Monday, October 22, 2007

Speculative Photography - The SPEC-agency's Mentality

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 assignments. 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.

(Continued after the Jump)

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.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...

John, one of your more vocal supporters submits photos to ICON. I'm not saying he's doing them on spec, but more likely to extend his reach and income. So, Icon at least is not 100% a spec organization. I do the same thing - shoot an assignment, keep the copyright, submit to another agency for extended coverage and licensing. I think it's referred to in the industry as freelancing. Let's not confuse the two terms and use them interchageably...

John Harrington said...

Let's say you're on assignment for a publication with a 7 day embargo. After those 7 days, if you want to put your images with an agency for stock, and that agency is Icon, or CSM, or USPW, then I've got no problems with that, but, for the most part, that's not what's happening. That's an exception, not the rule.

Anonymous said...

John, I'll tell you what. If you really want to prove to yourselve that this is and exception and not the rule, go to and create yourself a free account. Then login. What you can see when your logged in that you can't see when your not is the photographer credit. If you look, and it won't take you a long time, you will find dozens of the top freelancers in the countries names. If you look further, I think you will find that they contribute much more than those who are shooting on just speculation.

Give it a try, put together some statistics. I think you will be surprised.

Other agency/wires may be different. Wire image used to post the photo credit with the image on their thumbs page. I don't know if they still do that or not.

Anonymous said...

CSM is not a 100% spec image provider either, many of their photographers are working on assignment and retain the rights to their images and move them through CSM. The other anonymous poster that is so lamely trying to put ICON above the fray, Icon operates in the same manner as all the images providers targeted by "Team" Harrington and his sidekick Carroll. they have those that are on assignment and those that are spec shooters covering events with no assignment fee.

Darren Carroll, you were the biggest spec shooter there ever was many moons ago, covering everything on spec so you have no room to talk and should pipe down. all of us that have been around for a long time knew your game then and you played it when it served you best. Now the shoe is on the other foot and you take the other side? Pleassssse!!!!!

no one wants to say a word on sports shooter as the SS censors will not only remove posts that don't agree with their point of view, they will band those that disagree, they are happy to lead all their minions, who post their substandard images off to join and agree with their every word.

I carry the stated insurance coverages in excess of what you posted as I am a professional photographer in business for decades.
What amazes me most, is the amount of lack of knowledge you actually have about the operations of the image providers you want to beat up on.
Images are provided on assignment for over 150 newspapers by one of your new favorite targets to pick on. What difference does it make who provides server space to any of these image providers, can you get any more trivial?

The reality is that the loudest supporters like Darren Carrol submits his images to ICON, can't talk bad about who is moving your images right?, how convenient he never says a word about their spec shooters.
You would prefer that all the image providers that are an alternative source of editorial images would go away so your images have less competition in the editorial marketplace. Shame on you, both you and Carroll for using your standings in the photo community that so many sheep, yes sheep that follow you and mindlessly agree with you both as the word of "God" that you attempt to browbeat down the professional photographers that have these alternative image providers sell our images. Getty? no way, not even as a staffer, they currently operate in a manner that is lowering the price of images in a way that they hope to drive out of business everyone else, and the scary thing is they have the deep pockets to make it happen.
You point out those spec shooters that are doing this part time and attempt to paint a broad brush that that is the only type of photographers that shoot spec and you know it is not true.

Your most recent posting on this are so blatantly an attempt to scare who? the teams?, schools? all your examples of incidents, only reinforce that it can happen to anyone, even the most experienced photographers, any professional business person is going to be you really think we needed you to tell us that? Your advice is surely for the naive first timers.

I truly do not expect my comments on your blog to last more than two minutes.

Anonymous said...

Oh the howling and the nashing of teeth - looks like John struck a nerve.

Anonymous said...

Well, I for one hope those comments stay up because it only goes to show just how far the ill-informed will go to besmirch others in the business, which is unfortunate. I'm not quite sure how I got dragged into this one, but I have to take a minute to assure the (conveniently) anonymous poster above that his or her assertions are incorrect.

Yes, searching under my name at Icon, Getty, or for that matter SI Picture Sales, or even Major League Baseball, will yield images with my credit. Rest assured that any submission I have made to them comprises images that have been created on assignment for clients, to which I retain the rights and, therefore, the ability to license for third-party sales after the fact--or, after my costs to produce those images have already been covered, and in so doing, a profit for the creation thereof has already been realized. Such re-sale is an ancillary revenue stream, not a primary one. I don't think I have ever said anything that would indicate having a problem with anyone doing that. Nor has Mr. Harrington. In the past, that's precisely what legitimate sports photography agencies were for.

Beyond that, I'm really not sure what else to say, other than to express my utter stupefaction at the above post, and to invite the poster to e-mail me privately (that's if you'd rather not disclose your identity here. If you're going to lob grenades of misinformation behind the cloak of anonymity, any further discussion here is pretty much pointless.

Anonymous said...

Darren - Anon#1 here...

Your post here is exactly what you need to post on It's not what you've said there, but what you have NOT said there that makes you look hypocritical. If you reread some of your past posts from the last month or so and read them not knowing what you know about yourself, you appear to be trashing all the 50/50 deals that exist. I gave you the benefit of the doubt, others aren't.

This whole issue seems to be revolving around the 50/50 houses. That's not what the issue should be about.

John, you are making assumptions the other way (opposite of anon#2) that are just as ill informing. Get some numbers, get some facts. Then draw some informed logical conclusions from those. Forget the speculation you inject. People young and old look up to you and your INFORMED oppinions, not these off the cuff remarks you've come up with lately.

Anonymous said...

It seems everybody is posting here instead of sportsshooter due to the anonymity factor on John's blog. Why all the anonymous posts? Give me a break! Use your real name. We're all professionals here ... or are we?

Great blog, John ... I stop by everyday. Maybe you would consider losing the ability to post anonymously. The only drawback, is you might not get any comments.

Kudos to Darren for suggesting his anonymous "trashing" stay posted. At least he's secure enough to use his real name.

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