There used to be something called “digital rights”. That is, when a publication wanted the right to publish a copy of an image to use in a digital format, it would pay an additional license fee. At first, like the internet itself or CD ROM (remember those ?) circulation, it was small. But everyone was preparing for the future. Now that its here, no one seem to notice.
Google is scanning books and will display them online, for a fee, without offering any compensation to non book copyright holders. That is 99% of images in books. They will however compensate publishers. Will the publisher compensate the photographers. Doubtful, since they are not the ones scanning and offering them.
– A photographer with a blog even does a whole story on the scanning technology used by Google without worrying what they are scanning and if he will ever see a license fee on his images that might appear in these books.
– PDN and others seem delighted to see how some websites seem to have huge traffic. Did they look into on how much these sites paid for images? Nope. Google Books issue ? Nothing.
– Photo associations, like ASMP, seem to be speechless about the whole issue altogether. They are seemingly too busy finding sponsors for their next summer picnic.
We could go on and on here about the complete lack of action by those who claim to be friends of photography .
Digital rights have been battered pretty badly. First by Google, when it won the case to publish images in their search result without paying anything, but then with National Geographic and others that republished whole issues on CD ROM without wanting to pay any additional fees.
Then there is the magazine industry that has cried poverty since the beginning of their web presence and have gotten away with paying pennies for sites that now have a much bigger circulation then their print.
Yet, a lot of the photo industry seems to look at the web as its savior. The question is how so, if most of the images published online are discounted dramatically. An image posted on the home page of a site that has 1 million hits a week is not licensed at the same price as an image on the cover of a weekly magazine that has 1 million readers. Why is that?
What makes publishers beleive that image on-line are less worthy than print ? What makes photographers and photo agencies agree? Most of the discourse is about how less revenue the online version of a magazine is making compared to their print brother. Since when has that been the concern of a photo agency/photographer? Is this now part of our business to guarantee revenue on top of licensing images ?
Getty Images has been the biggest fool to enter that trap and have now succeeded in licensing images for around $2.00 a pop to giants as Yahoo.com. No, not microstock material. Images from long time editorial pro-photographers. Images that request talent, education, experience, knowledge and special access. Images that took much more than $2 to create.
What is the solution? first, stop treating “digital rights” as an add-on to a license. Maybe make “print rights” as an additional right. Treat web usage as a full blown license of its own.
Second, stop licensing images online as ” one week on home page” or ” One day inside, 1/4 page”. A web site is not a magazine. And stop making a difference between Commercial usage or Editorial usage. Most editorial have a hundred more traffic than a corporate one. Treat the web as a entity. It has measurable traffic, much more measurable than a magazine. Charge a license based on traffic. That is how they charge for advertisers, isn’t it ?
Third, pull out of the poverty game. Most editorial sites have a budget bigger than their print siblings. As publications close their print edition for online only, they shift their budgets. Some with the biggest traffic charge $400,000 for a one day banner ad.
Fourth, stop thinking that “it’s good publicity”. Did you ever check ? How many images did you license because one of your image appeared on line? really. Would you offer an images for pennies to a print magazine because its “good publicity” ? That time is over.
Five, stop believing that because the image is of a smaller size and only 72 dpi, it has less value. That is exactly like saying that if an image is used in B/W, although it was shot in color, it has less value. Where does that come from ? The value of an image has nothing to do with the amount of pixel it has, nothing. Does a Cartier Bresson or Leibovitch image is less valuable because it has less pixels.
Six, do something about it. Stop sitting around waiting for someone else to show you the way. Google is ripping your rights away, yet you turn a blind eye. Call that association you pay a hefty membership fee too and tell them to act. If you are a photographer with an agency, tell them to stop giving away your rights and your images. If they do not, leave them. It’s your problem, now. Not someone else ‘s in the future. It’s not going to go away, it’s only going to get worse.
Seventh, stop worrying about what to shoot next and worry more about how much you license what you currently have. Because if this goes on, what you will be getting for those magical pictures you will shoot in the future will only be a fraction of what you currently have on the market.
Eight, stop being beggars. Beggars are loser, as the expression says . Your images are needed. They are actually the core value of some publications or websites. They are not doing you a favor by publishing your work, you are bringing them the value they need to have a business. What you do is unique. Trust me, if they could do it themselves and keep you out, they would. But they can’t.
Nine, stop being technophobes. It’s not cute anymore. All the information is at your fingertips. Read, learn. Saying you don’t understand is no excuse anymore. You shoot digital, don’t you ? So stop the crap about how you do not understand RSS feeds or HTML, or anything web related. No one buys it and if they do, its only to squeeze more out of you.
Ten, stop being afraid . Afraid of losing clients, afraid of tomorrow, afraid of big corporations, afraid of your own decisions. The images you shoot or that you license have the value you give them. Not the value that some dude who will soon lose its /her job as some corporate company is willing to offer. Bargain if necessary, until you have no breath left. Leave the table. Those images are like your children, do not let them be mistreated. Ever. By no one.