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.