A Dangerous New Marketing Paradigm… Blogs, Magazines, Fashion Designers, Agencies and Fools

I don’t have my wits around this one quite as well as some issues, but I have been observing a new marketing paradigm emerging and its impact on the industry is anything but good.

My first encounter with it was a few years back when I noticed significant traffic coming to my website out of a different continent.  I followed the links back to learn they were all coming from a major print magazine.  I thought that odd and looked them up on the web to find they also had a blog and had helped themselves to several of my photos.

My first impulse was to bill them for the use.  Then I made my big mistake.  I decided to let it go because of all the traffic I was getting.  I also hoped it might lead to a print assignment (it never did). It took me a while to see how much damage that little mistake made to me and the industry we all depend on.  Over the following few months my work appeared on hundreds of blogs.  I simply let it happen.  Tons of website traffic was sent to me from people who would never be my clients and wanted only to steal my work for their own uses.

The full ramifications of this all hit me on Christmas Eve that year.  Earlier that same year I had done a shoot for a designer on a work for hire basis.  He was small and I had decided to be a nice guy.  The shoot was for a single print magazine ad that I later learned was the only print ad he has run.  Before all was said and done, images from that shoot became the cover photo of several magazines, had become a centerfold in another and were used on countless smaller blogs.  One blog of note that it appeared in was anything but small, receiving approximately 1 million visitors per month.

I was broke and no one was getting Christmas presents.  The owners of the blog were vacationing in Rio for the month.  The designer was also away on vacation.  I sat down and did the math on what I should have charged for each use of that shoot and realized I had cheated myself out of a minimum of $15,000 for the shoot.  I too could have been on vacation in beautiful Rio!  That hurt!  But the pain was about to get worse! I learned that the larger of the blogs was charging as much as $40,000 for an ad… yet they had no printing costs, no creative costs, no costs period.

Later, it struck me how the print magazines are cutting their own throats here too.  The number of magazine covers, centerfolds and other print uses of my 1st shoot for that designer were driven by it’s PR firm shooting the images off to magazines who were trying to fill their image needs free….  and in the process eliminating advertisers.  Each of the magazines charge more for their ad space (especially if you want the cover of the magazine) than they pay to have the same amount of space photographed.  Forfeiting an ad sale to gain a free image was costing them a considerable amount of money.

Later the designer told me he considered the blogs and the magazines hungry for free content so effective that he saw no need to ever take out print ads.  He also said that the larger blog resulted in so much business for him that when a different photographer had sent them images of a discontinued line it resulted in so many requests for the design that he had to start manufacturing it again.  Still later he commented to me, “Wow, there is just no work out there for you guys.  I have photographers calling me every day offering to work for free and publish the work so they can stay visible.”  With all his advertising needs being met free, this left only the product packaging shoots available as paid work.

I suppose I should have felt flattered that I was the photographer he paid and the rest would soon be out of business.  I didn’t.  These photographers were complete fools (yes, I have already admitted it, I was once guilty of somewhat similar mistakes).  Not only were they subsidizing the marketing of another business by working free, they were taking paid work from me and and all photographers, and they were contributing heavily to the demise of the print magazines that DO pay for our work by eliminating the designer’s need to pay for advertising.

As for the blogs who help themselves to a photographer’s images when it isn’t being fed to them by designers, most do know they are in violation of copyright laws, but they assume no one will take action.  This can be an expensive mistake.  A photographer recently discovered the blog of a major news magazine ran his photos without permission.  He billed them $4000 and they paid him almost immediately knowing the damages they could be liable for if he went for copyright violation.  He also learned that several other blogs picked up the work from the first and billed them all as well.  He stated that his working relationship with the magazine is still intact and he had been told by the mags online staff that “we do that all the time and just assume no one will mind!”

Therein lies the problem.  Those who got screwed agreed to get screwed or were simply completely ignorant of the most basic business fundamentals.

