Common Cents logo

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

Portions of this column were originally written for the August 2014 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.

August 2014, Volume 130
By Mark Loundy

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again. Then give up. There's no use being a damned fool about it."

— W.C. Fields

A constant mantra in the start-up world is the almost mythological, "Fail fast, fail often." It counsels that early-stage ideas be quickly learned from and the information used to move projects to their next iteration. The very idea of failure is changed to mean a useful learning process.

Iterate As the print publishing industry sinks into the west, lots of very smart people are thinking about sustainable ways to do news. The nearly universal commonality of their ideas is that they are digital. But ones and zeroes alone do not a successful business model make.

In the May Common Cents, I wrote about the too-short run of Digital First Media's Project Thunderbolt. It died because it was not allowed to "fail." Since its new approaches were, by definition, not proven, DFM's capital-management owners simply pulled the plug without giving it enough time to show its effectiveness.

But "unproven" is the fundamental nature of all new ideas. There's no way to see if they work until they are put into practice.

Even the NPPA is trying new things. For the first time in its 68 years, this magazine is being published online. The stunning RGB color space in the digital version puts the dead-tree version to shame. You can now see subtle blues that turn to mud in CMYK on paper. But the format is what online developers derisively call "shovelware." It's exactly the same as the printed version simply "shoveled" online. Page turning is even recreated in animation as you move through it. Years ago, newspapers tried dumping PDFs of pages onto their websites. But nobody wanted to read a broadsheet on a computer screen.

The advantage of directly repurposing the existing magazine is that it doesn't have to be laboriously reformatted for Web pages, phones or tablets. That's also the problem. Fewer and fewer people are experiencing media on paper.

While "failing forward" quickly might be desirable, it's hard to do while performing the one-man-band job of publishing News Photographer. I know only too well how difficult it is to implement an effective content management system (CMS) that would manage both print and digital production.

I also understand that many NPPA members strongly consider the printed magazine a primary benefit of membership.

But it's time for the printed News Photographer to go away. It's expensive to produce, it is inferior to digital in image quality and it is a symbol and relic of the past.

From a business standpoint, unlike newspapers, the highly targeted magazine can command similar digital ad rates compared to its print rates. In other words, it can be produced at a far lower cost and still bring in revenue comparable to what it does now – even if ad rates are lowered.

As an industry leader and long time technical pioneer, it is vital for the NPPA to lead the publishing curve and I call on the board to leverage the growing digital expertise in the membership as a "tiger team" to make it happen.

The Good
Bullet After a one-month hiatus, you'd think that there would be some Good listings. You'd be wrong.

The Bad
Bullet Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial of Gallup New Mexico, for requiring that all credentialed photographers supply copies of all images to the organization.
Bullet High Country magazine for its photo contest that demands all rights from, not just from the winners, but for all images submitted. I could make a crack related to the magazine's name, but it's about environmental stewardship in the American West.

The Ugly
Bullet The Mormon Church's "Days of 47" event for soliciting volunteer photographers from the event and telling them that while Do47 will get marketing rights the photographers will retain the ownership of the images. But, the actual paperwork includes a Work for Hire clause that transfers all rights to the client. They also require model releases, which would almost certainly require the presence of an assistant.
Bullet Pictureline, the largest camera store in Utah, for sponsoring a rights- grabbing sports photography contest.
Bullet Motley Crüe, for a rights grabbing photography agreement. According to a story in Petapixel, the agreement included language that would prevent the photographer from using the images in any way whatsoever.

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.

  • Check out the three-part NPPA series on stock photography. Former editor Janet Smith has put together a comprehensive treatment including industry trends, selling your own images, and industry best practices.
    Part One: Industry Trends
    Part Two: Selling Your Own
    Part Three: Best Practices
  • Somebody created a Tumblr called Who Pays Photographers? It's essentially an interactive spreadsheet with, at last look, more than 600 entries about publications around the world. It includes rates, rights and some very telling comments. It's the largest and most detailed list of its kind that I've ever seen.
  • Earlier this year the New York Times posted a tweet about an upcoming video internship. The last bullet point in the description mentioned that the internship was unpaid. After taking more than a little bit of online abuse, the tweet vanished, (But it's still visible on ProPublica's website.)