Giving it away for nothing is an age old problem that afflicts creative types, and they are often accused of prostituting themselves by doing so. Let’s be clear – prostitutes charge for their services.
A good thread was started by Guilad Kahn on Lightstalkers on just this subject, titled “I’ll Pay You”. Sadly it descended into general mud slinging and eventually the whole thread was pulled – shame really as it was an important issue. Anyway, a rather nice chap called Daniel Cuthbert saw fit to comment on the issue in his own blog, and sent me a message saying that he thought my “reply to Guilad’s post has to be one of the most inspirational ones i’ve seen on LS yet”. Flattery will get you everywhere, Daniel, so for the sake of posterity I thought I would post that reply here – perhaps if Guilad agrees, I can place the original post here as well.
My post on Lightstalkers:
The only reason Guilad’s post is so funny is because it is so bloody true. I have lost track of the number of times I have had to explain to prosepctive clients that I am providing a service and they should expect to pay for it.
The wannabes that do everything for nothing (not to be confused with doing things for free) undermine the very profession they claim to be so passionate about getting into.
Know your worth, and stick to it. If someone does not want to pay your rates, thank them for their enquiry and politely suggest that they look elsewhere. Because most photographers are not trained in good business practice, they have a tendency to jump on any prospective job, and strangle the life out of it. I know that there are many who will start a “negotiation” with the words: “my day rate is x, but I am prepared to discuss it”. Why the hell do people say that when the client has not even been given a chance to respond to the rate?
The thing is, all this knock down bullshit changes the mentality of the clients. Worst case I had was two years ago. Magazine editor rings me up after seeing one of my images and wanting to use it as a full bleed cover. Circulation and advertising rates were modest, and warranted a fee of about $1200. Before I could even suggest this to her, she told me that they had “a policy of only using images from photographers that advertise with them”, but that she would do me a deal and give me four months for the price of two (about $1000) and then they would use my picture on the cover. I asked her to explain the business model, and she was a little perplexed, and responded that other photographers did it. I suggested that “other photographers” clearly had vanity issues. I on the otherhand have a mortgage, a wife (very expensive), two children (even more expensive), two cats (don’t get me started on them) etc, and that what I needed was paying. I further pointed out that she had called me. I sent her a high res comp on approval, and made it clear that if they liked it, they would bloody well pay, and I would not be taking out advertising with them. Needless to say they turned to some other mug who clearly caved in.
Much has been written on LS about these issues in the past, but I think the very best post was by Sion Touhig in 2006. I hope he will forgive me for pasting it in here because it is so relevant.
Sion’s post from May 2006:
Apologies in advance to all reading this, because I’ve had a spectacularly bad day, so you all might want to get your flameproof pants on…
Yeah, fair enough, the thread was hijacked, but my argument was there’s a particular kind of mindset that seems to be unique to our business, that means clients can think they can get away with saying “We have no budget”…a phrase that in just about any other kind of work would elicit the logical response “Well, fuck off then, and stop wasting my time”.
I mean, I’m all for coming to an agreement, but in what other business would you even CONSIDER that line as a negotiating position? You work out your costs of doing business and work from there for a quote. It’s kind of an iron law, because any less than that and you’re paying to work. That has to be your bottom, unbreakable line, or you starve. Or you work out what utility the work has to you in other terms – stock sales for example.
If it hasn’t got any, then walk away.
A lowball offer is one thing, but when they say they have NO money…I mean, where do you start? All you can say is you’re a professional service provider, if they commission you, they can sleep soundly because the images will be delivered on time, to a high standard, you’re a reasonable guy…but it costs, ya know?
It’s very rare, if at all, that just getting the images ‘for your folio’ will bear any future fruit with that client. You’ve just demonstrated that you are literally, worthless.
I’ll try the “Sorry mate, I have no budget” argument the next time I walk into my local pub, and my next LS posting will be when I’ve had my collapsed lung fixed, after getting the shit kicked outta me by the barman…
To bring the thread back…Nathan, you’ve kinda answered your own question. If the company is a large wealthy entity, who can obviously pay the salaries of their staff and any outsourced services – the cleaners, the photocopier maintenance people, the I.T. support folks…why the fuck can’t they find any money for you? They didnt factor in all the costs for the job then say, “Doh! We forgot to budget for a photographer!” That’s ridiculous.
They have money – thats self evident. They just dont wanna give you any.
No…what they said was “Let’s not budget for a photographer AT ALL, because some desperate wanabee will ALWAYS roll over like a good dog and do a job for us for free…for his ‘portfolio’ or whatever those ‘artists’ call it, heh heh…”
And you know what? They’re invariably right. You sit and fret at the end of the phone about whether you should roll the dice and take the job, because a gun is being held to your head.
But…who’s holding the gun? Not the art director. They’re just taking advantage of the situation.
The gun is being held to your head by…whichever photographer is willing to do the work for nothing.
You’re being killed by another photographer. Another photographer who obviously has a death wish themselves.
Even if you ‘negotiate’ a compromise, it will invariably be a compromise based on the bottom line of whichever cheaper photographer is around. Whatever reduced fee you agree will be very hard to negotiate upwards.
Now, I don’t wanna sound like George W. Bush or anything, but in this business, I am increasingly coming to the inescapable conclusion that “You’re either with us or against us”
To widen the point somewhat – Jon Anderson has been busting his ass for about a month on LS to get together as many names as possible for a petition to combat a US copyright law, which if passed, is quite frankly, yet another nail in the coffin for independent freelance photography in the US and Worldwide. You don’t even need to be a U.S. Citizen to add your name to the list.
There are about 8000 LS members and how many have taken the trouble to do the simple task of adding their name to the list? About 300.
To which my response is – what a fuckin’ shameful disgrace. Jon is so committed to his thing, he even LIVES in the Third World, but is still willing to take time to defend your sorry asses – and most of the rest of you living in relative comfort in the First World can’t even be bothered to type your own name and address!
How the hell am I supposed to accept all this ‘Family of Man’ photojourno-concerned-photographer propaganda I keep reading on this site, when photographers won’t even support their OWN PEERS? Never mind anyone else!
Carlos is right…are we gonna stand up or not? Are we professionals or not? Do we have ANY self-respect? From what I see, some of the dirt-poor wretched of the Earth have more pride than the photographers who photograph them. They would NEVER stand to get screwed the way we do.
That’s all you need to know about what the REAL problem is in this business…and it’s most dirty, sordid, unspeakable little secret, which is – a lot of the people who will roll over and do the job over a photographers bankrupt body are all on LS.
Not so long ago when we weren’t all on the internet (I’m old enough to remember), maybe ignorance was a defence. I perceive a widespread lack of basic knowledge on LS about copyright law, licensing, rates, metadata, developments in the photo-world…it used to be tough to keep up to speed before the Web.
No more. All the info you need, is a mouseclick away.
My message to any LS member with their head in the sand, living in the NachtweyWorld Dreamland Themepark is:
YOU are the problem – not Getty Images, not Corbis, not the Orphan Works Bill, not RF images, not Micro-Stock, not Work For Hire, not rights grabbing contracts…
You. Because without you, they would never have existed.
If you can’t get to grips with the basic concepts of controlling and valuing your work in the digital world (the ONLY world which matters now), and by extension, engage in ethical business practice by valuing the work of your peers and holding the line on decent, fair rates, then you have no place in this business.
Because it’s you who are killing the photographers who value their work and businesses – and yours – enough, to walk away from ‘no budget’ nonsense.