Common Cents
Hitting the Streets
August 2009

by Mark Loundy

"It turns out that the economy has been affecting ad linage and the paper's bottom line has suffered. The major corporation that owns the paper tells the local manager to fix the problem – or else. The quick fix is to cut staff and that's what happens. The photo department is converted to all-freelancers who get $50 per assignment."

— Common Cents, July 2003

I wrote these words when the economy was humming along just fine, thank you. I was talking about fat and sassy staff photographers who took the occasional low-rate freelance gig to pick up extra cash.

Now, with Pulitzer Prize winners hitting the pavement, staffers are not quite so sassy and no job in U.S. newspapers is remotely safe.

With beads of sweat collecting on their worried brows, it's time for staffers to re-visit the real costs of doing business that are subsidized by their day job. There is significant marketing value in a daily byline. That vanishes when a staffer is "downsized" along with things like office space and supplies, employer-paid insurance, company equipment, etc.

That's why it is critical for photographers who are freelancing on the side to engage in good business practices. Once you're on your own, any clients that you may have collected aren't going to give you a second look when you suddenly raise your rates and refuse to sign rights-grabbing contracts. Those practices need to be established before you're depending on freelance billing for your next rent check.

So figure out your Cost of Doing Business, join Editorial Photographers, read John Harrington's "Best Business Practices for Photographers" and build a real, grown-up business.

In the original column, my "hero" ended up leaving the business and going to real estate school. We all know how well that's been working out.

Today's heroes will survive by serving their markets with compelling images, good business practices and professional self-respect.


• OnRequest Images has dumped their asinine crowdsourcing business model and now operates more like a traditional agency – with day rates for assignment work and a somewhat low 40 percent photographer's cut for stock sales.


• ABC's The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Chronicle of Philanthropy for their rights-grabbing new contract disguised under a 22 percent day rate increase. Details: They raised rates by $100 but eliminated the $100 Web usage payment and "standardized" the payment arrangement for reprints.


Hush Society Magazine for soliciting "intern" videographers and photographers for a 16-hour per week commitment. The pay: credit only.

• Sound Publishing for their rights-grabbing $20 per published "pic" freelancer agreement.

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.


• Why wasn't I told about this? The Freelancers Union is an advocacy group for independent workers. Although it cannot legally engage in collective bargaining, it does provide a voice for freelancer interests and offers group rates for insurance and a 401k pension plan. The organization has been around since 1995 and claims more than 60,000 members.

• Stumped by the Copyright Office's online registration process? PhotoShelter's Allen Murabayashi has put together a handy tutorial. Filing electronically is the only way – short of paying a $685 "special handling fee" – to get past the 18-month processing backlog caused by the increased volume brought on by the new system.


Allen Murabayashi's Tutorial on Copyright E-Registration

Common Cents "They Walk The Line," July 2003

Copyright Backlog Mounts

Freelancers Union

NPPA Independent Photographers Toolkit

Advertising Photographers of America Business Manual

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Editorial Photographers

Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group (Message Archives)

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.

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