The internet has shaken up how business is done.  The world is still trying to figure out how to deal with the change. It has been called the great equalizer.  I don’t know that I consider that true.  Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc are profiting handsomely off this innovation, while the vast majority of online publications do not make enough to fund the cost of producing content (the ad rates charged by the one blog mentioned earlier are the exception, not the rule.  Many that I have talked to are lucky to be making a hundred bucks a month off Google and affiliate ads).  Most blogs, instead of demanding ad rates sufficient to pay for producing content simply “borrow” it from the news publications and photographers that DO fund the cost.  This, of course, cuts into the profits of those of us who are producing the content and inhibits our ability to do so.  It is something everyone will eventually suffer from.

Don’t get me wrong.  The internet is a great innovation. But it does need to start paying its way in terms of the content it depends on. This will happen only if photographers demand payment from the internet publications and/or the designers who are using them (any you) in lieu of taking out print ads.

Here is some enlightening information on what you should be charging for your work on the web:

Web 1/4 screen $100 to 200 per month

Web full screen $378 – $750 per year

This is per image.  Usually when I see a photographer’s work on a website there will be somewhere from 4 to 12 images used.  Do the math.  Six 1/4 page images used for a year on one website could net as much as $14,400.  These are just rough guidelines using the PhotoBiz software for estimating.  Many other factors will come into play such as how much traffic the blog gets, how many blogs will be running it, etc.

These estimates may be a bit high, but to allow use of your work free is just plain foolish.  Purchase a copy of FotoBiz and at least have a concept of what your work is worth before you decide to give it away.  Someone is profiting on your work and it isn’t you… yet you are paying to create it.  And each time you do so you damage the industry in which you hope to earn your living.  The internet may have changed the playing field, but copyright law still applies and those who are using your images expect to profit from the use.

As a note, this “free advertising” is not benefiting the designers as much as they might want to think and the ones who do it are not the photographer’s client demographic.  I know of several designers who allow anyone with a camera and the willingness to shoot free and market the work for them have some clothes.  The result is a hodge podge of images and messages that may actually harm sales more than help.  Each photographer is shooting without art direction and putting his own look into the brand.  The blogs then put their own spin on it and frequently this is anything other than what is best for the image of the designer, photographer or model.  Look at the major brands such as Abercrombie, Calvin Klein, Guess Jeans etc.  The images are classy and the marketing message consistent.  They control who shoots thier brand and where it appears with an iron fist. That is why they are where they are.  You aren’t doing the designers any favors either when you allow them to attempt to short circuit the system.

The destruction of print would be a sad thing to see.  No online publication can compare with the satisfaction of the touch and feel of the magazine in your hands.  Nor does any electronic publication fund the costs involved in some of the stunningly beautiful shoots we see in some of these magazines.  The loss will happen not because they lose their subscribers as much as because they lose their advertisers.

I doubt that day will ever come.  However, the blog marketing paradigm as it is currently running is devaluing the work and the image of both photographers and the designers who think they are getting a deal… while harming the markets that do pay for the work.  It’s your choice.  You can charge for your work, or let the world have it free for the taking.  Whether or not you remain in business depends entirely on the choice you make.

I learned my lesson when I took off the blinders that sad Christmas Eve and looked at how those who had been crying poverty and I was trying to help were simply playing me.  I had been the fool.  I paid the price.  I now demand what I am worth, enjoy new found self-respect and travel where I want when I want.

14 thoughts on “A Dangerous New Marketing Paradigm… Blogs, Magazines, Fashion Designers, Agencies and Fools

  1. This really is a wide spread problem that is being promoted by an amazing amount of ignorance from both bloggers and up and coming photographers. We now have this internet so full of information you would think people could take a few minutes of their time to research what they are doing but often they do not bother. I have had several of my images stolen and put up on blogs and they were rather shocked when I billed them, I even had a few try to use fair use to justify their theft. I hope that the more information we put in front of these people the better this situation will get.

  2. Pingback: DWF » Blog Archive » Who’s Stealing Your Money?

  3. I think you need to revisit your prices in this blog entry. You’re saying a 1/4 screen image is worth far more over the course of a year than a full screen image. $100 – $200 per month works out to $1,200 – $2,400 per year and the top of your range for a full screen is well under $1,000.

