By now we all know, thanks in large part to the thoughtful reviews of the new USPW contract by Joey Terrill, John Harrington, Mark Loundy, and the roughly 9,000,000 comments there following, that it sucks. There’s no amount of make-up that could turn that pig into a silk purse.
Here’s my beef. We’ve all talked and talked and talked about this. Photographers in general tend to talk, talk, talk about problems but ultimately do little about them. Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Rick Rickman once said, “Photographers are the most prolific talkers on the planet.” I couldn’t agree more.
So prove me wrong. Do something about this atrocious contract. Don’t just debate it’s problems ad nauseum as usual.
What can be done? Let us consider history. Once upon a time, 12 years ago, a bunch of photographers who regularly shot for BusinessWeek were presented with a new contract they were told they had to sign if they wanted to keep shooting for the magazine. This was in the dawn of the golden era of lawyer driven copyright grabbing by big publishing companies. The new contract basically stripped photographers of all sorts of revenue producing rights they previously held such as the right to sell their photos in reprinted articles to the corporations featured in the articles. These sales were very common and usually many times more lucrative than the assignment itself.
Nine photogs in San Francisco decided to boycott shooting for BusinessWeek until they could get the contract revised to their liking. Next they formed a little online message board (sound familiar?) to start talking very frankly about the contract. Naturally that morphed into an ongoing discussion about other rotten contracts from other publishers. Before they knew it they had 3,000 members, called themselves Editorial Photographers (EP for short…) and each and every one of them was refusing to shoot for BusinessWeek.
This put BusinessWeek in a very bad position visually. In countless cities BusinessWeek was reduced to working with college students, freshman freelancers, or hand out photos. The magazine’s photography suffered in a big way and they eventually sat down with representatives from EP including Paula Lerner and Seth Resnick. Eventually, a mutually beneficial agreement was reached with BusinessWeek and a new template contract drafted that not only allowed the photographers to retain their copyright but also participate fairly in the revenue side of article resales and other things. The day rate was boosted to around $900 per day and the space rates were probably the best among any American magazine I knew of. Fast forward to today and you’ll find, sadly, that after Bloomberg purchased BusinessWeek they canned everyone in the photo department. Literally everyone. And then rolled out a new, hideous, contract with space rates reduced to a pitiful fraction of their former numbers. And guess what? The magazine’s visuals are suffering again. The difference is, this time their owners don’t seem to care. As long as they have enough ink smeared across the pages to fill the magazine they seem to be happy. Sigh.
EP’s BusinessWeek boycott only worked because of a massive collective ACTION, not discussion, on the part of thousands of photographers.
So how can we apply this little bit of photo history to our current situation with USPW? I think we need to take action against the contract by reaching out to those still shooting for USPW under the new contract. If history has taught us anything it’s that engagement, not containment, of one’s enemies is a more proactive way of trying to find common ground and thus progressive resolution. We shouldn’t badger, belittle, bemoan, or bemuse them, but rather invite them over to our homes for dinner or out for a drink to talk about business practices, the contract, and what many of us feel are the problems that are perpetuated by continuing to work under such terms. We need to inspire them, mentor them, educate them, and encourage them to just say no to these terms and more importantly to understand WHY we say no to these terms. It’s their future as much as ours at stake here.
However, the situations are different mainly because digital has ushered into our industry so many wanna-be photographers, hobbyists, and GWC’s who just simply don’t give a damn about the future of the industry. They only know they want to shoot The Big Game on Sunday and if that means they have to agree to shoot for free, well then so be it. It’s still cheaper than buying a ticket and they get to impress their neighbors and co-workers on Monday because they got to see The Big Game from the sidelines.
At least back in the glory days of EP those who worked in the photo industry were primarily full time professionals with a vested interest in the future of their day rates, copyrights and the royalties relating thereto. Now there are just too damn many people with cameras calling themselves photographers and no shortage of opportunistic new agency owners who base their entire business plan on the eagerness (and sometimes stupidity) of the wanna-be photographers, hobbyists, and GWC’s mentioned above to work for free.
Furthermore, in the spirit of engagement it may be wise to consider appointing a few trusted photo sapiens to step forward as representatives for a collective group of concerned photographers to try to start a dialog with Gannett regarding the concerns around the new contract.
I’ve been a major advocate for culling the heard in our industry, so to speak, for many years. But unfortunately it seems today that stupidity is running rut throughout the industry. Education is the only antivenom for stupidity that I’m aware of. I’ve come to accept that containment is impossible so engagement is my chosen path for the future. Engagement is more complicated and involved than containment but when has it ever been easy to effect meaningful change? Wasn’t there some bald guy in India who once said “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Wise man. Bold man. Be bold, damn it!