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Portions of this column were originally written for the October 2011 edition of News Photographer Magazine.

Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.

October 2011, Volume 106
By Mark Loundy

"What we obtain too cheap we esteem too little; it is dearness only that gives everything its value."

— Thomas Paine

It all boils down to the fact that shooting for a spec picture service is cheaper than a season ticket.

Not So Great ExpectationsWhen freelancers work for spec agencies like USPresswire, they've effectively decided that the experience is worth more than money to them. In other words, attending a high-profile event is worth more to them than getting paid to shoot pictures. That's because spec agencies "hire" a bunch of folks to cover the same event and only the one whose images are actually published get paid.

Now there are a few elite spec photographers who get assignment rates and still fewer who have their expenses covered, but, for the most part, spec shooters do it for the "glory" of being able to sit down with their buddies and say, "Yeah, I shot that."

About a month ago, like Darth Vader walking onto the bridge of his command ship, newspaper company Gannett acquired USPresswire. Terror ensues. What would the USPW acquisition mean? Was somebody going to die?

Even though reports from recent Gannett management meetings state that the USPW acquisition is "all good" for the various Gannett photo staffs, common sense says otherwise. Gannett has seen its stock value go from about $60 per share in 2007 to about $9 per share in September of this year. Gannett is rumored to be planning to pay USPW shooters $125 per assignment for all rights. The math tells us that sending a $125-per-assignment photographer out to cover individual assignments is cheaper than carrying even the lowest-paid photographer as a fulltime employee.

Other reports indicate that Gannett wants to beef-up its sports content holdings. It's difficult to imagine why they would want to increase their presence in a market where guys and gals with cameras will shoot for free in exchange for a photo credit. Plus, the sports-action editorial market has all but disappeared. Only a handful of top shooters still make a living from it. Gannett's potential costs to produce USPW sports imagery might be extremely low, but there are also very few potential customers.

Yet, still the novice shooters come. Like moths to a flame, they are drawn to the financially fatal glow of the sideline and the photo credit. Some justify it to themselves by saying that they're getting a "foot in the door." Sadly, that door no longer exists. Nobody is going to pay for something that they can easily get for free.

The Good
BulletFast Company, for reasonable contract negotiations.

The Bad
Bullet Don't you know who you're talkin' to? Heather Madison sent out an email, soliciting photographers for her business directory site, Thumbtack. The site requires photographers to agree to give Thumbtack what amount to all rights to any images uploaded to the site. The email was addressed to NPPA counsel Mickey Osterreicher. Uh, hello?

The Ugly
Bullet A quote from a person working at the news desk at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey: "Oh we don't pay for photos anymore, but you are more than welcome to post them on the website if you like."

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

  • Do you want to know how the photography business really works? Back in 2000, rocker Courtney Love wrote a takedown on the music industry for It reads like a description of major organized crime. According to Love, that's exactly what it is.
  • Intellectual property attorney Ed Greenberg is trying to squeeze some of the remaining blood from the turnip that is the bankrupt Tribune Company. According to a story Reuters story, Greenberg is representing legendary Hollywood photographer David Strick in the claim that Trib's Los Angeles Times infringed on Strick's copyrights by continuing to use his images even after they decided not to pick up their contract option with the photographer.
  • While checking back on a story I'd done in September of 2006, I realized that I had done the math wrong on the lead item about the Cost of Doing Business. I said that you would have $30 left on the hypothetical job. In fact, the total should have been minus $10. I've corrected the section in the CC archives.