Thursday, August 2, 2007

I'm Supposed to Feel Sorry?

The granddaddy of the royalty-free (aka RF) world is Photodisc, who's owners have passed her around as some cheap trick to serve a shifting master. Jim Pickerell writes over at BlackStar rising about their latest woes:

When PhotoDisc, Inc. started back in the early 1990s, the owners went to...Weststock [who] had a large stable of photographers who had been offering their images to customers on a RM basis. The owners...went to their photographers, told them about this new opportunity to sell images on disk, and asked if they would let some of their images be used in this way. Some photographers said they didn't want any part of this business model, but a number agreed to produce images that Weststock could supply to Photodisc. By contract, Photodisc would pay Weststock a royalty on each disc sold, and Weststock would pay the photographers a percentage of what they received...Many photographers say they have not received any payments from Photodisc for more than two years. Their images are still on and on CDs that Getty is marketing...the royalty share that photographers agreed to way back in the 1990s was very low and helped establish the precedent for the 20 percent share of RF sales that is the industry standard today. Part of the argument back then was that Photodisc had huge production and marketing costs, and thus could not afford to pay the traditional 50 percent to the image creators...over the years, the cost argument changed quite a bit when the RF people started selling images online, much of the hard goods cost was eliminated...Online search and delivery became the overwhelmingly preferred way for customers to buy RF images. Nevertheless, the standard share to the image creator remained the same.
Am I supposed to feel sorry for the photographers who provided the content that validated Photodisc, and started the slide towards RF? If Weststock had turned away Photodisc, Photodisc might have decided that they couldn't source the material and thus not delve into their new venture. Or perhaps, had the idiots at Weststock been more forward thinking, they would have become some form of partner, allowing for lower percentages at the initial stages, and then higher ones as physical costs diminished or marketshare grew.

Royalty-free has elements of a drug habit you can't kick, and of (initially voluntary) slavery (calling it indentured servitude misses some of those elements.)

As a client, it's a drug that kills budgets, freezing them so low that they never will see the light of day again, and then precluding a budget that will sustain assigning a photographer that can produce fresh, client specific needs, and thus, the designers quality of content suffers. I know many a designer who's firm, and then their clients, got their fix early, and now can't ween themselves from the teet, and the designers themselves see their work product - and own portfolio pieces, suffering.

As a photographer, early income streams may have existed for some, but these were short-term gains, and once the product hit the market, people had no need to pay for more, since the CD's were "all you can eat". Calls for more work were filled, despite reservations to the contrary, and then photographers were enslaved by their own actions, no longer generating sales of their images at one-off rates, as these same images were a part of the buffett, nearly free for the taking. Further, these short-term gains canibalized the market, as Jim stated, setting the bar so low that it was not sustainable for professionals in the long term.

These photographers did not save any of their ill-gotten gains for a rainy day, so they could afford attorneys to defend their rights - especially early on. Thus, they are continuing the cycle - first, sell their work for less than pennies on the dollar in a manner that promotes the "you buy it you own it" mentality that encourages and teaches re-use without additional payments, which the translates to an overall lack of respect for copyright. Then, they re-inforce the "it's ok to steal from photographers, they won't sue us" mentality, waiting two years to collect and further, not maintaining knowledge of the whereabouts of all of the channels their images are being sold through.

So, until these photographers pursue this to the hilt, with a take-no-prisoners attitude, I can't see them making up for their many past indescretions, and thus, deserving of little in the way of sympathy from those left to do business in the tattered landscape of RF/RM markets. It's kind of like trying to feel sorry for the inventors of the nuclear bomb, who came down with cancer during the course of their career pursuing nuclear technology, and are now suffering.
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Tomas Stargardter said...

That's why I like Digital Railroad and Photo Shelter. Cut out the bastards and work for yourself.

John Harrington said...

Indeed. Good idea Tomas!

lawsonpix said...

RF seems fine for the hobbyist photographer... to be honest.. as a contributor to RF, I really have NO clue how to make any more money than what RF pays. I'm not interested in doing weddings, my Saturdays are to valuable, so I shoot "what I want, when I want", and I make a few bucks in my spare time...

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