Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dangerous Words

As Warren Buffett goes, so goes the investment community. Yet, many of the things Buffett does and says, have applications that reach beyond investing. Buffett's got a new book coming out in 2008, for which Bantam paid $7 million, but until then, we have two notable tomes: Warren Buffet's Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist as well as The Warren Buffett Way, Second Edition.

At the height of the scandals that plagued Enron and others, Buffett wrote a letter to his top managers, saying in part:

"The five most dangerous words in business may be 'Everybody else is doing it.' "
He was warning them against illegal or unethical business practices, yet it can be easily carried on to our business.

Just because you THINK everyone else is signing WMFH agreements, doesn't make it the right thing to do -- i.e. to transfer your copyright. Morover, as you stay in business longer, you realize that, in fact, everyone ISN'T signing these agreements, it's photo editors telling you this (to get you to sign), or it's other defeatist photographers just giving in and signing.

Last Thursday I was called by a publication that has a history of presenting their contract to photographers, which included egregeous terms, among them, WMFH. I sent along my standard contract, which included the standard "one time use" language. On Friday, while out on another assignment, I got a message from the client, and I was certain that they'd had an issue with my paperwork, yet, they didn't. They had a request for a few dollars lower for the photographers fee, an adjustment which was more than fair, and which I made, and the contract came back a few hours later, and I completed the assignment today.

I can honestly tell you that, on more than one occasion, I have heard that publications were WMFH, and they also may have made an effort to present their contract and terms, yet in the end, we worked out slight modifications to the terms of my contract, and both I and the client had amenable terms, that were "a meeting of the minds." Both parties were happy, and I have time and time again worked with these same publications.

The manner in which these negotiations took place was very matter of fact. I had a service to offer, and they wished to procure my services. I presented the terms, they made requested changes, I considered them, and made fair changes, and we agreed. There was no unpleasantness. There was no "take it or leave it", and while I am proud of the work I have done, I do not consider myself a Ritts, Liebovitz, or Avedon. I provide what I believe to be creative solutions to client needs for a variety of types of photography, so those of you reading this who say "well, you've been doing this along time, you can cut those kinds of deals, we aspiring photographers can't." This just isn't true. You can. Really. That's my point about "I'm no X, Y, or Z" famous photographer, I'm just me, and I get booked because of the quality of the work on my website and how I interact with the prospective client when the phone rings, and not really for any other reason.

It appears as if my publisher has opted to put Chapter 5 of my book online, so you can find there, on page 57, (which is page 17 within the PDF) a whole lot more information about WMFH, what it is, when it cannot legally apply, and so on.

I often hear colleagues say "well, I saw so-and-so's credit in the magazine, so they must be signing WMFH." Don't accept this as prima facie evidence of this. Don't think to yourself, as Warren counsels - "everybody else is doing it so it must be ok" (or words to that effect). Present your terms, and as you see the dialog going south, continue to engage as you'll never know when it falls in your direction, or, consider the conversation and negotiation an exercise, so that the next time around, you are better at it. Just don't fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else is doing it, because, oftentimes they're not, and when they are, that doesn't make it right. As my mom used to say "if everyone else was jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you?" (I grew up on an island in the San Francisco Bay, so this question made sense then). To which I would, of course respond "no mom, I wouldn't." Thankfully, I didn't.
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Anonymous said...


Many picture editors disagree with their company stance on WFH and on creative fees.

They offer work-arounds on assignments - extra travel days or prep days to cover very low creative fees and will often tell photographers to make sure they cross out the WFH details in their contract and to present your own paperwork.

Andrew Smith said...

John, thanks for an introduction to Warren Buffett. While looking at the links you provided I followed a link to this book:

The Essays of Warren Buffett:
Lessons for Corporate America

I realise that your reason for mentioning Buffett was for the WMFH analogy. But for anyone interested in making money through investments it looks like that book would be a good way to start learning from Buffett's wisdom. A collection of essays will probably be lighter reading, and more immediately accessible and advantageous, than a biography.

Unknown said...

Mr Buffett is the king of the investment hill - his letters to shareholders are priceless.

On the point of "everybody else is doing it so it must be ok", it reminds me of someone's definition of "assume" ... to make an ass of u and me.

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