I’ve been posting photos online since 1993 and have been utilizing a variety of online photo forums since 1998. In that time a lot has changed… digital has over taken film and Web 1.0 has given way to Web 2.0. The result has been a boom in photographers taking part in these forums. The advent of social media mixing with photo forums has been very exciting and sites like Yahoo’s Flickr have taken off. Flickr as of today ranks 40th in Internet traffic according to Alexa.com and is a great avenue for photographers to gain exposure to their work, receive critiques and enjoy the work of other photographers covering a wide spectrum of skill level.
The amount of traffic generated by sites like Flickr means that photographers have an opportunity to share their work with a large audience. This is something I’ve particularly enjoyed as of late, but in the process I’ve experienced and taken note of an alarming trend of small and large companies looking to take advantage of photographers. Flickr seems to have become a stock photography alternative where companies entice business naive photographers into making their photos available for use for free. What blew my mind this week is the attempt made by Yahoo to do this with my photography. Yes! Yahoo. While flattered with the initial inquiry to use my photo I relayed my basic licensing terms only to be told “unfortunately, we do not have a system or mechanism in place to offer payment for photos.“
Did I read my email correctly? Yahoo not having a mechanism in place to offer payment for photos? Thats funny the same page that the image would have been linked to (news.yahoo.com) had images with attributes to AP and Reuters who certainly do not license their images for free. Even better is that Yahoo would have been running their advertisements on the page with my image and those of others for the piece being put together.
Over the past 5 years I’ve heard of some great stories with emerging photographers having photos seen on established photo forums, licensed (i.e. paid for) and used for commercial purposes. In this regard photo forums have provided a great avenue for emerging photographers to be discovered outside of the stock world. Social media photo sites provide a great venue for emerging photographers to network, gain a following, learn from others and find people interested in their work either for basic enjoyment or commercial opportunity.
In it’s ideal form this is great, but the reality is the growing trend of photo sharing sites becoming the rung below microstock agency sites where images are licensed for 20 cents to $10. Microstock agencies are themselves seen as being extremely poor undermining traditional stock sales that range in the hundreds of dollars. Sadly novice photographers jump at the chance of being highlighted with a link back to their portfolio and completely miss out on market equitable payment for the use of their work they’d otherwise receive via microstock or regular stock agencies.
I’ve read several blogs (Latoga’s Motion Blur, Dan Heller and Thomas Hawk to name a few) and follow several companies that have identified these vast pools of images and photographers as the next level of stock between micro and regular stock, but based on my experience the current model actually is a layer below microstock. Large companies like Yahoo should know better than to stoop so low with such practices. The same can be said of smaller and emerging companies. Equitable payment for the use of an image is not a link, it is market competitive cash payment.
“But it is just a photo” some might say.
What does it take for me to capture an image worthy of publication?
Canon 1D Mark II – $4500 at the time of purchase
Canon lens used – if owned $500-1500, if rented $200-400
Photoshop Software – $500 at the time of purchase
Computer Workstation – $4000 + $500 for extra RAM
Gas to get to shoot – $20-40
Note: We’ll ignore car expenses other than gas
Time to shoot and develop image – 10-16 hours on average
Not factoring in my time I have to recover $9,220-10,540 before I break even.
That’s the equivalent of approximately (50) fifty $200 licenses (a very low fee).
Professional level imagery requires professional level equipment and skill.
That being said I’m not greedy I often adjust my licensing fees based on type of use, date range of use, audience size and even company size. If its a start up I’m flattered to have my image assist in their marketing and almost always offer a substantial discount. Even free newspapers have been kind enough to offer me $25 upon recognizing the concern and principle behind not giving images away for free commercial use.
Do I want to bite the hand that feeds me so to speak. No. I’d love to have had my image used by Yahoo and other firms that have previously inquired. Unfortunately if I or others continue to give away their photos the remainder of the photography business will erode. I am deeply passionate about photography, but how can I continue that passion if I cannot afford to do it?
A company such as Yahoo, and all companies for that matter, should be ashamed of this practice. Not just because Yahoo owns/runs Flickr, but because it’s an extremely poor business practice. Photographers be warned. Educate yourself and if you truly love photography stand up for your rights and ability to pursue your passion.