Field Report:

The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography

ASMP White Paper: Photography Rates

I was looking through some professional photography industry websites and came across this white paper that ASMP made available for syndication. I don’t know when it was written but here it is:

An ASMP white paper by Richard Weisgrau

Publishers control the day rate that they pay to photographers. In 25 years they have failed to increase the day rate to a level that would allow photographers to maintain the standard of living of 1973. In spite of this failure, many publishers seek more and more rights from photographers for the same low and continuously eroding fees. The situation is out of control. Photographers feel that they cannot control the day rate. They perceive that they have little individual clout in a negotiation with a major magazine. They cannot collectively bargain, since they are independent contractors and not entitled to the collective bargaining power of a union. The simple fact is that the publisher has all the advantages, EXCEPT FOR ONE. If the situation does not improve, good and reliable photographers will eventually be forced to refuse editorial assignments, since these will not support the photographers’ costs and commitments to their businesses.

While the picture may appear bleak, there is one advantage that the photographer has over the publisher. Photographers provide the content that the publishers need. Although individual photographers cannot bargain collectively, if enough individual photographers refuse to work for inadequate pay, publishers will have no choice but to react to the forces of the free market system and increase their payments for photography. ASMP cannot force a photographer or a publisher to do anything. It cannot organize a boycott or a strike. It cannot set a wage, fee, term or condition for photographers. But, ASMP can express its opinion and give its advice. This paper provides that opinion and advice.

In 1973, the per capita income in New York State, where many photographers reside and work, was $5,969. In 1997, the per capita income in New York was $30,299 or five times greater than that of 1973.

In 1973, the minimum wage was $1.60 per hour. In 1998, the minimum wage was $5.15 per hour or 3.2 times higher than the rate of 1973.

In 1973, the average day rate for editorial photography assignments with one-time rights was $200. In 1998, the average day rate for the same editorial assignment is $450 or 2.2 times higher than the rate for 1973. The editorial day rate has fallen behind even the rate of increase in the minimum wage.

These statistics show that the compensation paid to editorial photographers is forcing their living standard down faster than that of the general population. They also show that untrained workers have experienced a greater rate of wage increase than highly trained and skilled photographers. How can publishers get away with this? The answer is simple. Publishers use their economic clout to dictate fees to photographers who, like most of us, need to work. The “take it or leave it” position of most publishers leaves most photographers in a position where they have to choose between inadequate compensation and none at all. Necessity dictates the choice.

The table below shows that editorial fees have simply deteriorated over the years to the point where the very existence of editorial photography on a professional level is now threatened. The day is quickly approaching when competent and properly equipped photographers will not be able to provide publishers with those images which inform readers, bring events into their consciousness and help them get a better picture of our world. The chart applies changes in the consumer price index to the 1973 day rate. The adjusted day rate shows what the day rate should have been in 1998, if it had been adjusted for inflation.

Editorial Day Rate Analysis

Base year: 1973, 1986, 1990
Average day rate: $200 $350 $400
C.P.I. factor (to 1998) 3.671.521.25
1998 Adjusted
day rate$734$532$500

The above chart clearly demonstrates that, not only is the day rate woefully behind its 1973 base, it even has failed to keep pace with the inflation of just the last ten years, when they are taken as a base rate. A recent survey of ASMP members shows that the current average day rate for one-time editorial rights (print media only) is $450. Interestingly, this average is higher than the rates paid by many major magazines, like Time and Business Week, which pay base day rates of only $400. The average is pulled up because some specialty magazines pay higher rates to the best photographers, and ASMP members are more often in this group.

ASMP anticipates and acknowledges the argument that many publications went through very traumatic times in the early to mid-seventies. Television took its toll on advertising revenues and readership. Famous magazines closed their doors forever. A few were later resurrected with a new look and approach. In spite of this decline, however, the fact is that there are more magazines and print publications than ever before. Certainly, the economics of magazines have changed, so ASMP will concede that it might (but only might) be unrealistic to conclude that magazines can afford to pay at least the same level of fees that they paid in the early 1970s. However, it is also not unreasonable to point out that the publishers’ and editors’ and other staff salaries have been more than adequately adjusted to meet the economic realities of today. This is not true in the case of photographers.

Certainly, by 1986 magazines had economically reestablished themselves and found their way to profitability. But, even if we concede that the day rate of 1986 ($350) was fair compensation in light of economic conditions, we see that publishers have not seen fit to raise the day rate to a level that paces it with inflation. Indeed, the past seven years have seen the economy grow to record levels, and magazines profits have grown with it, but the day rate paid to photographers has once again fallen behind the decade’s rate of inflation. It does not take an economist to see the trend. While photography is every bit as important to publications as it ever was, the reward for it continues to decrease.

There is another factor that is easy to lose sight of when considering the unfairness of the rate of compensation paid to photographers. For each day that a photographer is paid for, he or she spends additional time performing tasks related to the work done on the paid day. ASMP’s survey shows that, for every day of photography, the average editorial photographer spends a total of 10.2 additional hours on assignment preparation, post production work, administrative duties and travel time. The result is that it takes 18.2 hours to earn a single day’s rate. At $450 per day, the photographer is actually earning $24.72 per hour. Keep in mind that most photographers must maintain in excess of $50,000 in equipment in order to do their work, have to have business insurance, must pay their own medical insurance premiums, etc. Photographers have the same costs of doing business that any small service business has. Many of them are also paying off college loans for the education that is a necessary prerequisite to be a successful photographer today. There are few businesses in the USA that can support their owners and meet their overhead on $25 per hour in revenues.

Considering the above facts and recognizing that this situation is unlikely to change without some dynamic force being applied, ASMP offers its opinion that publishers should raise their editorial day rate to a MINIMUM of $550 in 1999, with subsequent raises to $600 in 2000 and $650 in 2001. These rates would include one time use in print media and would not include electronic rights, foreign language rights, or English language rights outside of North America, or any reprint rights. ASMP also believes that photographers have good reason to adopt these recommendations of ASMP in their individual negotiations with publishers, and that, while free to ignore ASMP’s opinion and recommendation, doing so would only further threaten their economic futures.

The eroding economic position of editorial photographers must be stopped and reversed. It seems clear that publishers have no intention of changing it as of this writing. So photographers must either change it or face further degradation of their earning power ever year. How can you, as an editorial photographer, motivate this change? ASMP suggests the following. Copy this paper as many times as you wish. Give copies of it to every editor you work with, every time you work with them. Send ASMP the names and addresses of every publisher, managing editor, photography editor, etc. in the magazines you work for, and we will send them this paper for you. Tell the publishers that you agree with ASMP’s opinion and recommendations. Be conscious of what is happening to you and how poorly the trend bodes for you. Change your fate by insisting on fair compensation. Do not give away your future.

Note: Permission to copy and distribute this white paper was granted by the author and ASMP.

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May 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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