Thursday, February 1, 2007

Free photos (and $13 Superbowl ads)

Boy, whoever said it couldn't get worse didn't have a grasp on reality. Doritos sponsored a contest to create a commercial in which the winner gets theirs run during the Superbowl, which cost Doritos $2 million dollars. How much does Five Point Productions (that's them on the right shilling even more for Doritos) say it cost them? $12.79. The Dorito's Crash the Superbowl contest stipulates you:

“…irrevocably grant… perpetual right and permission to copyright …exhibit and/or otherwise use or reuse (without limitation as to when or to the number of times used), the Entrant's name, address, image, voice, likeness, statements, biographical material and Submission…as well as any additional photographic images, video images, portraits, interviews or other materials relating to the … in any media throughout the world for any purpose, without limitation, and without additional review, compensation, or approval from the Entrant or any other party.
Nice. That basically means, you enter, we own you. No additional money for you for this. Ever. Remember the Wassup Guys? They’re in the ranks of rarely seen also-ran actors. Last seen? In a commercial for Dr. Scholl’s “Are you Gellin” campaign. Woo Hoo.

Does $12.79 really reflect the cost of the video? Absolutely not. Superbowl ads usually run upwards of $1 million to produce. $12.79 is probably the cost of the MiniDV tape and the bags of chips they used in the video. What about the time of the five guys? Is that an "in kind" donation to the project? How about the costs to rent the cameras, or the amortization of them over their useful life? Costs of the audio equipment used? Costs of the computers and editing software? Gas costs for the cars? Oh, and if you watch the commercial, there's an accident in there. What about vehicle repair costs? Oh, and one more thing -- they would have had to pay for a permit to be on the grounds of the stadium that is in the background of the shot. They were tresspassing when they made the commercial. As my good friend and talented photographer Michael Spilotro says, "clearly they're giving away the farm for a shot at success that they'll never have in the end."

Ok, so, how's about this? Think iStockphoto's going to do well? Well, think again. The Dreamstime folks think that photos should be free. That one on the left? Taken in Antarctica? Yeah, free. And, downloaded, it'a an 8.5MB file, not just screen resolution, and last I checked, 313 people have downloaded it for free (make that 314). Just as in traditional store-fronts, this is called a "loss leader", but you're loosing. A loss-leader for a store means that the store eats the price of the product they purchased to get you in the door. The manufacturer didn't give it away for a loss too. Where is the benefit to the photographer? This photographer, Jan Martin Will (also seen here cross-posting the same images on Dreamstime and Shutterstock), from Pasadena California trekked all the way to Antarctica (on someone's dime) and is now making his photos available for free. And how will they choose the ones they give away for free? Those that have been online for atleast a year with no sales.


You can bet that istockphoto and all the others will follow suit. What's next? Paying for the privledge of having your work out there? Oh, right, Getty's already got that one down pat. Now just wait until the ones you paid Getty to consider get offered for free through their istockphoto brand. While Wall Street analysts continue to be worried that penny-stock sites like iStockphoto (that Getty acquired in February 2006) will devastate Getty's rights-managed and royalty-free offerings, their CEO continues to believe that all's well. During his most recent conference call with them two days ago, Getty CEO Jonathan Klein went to great lengths to calm their fears, saying "We did not have a great year. Let’s be clear...but we have emerged in good shape." Wow. Pass the dutchie on the left hand side Mr. Klein.
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PhotoInspirations said...

You wrote:

"Remember the Wassup Guys? They’re in the ranks of rarely seen also-ran actors."

First, wanted to mention that the wiki link is dead.

Second, my recollection was that one of the guys was (is) Charles Stone III (the writer and director of the spot) who at last check had gone Hollywood with movies like "Drumline" and "Mister 3000".

Tim Broyer said...


First off, I'm a huge fan of your site and thanks for sharing the great information.

The Dorito's ad was produced filmed in Cary, NC (I live the next town over). That's not a stadium in the background but rather a fancy shopping center so I doubt they needed a permit.

Here's a link from the local paper.

They are totally hoping this launches them.


Tim Broyer
Apex, NC

John Harrington said...

Tim -
Thanks for the info. Looked like a stadium at first glance. That said, still no permit from the shopping center to be on their private property to film a superbowl commercial contender.


Michael said...

This seems to be a repeating topic, about people selling themselves short, giving work away for free, etc. I don't think complaining about it is going to help. The fact is some people consider it a hobby, while others consider it work. These guys came up with something brilliant, better than 99% of the commercials on tv. And all they want? Is a bit of fame. What's wrong with that? You know, if someone wanted to use one of my photos on the cover of Time magazine, I'd let them. Let's say I told them I'd want $500 for it and they said "We're sorry, it's free or nothing". What amateur hobbyist would turn that down? I don't know of one. And complaining about it isn't going to convince us.

Andrew Smith said...


What gets my head in a spin is this: Why would you want to give your picture to a publication that doesn't consider it to be worth paying for?

Any publication, of any kind, of any size, in any marketplace, whether free or with a cover price, uses a photo because in some way they believe that photo will earn them money.

Maybe people will buy a magazine because of a good photo. Maybe it's a good photo that helps to boost the reputation of a free mag, generating ad sales. Maybe it's a government brochure and your picture is going to help that department get a bigger budget.

Every use of every picture in every publication is done with the single specific goal of earning money for the publisher. (I'm excluding charities from this generalisation.)

So why, when that publisher looks you in the eye and says, in diplomatic (dishonest) words: "We think your picture is good enough to raise money for us, but we don't want to give you any money for your time and effort." You say: "Okay, that's fine with me." Why would anyone do that?

As an aside, there's a local photographer who charges the paper double if they run one of his pictures on the masthead. (In addition to the inside usage.) When I first heard about him doing that I thought he had the cheek of the devil, but increasingly I can agree with him. I seem to have an above-average hit rate for pictures going on the masthead so if mine are the pics that the editor believes will sell the paper then why shouldn't I be paid a bit more?

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