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"Should I Work For Free?"

Court Hands Morel His First Victory In AFP Case

Shepard Fairey To Settle 'Hope' Poster Case With Associated Press

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Portions of this column were originally written for the February 2011 edition of News Photographer Magazine.

Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.

February 2011, Volume 99
By Mark Loundy

"Val·u noun, verb, any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself."

— Random House Dictionary

The Random House Dictionary lists 18 different definitions for the word "value." But the essence of the word is really based upon personal opinion. "How much is something worth to me?"

Value MatchI've often complained about the downtrend in the value of professionally produced images. When a chamber of commerce assembles a library of local images by running a right-grabbing contest, a photographer assigns a value to their images that corresponds to the potential prize or simply to the satisfaction of seeing their image in print or on a website. If the two values match, the photographer will enter the contest.

When a client balks at what I consider to be a fair price, their perception of the value of my work does not match the value that they are seeking. It's my job to change their perception of my work's value by educating them about what my work can do for them. Telling them about my costs of doing business or how many hours it takes for a project's post-production is like explaining Purina's manufacturing process to a dog — they just won't care.

When a publisher presents you with a fait accompli contract, you can convince them that your work is more valuable, you can walk, or you can accept your own value mismatch. The trick is in finding your match in the first place by tailoring your work to a market that needs what you do.

The Good
Bullet New image agency Tandem, for its traditional 50-50 split and its photographer-centric philosophy. My only problem is that its double-T logo looks like the Greek letter Pi.

The Bad
Bullet The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise for its rights-grabbing freelance contract.

The Ugly
Bullet The Burlington (VT) Free Press and the Shelburne Museum for their rights-grabbing photo contest. Under the rules, they could use all of the entries in any commercial work that they wished, without compensating the photographers in any way.
Bullet Not only does the photo contest grab all rights (including copyright) from all entries, it requires entrants to legally indemnify the contest promoter.

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.

  • Getty Images is pushing the already depressed stock photo market to new lows with the re-launch of their service. It's aimed at small businesses and features prices as low as less than $1 per image. Getty says in its press release for the service that, "Demand for reasonably-priced digital content is growing." Yet common sense (not to mention Econ 101) would say that when demand increases so do prices. Senior Director of Product Management Harry Kelly explains the contradiction by saying, "As the demand for digital content expands, that growth is coming largely from small businesses and from newcomers to the image-buying process."
    And so, Getty underscores its view of photography as a low-cost commodity by pursuing a low-end market and accelerating the race to the bottom. As the old vaudeville joke goes: "We lose money on every sale, but we make up for it in volume."
  • Freelance illustrator Jessica Hische distilled a classic business decision down to a single graphic in her "Should I Work For Free?" flowchart. It's done tongue-in-cheek, but it can actually be applied to real-life situations. One of my favorite boxes is, "Just because a business isn't profitable, that doesn't make them a non-profit."
  • AFP continues shooting legal blanks in its legal battle with photographer Daniel Morel. Two days before Christmas, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley denied AFP's request for dismissal and ruled that Morel can proceed with his suit against AFP and its co-defendants for using Morel's Haiti images without permission.
  • The Associated Press and artist Shepard Fairey put some of their differences aside by settling a portion of their legal disagreements over Fairey's adaptation of an AP freelancer's image of then-senator Barack Obama. A January story in the L.A. Times says that The AP continues to pursue claims against a clothing maker that is partially owned by Fairey and that a criminal investigation into allegations that Fairey knowingly submitted false images and deleted others as part of the case is also ongoing.