Pixel Pimp – USPW: Now What? – by Warren Winter

Warren Winter, aka The Pixel Pimp, is a photojournalism industry veteran with 25 years experience.  He’s been a Director, Managing Director, Editor, and Consultant, to many major photo agencies including his own agency, PSG, as well as other famous agencies including Polaris, WpN, ZUMA, Sipa, and WireImage.  The photographers and newspapers he’s represented have seen their work on covers including Time, Newsweek, People, US Weekly, Paris Match, Stern, and Der Spiegel (to name a few), and been featured in every major publication in the world. The Pixel Pimp is a photo agency-related news and philosophy column written in a blunt, hopefully insightful, always sarcastic manner.

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.

Long time friends indulge in some head to head affection. © Rick Rickman

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!

Please support The Photo Brigade!

You're awesome and that's why we work hard to bring you quality content, gear reviews, and guides. If you're interested in purchasing any of the equipment or services mentioned in our posts, please use our links as we will receive a portion of the sale to help run the blog. You can also search for gear directly via Amazon, B&H, and Adorama.

Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and listen to our podcasts on iTunes!



3 Responses to “Pixel Pimp – USPW: Now What? – by Warren Winter”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! The only way to get them to change their terms is if they have no one who will contract with them. As another balding guy once said and I repeat all too often — “we can all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. Please let me know if I or NPPA can be of any help to further the cause.

  2. Warren Winter says:

    Mickey, thank you for generously offering the support of yourself and the NPPA. I think you all would be immensely helpful concerning the USPW situation. I’ll send you an email so we can have a little offline dialog to start with. It’s going to take more than a handful of concerned professionals to have any impact on this situation. Your Ben Franklin quote is as relevant now as it was then.

  3. Cyndy Green says:

    The same wanna-bes that are taking up the real estate in still are also camping out in video. Both the bane and promise for a brighter future, digital photography and videography have given us wonderful new tools and at the same time made these tools available to the masses. While I see nothing wrong with the latter – I have a BIG gripe with people who buy a camera and then declare themselves a “professional.”

    Professional to me means a number of things.
    1. You know your craft – both the technical and aesthetic. Most of today’s so-called “pros” have no idea what the relationship of aperture/shutter/ISO is. They know nothing about lighting or how to use light (both natural and strobe/continuous lights) or color temperature. Composition is hit or miss. And the biggest telltale? They do NOT select their best work, but put it all out for everyone to see – or don’t have the eye/knowledge to choose what is good.
    2. You have a code of ethics. Actually this is what separates a job or a career from a profession. Professions (doctors, lawyers) live by their code of ethics. I suspect that is what will eventually separate out the wanna-bes from the real thing. The big boys know the rules and how to live by them.
    3. You have enough business sense to make a living without scamming. This means knowing the value of your work, the cost of gear, your time, and other expenses.
    4. You know the law as it pertains to your biz. Copyright, where you can/cannot shoot, etc.

    Am I irritated? Somewhat. Just lost a potential gig because the client says she’d rather use…college students. That wonderful $100 they’re probably charging for four hours of work won’t seem so grand when they’re out trying to make a living.