Thursday, July 19, 2007

Medium = neither rare, nor well done

As a consumer, I am not happy with the quality of most print media. As a working photographer, I'm totally disgusted with most print media.

With a few exceptions, my editorial assignments have been mostly one-sided with the publication on the longer end of the stick. If any publishers are reading, here's a list of grievances that many photographers share:

1. Publications misspell, hide or completely omit photo credits and photo bylines.

2. They present a rights-grabbing contract as "Our Standard Agreement."

3. They use images beyond their agreed license (reprints, "sister publications," books, DVDs and items for resale), hoping the photographer doesn't catch it and if he does, hoping the photographer will settle for less compensation.

4. They don't pay very much (but instead offer "exposure" which is negated by grievance #1).

5. They're systematic slow-payers (part of their cash flow strategy).

In a memorable quote illustrating point #5 above, the publisher of one unnamed magazine once told me (as I inquired about a 120-day-old invoice), "There are a lot of other photographers out there we can work with, you know." The next time they called me, I said I was eternally booked.

Another unnamed publication had their very talented art director hire me for a residential shoot a few years ago. The images came out very nice and her layout was stunningly beautiful. But, the magazine didn't want to spend the money to send someone on a press check and the entire story printed flat, unsaturated and unappealing. To make matters worse, my invoice went unpaid for almost a year. Sadly, the next time the talented art director called, I was 'booked' then too.

There are a few wonderful exceptions to the above. I've done some very fulfilling assignments for Wallpaper, WohnDesign, Eigen Huis, Australian Financial Review and other respectable publications. There are a few other magazines who I would jump to work with if I should ever be lucky enough to hear from them.

Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how the new influx of "prosumer" photographers affect the level of respect from publications. Either things will get worse because there will be even more photographers "out there" for publications to churn through or the quality level will go down so far that publications will appreciate professional work once again. I can honestly live with either scenario since, thankfully, I rely on my commercial clients for a living.

The dream editorial assignment I've been waiting for is when a writer calls me to partner on a documentary book on some visually interesting subject. I will tell him that for shared photo-editorial control, a photo byline on the cover and a fair percentage of sales, I will gladly work to make sure the book is well done.

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