    Otherwise, good commentary.

  4. How many designers, bands, large companies, etc. have we all been approached by who want you to let them use your work for a photo credit or plead for a drastic discount to what we charge because they are having a tough time financially? I have refused to budge on my prices but I often see the kind of work they get for the jobs I wouldn’t discount. They often get what they pay for, inferior photography.

    I’d love to see a website or blog one day with the list of agencies, designers, large companies who have tried to play photographers because they’ve been able to convince them to do this favor for them. The repeat business never comes because there is another mark only an email away who will give their photos away for nothing.

    It’s been this way before the internet and will remain so for a long time to come.

  5. I think its well and good to say our images are worth hundreds and thousands of dollars on the Internet, but it doesn’t seem very realistic. The Internet makes it ludicrously easy to steal information, and pretending an image is worth what it was before the Internet seems a little unrealistic. Look at the recording industry. Their business model is to sue their customers, and they are losing their shirts, while tons of money is being made in merchandising and touring. I think as photographers, we need to find ways to make money off of the service of photography, as opposed to the product of photography.

    It used to be, if you loved photographing whales, and were good enough, you could sell whale images for a pretty good price, one that could cover your costs. Well, I can get a whale photo for a dollar legally, and free if I ignore the law (importantly, its quicker to get it free).

    The market is changing, and we need to realise it. As for me, I am focused on selling my services, not products, and making my work unique so people will want to continue to work with me.

    • You’re are missing the point here – completely! There is no statement about images being worth hundreds of thousands on the net. Web rates are lower than other markets… but it is still a use of your images and the photographer needs to be compensated for EACH use of his work if he is to survive.

      Nor is this post about stock photography – it is about the unique images you refer to being used in violation of copyright laws and what photographers are doing to themselves when they fail to educate themselves on licensing practices (or worse, give their work away free), and the value of the work. Yes, you can steal an image of a whale off the internet free, but if you make the mistake of stealing one that belongs to a professional who protects his copyrights, you will find it might have been cheaper to fund an excursion out to the deep seas for some whaling photos of your own. More and more photographers are doing this. And photographer who fails to do that will fail no matter what business model he/she engages in. If you don’t understand and protect the value of your work, no one else will either. There is no shortage of those out there who will take advantage of a photographer’s lack of business knowledge.

      I have a number of links off to the right with articles and organizations who will help you find the information you need to profit as a photographer in this changing environment.

  6. Quote from OP-
    “The internet is a great innovation. But it does need to start paying its way in terms of the content it depends on. This will happen only if photographers demand payment from the internet publications and/or the designers who are using them (any you) in lieu of taking out print ads.”

    Couldn’t agree more!

    Billy- you are absolutely right that the market is changing. It has been changing for a long time and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
    This means that yes, we do have to change the way that we creatives operate our businesses to make the most of these changes.
    However! to pretend that images are worth less just because they are now easier to steal is the crippling blow to many would-be professionals. For years so many photographers have licensed web usage at discounted rates or just tacked them on the bottom of a print license for free. To be fair, many clients grounded in traditional media have taken the electronic game seriously enough to pull budget however it is photographers’ willingness to let clients downplay the value of electronic rights that has set a very unfortunate precedent for all of us.
    Thankfully as more & more of my traditional clients (& potential clients) are catching up & finally understanding the true value of being online (not just having a website, but having a great web presence as a financial PRIORITY) the budgets are magically reappearing. There is no reason that web rates should be lower except that we have allowed the perception that that they should be lower.
    Based on clients’ lowered overheads, increasing & more targeted ad exposure & a more effective consumer engagment that the e-medium facilitates, online marketing techniques are yielding much larger profit margins… so why should the images be worth less?
    If you want run a healthy business, as markstout says, then it is up to YOU to know the real value of your work & take it seriously.


    Manufacturers Shift Marketing Dollars Online-

    Shops Spend Less on Traditional Media-

    A short & entertaining video demonstrating how clients attempt to dictate the value of our work.

