Saturday, August 9, 2008

Conde Nast - A Quick Chuckle

A colleague forwarded me a note about Si Newhouse, and Conde Nast, that appeared in the New York Times - Can Si Newhouse Keep Condé Nast’s Gloss Going? (7/20/08) that gave me a laugh - except that it was a laugh of "you've got to be kidding". Previously, I've analyzied both Conde Nast's contracts (Conde Nast/CondeNet Contract: Introduction, 4/26/08) as well as earlier this week (Conde Nast, Encyclopedia Britannica - Selling "Their" Images, 8/5/08). So, when the New York Times wrote about Mr. Newhouse:

You might know some of his children: Vogue, The New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Gourmet, GQ, and Condé Nast Traveler. These titles are a polite way of saying that Condé spends money like no one else in the industry — more on salaries, paper stock, writers, photographers, travel, clothes, parties and just about any other line item imaginable.
I thought - PHOTOGRAPHERS? You've got to be kidding! They pay their photographers a "day rate" (an antiquated term to be sure) of under $500. They may pay more on "photo shoots", but not more on photographer's fees!
(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

To Be (Represented) Or Not To Be

That surely is the question. When I started as a photographer, I thought that I had to have a rep. But what's a rep?

In photography, generally speaking, you may have representing you, possibly a photo agency, such as Black Star, Aurora, or Zuma. (This is not the same as a stock house where you file your images for re-sale). These organizations not only secure for you assignments (or atleast they're supposed to), but also represent and license your stock photography. Their stated objective is to represent you in the many facets of photography. What we're discussing here though, is not that arrangement, but the arrangement between one individual (and perhaps an assistant or two if they're successful) and a small group of photographers - often not more than 5.

For this post, we'll be discussing the latter, and not the former.

Also, generally speaking, there are two groups of photographers that want a rep. Those that need them because they need help managing their assignment load that they have better, growing their market, and increasing their presence from local to regional, or regional, to national. Then there are those that think that all of the problems of running their business could be solved if they just had a rep. Rarely is there the "hot" photographer, that made PDN's 30 under 30, got an award from Communications Arts, or got picked up for a huge national campaign that became controversial or "blew up". We're not going to touch on those folks either.

First - to the photographers who expect that the rep will solve all the ills of their photographic life.

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Get a grip. They won't. It's not that they can't, it's that it's not their job. Their job is, to take it to it's most basic level, to pitch you - your style and approach to photography, and so forth, to the clientele and projects that you are best suited for. Then, when there's a good stylistic fit, they will negotiate all the angles of the deal, and they will take somewhere around 20% for doing that.

There are probably no less than a hundred photographers who want a rep, for every rep - and that's every rep there is, not every rep that's available. So, the likelihood that you can get a rep to take you on is less than 1%. I know that's a generalization, but it's enough of a sensible figure to dissuade you from the notion that getting a rep is easy, or likely.

First, let's discuss the economics of being a rep. There are some firms that have multiple reps, and each handles several photographers. That's not the most common situation, so we're narrowing down this even further to discuss an individual rep. First, it should be their full time job, not something that this person does part-time (unless they were a full time rep for a long time, and decided to dial their workload back), and it's fair that they'll be earning somewhere around $100k, as their salary. In order to cover that, let's make the assumption that they have $20k in overhead. Remember, this is a generalization. So, with them at $120k a year that they have to generate, they're getting that income from, let's say, 4 photographers. Overall, these four photographers need to generate $10k per month, or, $2,500 each - for the rep. 20% of $12,500 is $2,500. So, you need to generate $12,500 each month in fees, in order for this rep to keep you. You don't line-item a rep's fee, it usually is based upon your fees.

If you're not generating that amount of business now, then the rep may be taking a loss for the first few months that they are ramping you up. Recognize that that time they put in is an investment in you and the relationship, and if they don't get you an assignment for three months, they're considering that they are in the hole $7,500. Ask a prospective rep what they would need to earn each month (on average) from the work they do for you, and how many photographers they handle. Knowing this will be helpful as you both evaluate each other. Can you produce that amount of work? Can they wait around until you do? Can they get that amount of work for you?

