders in the industry. Look for "Starting Out" in the EP Web site Resources section.


EP "Starting Out" article

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.