I can't tell you the number of times I hear from friends and colleagues that define themselves as "news photographers" that their images aren't worth that much, and re-use/licensing isn't a big deal to them.
Enter Aaron Eisenhauer (his blog), a staff photographer for the Southeast Missourian. Aaron was in the right place at the right time (from a news photographer's perspective anyway) to capture the rescue of a vehicle by a passerby, and a story about the rescue ensued. Next, the paper wrote about how the photo (and events) had received national attention. (check the link for other images from the incident).
Guess who decided to turn this photo into an advertisement, after some retouching?
Why, FedEx. The photo appeared as the sole visual element in a full page ad that ran in the A section of the Washington Post yesterday. (click to see it larger in a new window).
The first thing that caught my eye was the photo credit - "Courtesy of" it read.
Could it be that the newspaper simply gave the photo to FedEx for free? The follow-up article notes "FedEx got permission from the Southeast Missourian to use the image on its internal employee Web site," but this is a national advertisement. Was it Aaron's to license himself? "FedEx is paying us for the photo. We didn’t just give it to them" wrote Aaron in an e-mail when we asked. Whew! FedEx, with their "Courtesy of" photo credit, which in newspaper parlance means "free", is usually used in relation to "Photo courtesy of the Jones Family", when no other art is available.
For Aaron, he's on staff there, so a resale really benefits his employer. Now, some employers have policies (either formal, or informal) where the staff shares in reprint or licensing sales, and Aaron's paper does as well. Aaron writes - " They paid $5,000 for one photo. They also paid $500 for the use of two hi res images from the sequence. Those two images were only used to create mock-ups of the ad, never to actually be used in the print ad. It was only to help them decide which photo they used. They still have the option, if they want, to buy the rest of the photos in the sequence for another $5,000. But for now, they are paying the Southeast Missourian a total of $5,500. I will get a share of this payment, but that percentage is still being discussed."
FedEx also used the image in a newsletter-type manner here, (which I would have expected), but then also on this external, much more commercial use on this FedExStories.com website, as seen, in part, here:
The next thing I wanted to know was if FedEx had gotten permission to use the photo of the man rescued. So, we placed a call, and spoke to the 78 year-old who's life was probably saved, Odell Bunch. "Oh yes", he said. "They came and got me to sign something." I asked if they were paying him anything, and he responded "oh, I don't know. I think they're going to send me something, I don't know, and I don't care."
I thought, perhaps that FedEx might buy him a new truck, so I asked. He said "no, the insurance paid for it. The engine was fine, just needed oil and fluids changed." So you're driving the same truck? "Yup" came the response.
I asked about what happened that day, and he was happy to recount the story. One point he made in the re-telling was that he knew his rescuer, Jay McMullin, saying "I know his folks, and he's a good kid, he would have stopped to help anybody." This didn't come out in the story, just that it was a FedEx driver who rescued Odell. Yes, saving someone is good. The FedEx ad leads us to believe that their employee just saved some random person, rather than someone that is a family friend.
But I digress. this isn't just about FedEx paying Mr. Bunch, or not. Nor just about the fact that the guy that is standing in the background on his open car door's edge (the black doors open are the car behind the FedEx truck, not those of the FedEx truck), who was retouched out of the photograph (either because they couldn't find him, or they did, and he wouldn't sign a release), but it's about the value of your news photo - the one you think isn't worth much.
Yesterday, Thursday, April 17, 2008, on page A16 (full page, above), the Washington Post's ad rate (as seen here) for 126 column inches, or 1 full page, runs $12,247.20 for one single day's media buy. With a license to use the photo forever, how many hundreds of thousands will they spend on advertising with just this one picture? Aaron also notes - "The full page ad also ran in USA Today and New York Times that I know of." Ok, so apparently the NYT's ad rate for a full page is $142,083 (as noted here). Maybe I got the ad rate wrong for the Post then? How could there be such a disparity between the Post and the Times? Oh, right, the Post sees itself as an educational company now! (Washington Post Company Now Skooling U, 11/24/07), And a full page in USA Today (as noted here) is $178,700.
Remember this the next time you say you don't care about re-use/re-sales of your "news" photos. Pictures are worth, yes, a thousand words, and this picture - over $5,000, the assignment, potentially $10,000+.This isn't a unique situation. I've seen ads using news photos for Hershey's, and the Red Cross, to name just a few. (heck, even a news photo of Eliot Spitzer ended up in an ad (see it here) from his State of the State address, but I'd doubt he signed any releases - but someone licensed that image for an ad!)
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