How do reps go about selecting who they will represent? It would be a conflict if they handled photographers with overlapping styles or specialties, so they might have one photographer who does food, one who does annual reports, one who does architecture, and one who does children's advertising. They might even throw into the mix an illustrator as well.

Now would be a really great time for you to click over to Caitlin Ravin's blog, and check our her two part series (which was the inspiration for this post):
Now that you've done that, think about if you're right for a rep.

Some reps will participate in the cost of a marketing campaign that you both are working on. Perhaps they'll be the ones to fine-tune a mailing list and will split that cost with you. Reps have even been known to split the costs of ads in Black Book, Workbook, and so forth. Every relationship is different, but remember, their business is generating income from your business, so what helps your bottom line, helps theirs.

Again, if you want someone to run your business, hire an office or studio manager. If you want someone to give you advice on where to take your business next, grow your marketing campaign, hone your portfolio, and so forth, hire a consultant. Pay them well, follow their advice (no matter how painful it may be to hear from time to time) and begin an ongoing relationship with that consultant.

If you want a rep, as is stated on Caitlin's blog - it's like marriage. Begin the courtship, engage in a dialog, and hopefully, it will be the right fit.

If not, remember, life must go on. Without a rep, you'll want to learn marketing, best business practices, negotiating, pricing, and so forth, on your own - if for no other reason than for you to survive long enough to get a rep. But, once you get one, with all that knowledge, you'll be able to be a far more active participant in the process they will engage in with and for you, and you'll far better understand what they're doing (and how much they'll do!) for you.

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Vacation - Do You Reveal Your Whereabouts?

I can't tell you the number of times, in passing, a friend has mentioned to me they were going on vacation in a few days. They might even tell me they'll be gone for the weekend, or a whole week. What is always substantially after their return, I get a call from them.

"Aren't you on vacation?" I'd ask. Only to be told that they were back a week ago. In other words, I don't keep close track of my friends' vacation schedules. Sometimes I comment about their trip before they've gone, sometimes, I think they are supposed to be gone but have returned, and sometimes I think they're back early, when they were to have been back several days ago.

How, though, does this impact your work as a freelancer?

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Well, consider that while you're on a shoot with a client, and they're talking about their upcoming vacation plans, and they ask you about yours. If you tell them you'll be gone the first week of July, or the last week of August, they likely won't remember the specifics, and when an assignment comes up, the may well assume you're on vacation, and you'll lose an assignment.

Or, if your voicemail or e-mail reveals that you are on vacation, that client will call someone else for the assignment since you won't be responding to that e-mail (in their mind) even though you're likely checking your e-mail during vacation. Thus, even though the assignment was for the week you've gotten back, because you could not book it while gone, you lose it.

Since I don't keep close track of the vacation plans of my friends, I surely don't expect my clients to keep close track of when I return - and to wait for me to get back for me to send them an estimate, or tell them I am available.

So, in my office, we don't discuss, in the future tense, vacation plans. If were on vacation, it would be "John is out of the office right now..." with no specific information about when I'll return, that my office manager would pass along. Or, "John isn't here now..." or something to that affect.

Further, consider this - if you're at a station in your career where the affordable vacation for you is a weekend drive to the local amusement park, if you heard from your vendor that their vacation plans (recounted after the fact) included a week in Paris, a week in the Grand Canyon, a week in X location, even if that week-long trip was something you'd saved for for years, what are the chances that that the person who can only afford the road trip will be jealous? The thought might cross their mind "must be nice being able to afford that trip...", and yes, that, in turn, could cause you to lose a $2k assignment.

This doesn't make it right - that a client would judge their vendor like that. That clients are so quick to chose someone else when you're not responding (or not responding fast enough.) However, people do, and thus, clients do. Are you willing to risk the loss of an assignment during a date when you are not on vacation and are otherwise available because you revealed your vacation plans, and clients were either jealous, or thought you were not available when they needed you?