  7. Thank you so much for a timely and honest reminder about how we can be easily ripped off by those who should know better, but simply don’t care. They don’t give their work away for free, and their employees expect a wage….why should we expect any less…. One of our members linked to this post….hence the traffic you may see from “Beyond” and it was a timely reminder as to why the Rupert Murdoch’s and other big name agencies are so well-off!
    Some don’t even trade free advertising for the images now…they just manipulate you by telling you if you don’t want to supply the images, then they can find another 50 photogs that will! …wonder if they would be as high a standard? Great images sell magazines….great images take time and money to make, and deserve their reward.

  8. I was recently contacted by Annika Small the Associate Editor of the Popular Dogs Series/Popular Birding Series which is part of BowTie, Inc and was informed that this Corporation with a revenue of $39.1 million CAN’T (wouldn’t) pay for photos.

    Please read our email correspondences below…let’s stick together folks! Don’t give away your photos! They are worth something if a magazine (or any commercial organization) wishes to use or publish them!

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Small, Annika [mailto:asmall@bowtieinc.com]
    Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 6:14 PM
    To: ‘kp@kellypeet.com’
    Subject: German Shepherd Puppies
    Hi Kelly,

    My name is Annika and I’m the associate editor of the Popular Dogs Series of magazines (a sister publication of Dog Fancy).

    We’re doing a magazine dedicated solely to German Shepherd Dog puppies, and we’re looking for high-resolution photos of GSDs for the section “Why I Love My German Shepherd Dog Puppy”. I saw your photos on Flickr.com and I was hoping you’d like to submit a couple of your favorites. We can’t pay you, but we will include your name for others who might want to purchase your photos.

    If you have in-focus, high-resolution (300 DPI or higher, or 3-inch by 5-inch) photos of your GSD pup, then we’d like to see them! We prefer color photos of just the dog (no people, please!), either full body or just a cute face!

    Please e-mail your photos to me at asmall@bowtieinc.com

    In the e-mail, please include your full name (first and last), your dog’s name, and the city and state in which you live. If your dog is chosen, we’ll contact you via e-mail in late January to let you know, and you’ll receive a copy of the magazine when it comes out (it’s scheduled to be in stores March 25, 2010). Please also include your mailing address. The deadline to submit is January 11, 2010.

    Thanks! And if you know of other people or communities that might want to submit photos of their German Shepherd puppies, spread the word!

    Annika Small
    Associate Editor
    Popular Dogs Series/Popular Birding Series
    BowTie, Inc.

    Phone: (949) 855-8822 x 3119
    Fax: (949) 855-0654

    P Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing this e-mail.

    From: kp@kellypeet.com [mailto:kp@kellypeet.com]
    Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 10:22 AM
    To: Small, Annika
    Subject: RE: German Shepherd Puppies

    Hello Annika,

    Thank you for the compliment of asking me to submit my photos, but since your organization is commercial, and the photo would be used in a commercial manner, I think that it is only fair that I be paid for my work.

    Since BowTie, Inc., is the world’s largest publisher of pet and animal magazines and websites, with a revenue of $39.1 million, I find it difficult to believe that your corporation “can’t” pay me for use of a photo that I have hours of work in. I find this to be insulting that BowTie, Inc., doesn’t value the work of photographers enough to pay for an image. Without photographs, you wouldn’t have a publication worth purchasing.


    Kelly Peet

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Small, Annika [mailto:asmall@bowtieinc.com]
    Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 2:19 PM
    To: ‘kp@kellypeet.com’
    Subject: RE: German Shepherd Puppies
    Hi Kelly,

    Sorry if I was unclear. The Gallery is separate from the rest of the magazine. For all of our articles, the photos we use were taken by freelance photographers, who are paid for their work. The Gallery, however, is just an opportunity for nonprofessionals to share photos of their dogs. These people are not paid, as the fun for them is in seeing their dogs in print and getting a free copy of the magazine. I understand that, as a professional photographer, you might not want to participate.

