Simply put - aside from storage and server space, and a phone call/e-mail, there is little effort required to procure images from a free source. Yes, after the assignment, there may be an edit done of the work, and a rating of the photographer's overall ability - relevant to potential future asignments. But spec agencies - Cal Sports Media, Icon, and US Presswire are not sharing any of the financial risk of having you cover a game - and they are reaping 50% of the profits.
If, on the other hand, the agency said "we'll guarantee you a minimum of $400 against future sales from the game we assign you to", that would begin to be fair. They participate in the costs of coverage, and you don't see any income beyond the $400, unless they sell $800 in images from a game. After that - if you've got a winning shot, both you and they participate in the revenues from the images.
One photographer, who reports working in this way, says "I don't think CSM or Icon really expect too much out of you. They pay for my parking pass and other than gas I'm in and out of the venues with very little cost." Really? Why wouldn't you want to work for an organization that has high expectations of you? The reason they have such little expectations is that, A) there's little (no) cost to doing so, and if you mess up, they're not out anything. Where's the commitment to excellence? The drive to be better, or, dare I say, the best?
Cal Sport's Media's John Green, said "I can’t speak for anyone other than CSM", and then went on to say "We decided to invest our capital, our time, and our heart and soul, no matter how daunting the task, and take control of our destinies, instead of have the terms dictated to us by others. If that’s destroying the industry, then industry be dammed." Yet, the the limited capital you've invested is in paying for the Digital Railroad platform, at $800 a month for 50GB of space an all the photographers you want, plus $50-$100/month per 50-100 additional gigabytes, to store all of the photos you're selling, and the rest is your time, and heart, and soul. Where's your "heart and soul", when trying to think about your photographers? You say "we understand, and value, the hard work of the photographers that contribute to us", yet, you're unwilling to compensate them - give them a commitment of payment, for doing so. How is that valuing them? You write "we charge industry standard rates" - of your clients, generating a profit to you in excess of that of a Getty because Getty has to pay it's photographers and their expenses " and we pay the photographers above industry standard rates", but only when you happen to make a sale for them.
Green suggests " I don’t think a lot of places would be in business if they were paying $400 day rates to their photographers, sad but true." Yes, that's correct if you have the wrong business model in place. As Mark Loundy said later on - with an average of 100 assignments for a freelancer in a year, that equates to $40k gross, less expenses and taxes, leaving you with little in the end.
"it’s not our goal to threaten anyone’s livelihood. Unfortunately, we can’t stop pursuing our goals because they affect your goals and vise versa I’m sure", said Green. Try that same reckless sentiment, as referenced in another piece, as a drunk driver - "it's not my goal to crash my car into yours, but I have to get myself home somehow. I can't not drive home because it might affect you." Just as a civilized society has precluded, by law, drunk driving, so too does a civilized photo community look with rightful disdain at anyone or anything that actually or potentially does harm to the profession.
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