Keep this in mind when setting up your away messages and voicemail - even when you're travelling for a few weeks or a month on an assignment and not vacation! Revealing your lack of availability to prospective (and even repeat) clients quite possibly will cost you assignments - and income.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Conde Nast, Encyclopedia Britannica - Selling "Their" Images

Over seventeen years ago, I was a young upstart photographer, and I was approached by Washington Life Magazine, a brand new magazine, to shoot for them. And I did. Black and White, color if it was to be a cover story. After a year or two of steady work, the publisher, who ran the business out of her home in DC sat me down. She did so seperately with every photographer. Divide and conquer. She explained her position quite simply.

Washington Dossier, a magazine that was started in Washington DC in 1975, and which folded in the late 80's, did not own any of the assignment photography it commissioned. She did not want to make that same "mistake", and wanted to own, outright, all the images she commissioned me, and others to produce.

I sat on her couch, in her living room, and contemplated my situation, as the grandfather clock ticked off the seconds, and the minutes passed. What should I do, I thought. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Tick...

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I said to her that I understood her position as a business, wanting what she had been paying for for one use, and re-paying for re-uses, and further, to have an asset to value. But, I relied on my re-licensing to her, and I did not want to be in a position where she would become a photo agency, selling, re-selling my images - especially if I wasn't going to get a portion of those re-uses.

"We're not going to do that", she responded.

"But you could." I noted.

"We just don't want to have to deal with photographers in the future to re-use photos we hired them to take in the first place", she said.

And, on that point, I said "well, we'll have to agree to disagree, and while I respect your position as a businessperson to require this, as the person who would be responsible for providing that content, I just can't do that." That, is exactly what I said. And that was the end of the conversation. They've surely had a collection of photographers over the years who have signed those agreements, and that's fine for them. Not for me.

Over the years, I've seen many photo credits outside of Washington Life. An example By photographer Tony Powell, seen in this brochure for the Shakespeare Theatre.

They frequently appear on blogs, like TV Newser, here, and also of Sen. Harold Ford, in an an image here.

And when the Smithsonian had a fiasco on it's hands with a senior staffer who had allegedly abused her expense account, the cover photo and other images of their cover girl Pilar O'Leary got re-used with the photo credit of "Washington Life.", in many places, including the Washington Post, as seen here, and other places.

I have seen and heard colleagues try to justify their work for the likes of Vanity Fair, and other Conde Nast publications. Now, starting slowly, VF is selling prints from their past assignment work in their Vanity Fair Store, as shown here:

Those are very respectable prices - yet the photographers, atleast under the terms of the agreements they sign for assignments now, are not entitled to a dime from the sales of those prints. Next up will be more recent prints, you can bet on it.

So too, are images available for sale from the Encyclopedia Britannica image archives, as About The Image reported here. 55,000 images, over two-thirds digitized, and ready to e-mail to you!

When clients tell you they need all rights, copyright transfers, work-made-for-hire, and so forth, and tell you they'll never do anything with them "we just need to get all the rights...", it's highly likely they are mis-informed, or just not telling the truth.

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Enter Laforet: Game On!

It is with pleasure that I highly recommend you check out my friend Vincent Laforet's blog - titled - what else? - Vincent Laforet's Blog! Calling something that Vincent has engaged in something as basic as that belies it's future potential. Consider something titled 17, or, The White Album.

Vincent uses this as the graphic lead-in for his blog - a very cool aerial:

So what's he got over there?

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Before leaving for the Olympic Games, he's posted tech tips, a link to his piece "The Cloud is Falling", and it's an opportunity to dialog direct with Vincent.

He's also got a list of his mentors (in case you were wondering), his favorite blogs and websites, and a list of friends and colleagues. I'm guessing that since he listed this blog on the Blogs I Read Daily section, I didn't make it onto the Photographers Friends & Influences section. Who knows, maybe that will change!

So, head on over there, and see what he's got to share. Bookmark it, and follow along as Vincent blogs from Beijing! (Censors permitting!)

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