    Annika Small
    Associate Editor
    Popular Dogs Series/Popular Birding Series
    BowTie, Inc.

    Phone: (949) 855-8822 x 3119
    Fax: (949) 855-0654

    P Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing this e-mail.

    —–Original Message—–
    From: kp@kellypeet.com [mailto:kp@kellypeet.com]
    Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 3:25 PM
    To: Small, Annika
    Subject: RE: German Shepherd Puppies
    Hello Annika,

    Thank you for clearing that up, but to be honest I still don’t see the difference. Your publication is asking for photographers to donate their work for free, and then the publication is sold to readers and your company profits.

    Obviously from the photo requirements listed below, I’m assuming that the photograph will be at the the professional level of quality to be chosen for publication.

    Why not make it even more fun for people who have photographs accepted into the gallery by making it into a photography contest with payments or prizes? Then, not only would they have the excitement of seeing their photo published, but would also have the joy of knowing that their photo has “REAL MONETARY VALUE”. For example, you could offer a Nikon D90 as first prize, maybe a lens as second, etc. If they are submitting photos they will love money, photo equipment, software, and gadgets. Get the best dog photographers in the world to be the judges. This would add to the value of winning the contest! What an honor to have the best dog photographers in the world chose your photo for publication! You could have different categories…puppies, dogs in landscapes, action, etc. Maybe offer virtual classes 1on 1 with the judges for the winner, etc.

    I believe this would also increase your distribution. People would buy it just to see who the latest winner is. You could make the winning photo a centerfold that people could put on the wall, or frame like a poster.

    It would also be important to make it clear that your usage would be a one time event unless additional permission was given by the photographer. I dislike the small print where companies obtain a royalty free license that is perpetual forever, if you know what I mean. That is why I do not enter the majority of photo contests, my copyright is mine, and I don’t want to give anyone a royalty free license to use it forever. I’m sure that other people feel the same way. In fact…if your corporation made it clear that photo usage would be a one time event, unless further permission was given by the photographer, you could brag about how honest and upfront your company and contest is compared to others who almost steal photos through the license grab.

    Those are just my thoughts on the matter, but after doing extensive research in this area, I think there are many others who would agree with me..

    Please contact me if you should wish to use one of my photos for publication, I would be more than happy to discuss licensing with you.


    Kelly Peet

    Here are some groups that I highly recommend that everyone join, and learn about your Photographers’ Rights.

    About The Value of Photography

    MCL / MAG Copyright infringement -- Urheberrechtsverletzung (I)

    ”A day does not go by without someone in the flickrverse getting a flickrmail that very politely asks for the use of an image in return for credit. Usually these requests flatter the photographer and make him or her feel very good and unfortunately, most give away their image for nothing. Vanity publishing is killing photography as a means of earning a living and this practice has to stop and the only way to stop it is to inform as many members of flickr as will listen, about the harm that the ‘it’s only one image’ attitude is doing to the photographic industry. Remember, those seeking to use your image know its value, it’s time you learned its value too.”

    About ‘Name Me’ or ‘Agree a Fee’?

    Chicama Sunset

    “There are a growing number of organisations who seem to be using flickr as a stock image pool, for a variety of purposes and often (although not always) claiming to have no budget to pay for your image. If you have received requests like this, or you are wondering how to respond before it happens to you, this could be a handy place to visit from time to time. The more people use it, share their own thoughts, responses and results, the more useful it will be to everyone and the more likely that they too will take part.

    This space exists as a place for people to share their experiences and decisions
    regarding any requests to use their imagery. If you have received a request to use your image for whatever purpose, please let us know. In time it would be great to have threads dedicated to information about the requests and responses to the organisations most commonly ‘surfing’ flickr in this way; so that we can all learn from the experiences of others.”

    • Thank you Stefano. Please do what you can to enlighten people on the various efforts to devalue the work of photographers. This is never done for the reasons said, it is always done so someone else can profit at your expense. It will continue to happen as long as we fail to educate ourselves and others on the value of our work.

  9. Pingback: Why Buy The Cow? « ohnostudio.com

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