By Mark Loundy
Paper or plastic? Leaded or unleaded? Betty or Wilma?
Life is full of tough choices. The toughest for freelancers is whether to sign a Work Made For Hire (WFH) contract. But the choice is more fundamental than many realize. It's not a just choice of signing or not, it's a choice of professions.
Richard Owen, a freelancer from Florida, wrote on NPPA-L, "People just getting into the profession still have rent to pay, food to buy, equipment to keep maintained, etc. Sometimes you have to do something in order to survive."
He's right, but survival is more than just getting a check. Survival is for the long run. That's why even a rookie shooter has to start with sound business practices. If you want to operate a money-losing business, it'll have to be subsidized by your spouse or your parents. Or maybe Lotto.
Signing a WFH contract without adequate compensation or working for money-losing rates sets you up for financial failure. You'll never be able to raise your rates for your existing clients and you will have contributed to the not-so-slow decline of rates and deterioration of contracts.
The sorry fact is that the nearly the entire newspaper industry is no longer a viable market for freelance editorial photographers.
Conan Owen wrote on NPPA-L, "There are too many photojournalists in this world." He went on to say that publications have, "no shortage of capable photographers who will go to great lengths, suffer great hardships (including lower pay) and crawl over their fellow photographers to get a day-rate and a by-line..."
Conan is right. One solution is to reduce the supply of photographers. This can happen in two ways:
Freelancers can continue on as they have. Eventually, they will go out of business. (Would you like fries with that?)
Freelancers can adopt sound business practices. This will reduce the supply of cheap photographers running failing businesses. Publications will be forced to increase their photo budgets or reduce the amount of photography they use.
Photographers who operate real businesses are faced with a tough choice. Sign only livable agreements, or do something else for a living. Even those living in denial (not the river in Egypt) will eventually be forced to choose.
More from Richard Owen (too many "Owens,") "Let's work at changing what stops us from organizing like the Screen Actors Guild and build some organization into something with some LEGAL teeth behind them." That's why the Conyers bill is so important. If you haven't already contacted your congressional representative about it, use the links blow to do so.
Now back to those choices. Samantha or Jeannie... candy mint or breath mint?