On Desperation

If you read any previous posts you already know my thoughts on providing work to commercial entities for free, and on submissions. I came across a beautiful example this week of how both these areas can collide in a car crash of exploitation.

K found out this week that a test shoot she had recently given her time to had been used commercially. Did she find out from the photographer? No. From Facebook. Her image used on a front cover. Cool right? No. Totally uncool. Epically uncool. The shoot had been given to the magazine 'because they liked it' and presumably because the photographer Tracey Gibbs was so flattered by this that any self worth went right out of the window. Totally understandable….

The magazine is Cheshire Resident. It's billed as 'The Most Luxurious Magazine for Cheshire' and published by Archant. Archant is one of the biggest media companies in the UK. Their last annual accounts show a turnover in excess of £130m. Profits were reported at £6.3m. This is not quite a registered charity…

Archant publish - amongst other titles - Cheshire Life and Lancashire Life. Looking at the press pack for Cheshire Life the list price for a DPS advertisement is just over £4k. A single page advertisement £2,260. It's odd then that the price they appear to value the cover at is £0. You'd think that would be the most important page, as without a strong cover image sales would be limited. But no - that is the exact price that the cover image, the time, the experience, the effort - is valued at.

I've worked for enough commercial magazines to understand that photographers get paid. Models get paid. Makeup artists get paid. Of the 50+ covers I've had, absolutely none were donated for free. Yet here, everybody's time and effort has been valued by the photographer at precisely fuck all in order that they get themselves a cover image. You can't really blame Archant - they're getting their photography for free simply by asking. Although they do risk damage to sales of one of their other titles - Professional Photographer - because hey, there won't be any left to buy it. Their interim statement states "Profits Rise Despite Falling Revenue". It doesn't take a genius to work out that if they're not having to pay for photography but still taking advertising revenue then profits will indeed rise. If I stopped paying models for commercial work then my profits will also rise. And when my clients stop paying me for working because Tracey is happy to give them images for free, then their profits will rise too. 

I love to have a nosy through the T&C's of media companies. I found this in Archant's…

"By submitting any material to Archant, You automatically grant Archant the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, edit, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such material (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed for the full term of any rights that may exist in such content. You further agree that by submitting any material to Us, You also waive all Your moral rights in such materials"

I'm guessing this is the clause that allows the image to already be used on the front page of Archant's group website. The *really* commercial one. The one where the investors and shareholders go. 

Most 'local' or freemium magazines - the ones without the huge resources of Archant - will at least put some money towards production of their editorial be it via a location, or simply organisation of the team. And the end result is always explicit from the outset - that the team is working unpaid for a commercial entity. That's fine. I get that. Everybody can make their own choice in that scenario. When the beneficiary is putting at least some resource in, it often gives photographers and models the opportunity to create something they normally don't have the time, resource or contacts to create. It's a business transaction that all parties are aware of. But when it's simply a test shoot one minute and then on a commercial magazine cover the next, then boundaries blur and people understandably get bitter. Especially when the story keeps changing. One minute Cheshire Resident is a freemium magazine only (i.e. freely distributed with no cover price), the next it emerges that yes, there is a cover price of £5 but only a few will be sold. Ah. So it's only a little bit commercial. The cover price is actually an irrelevance - magazines such as this exist on advertising revenue, not cover revenue. That's why magazines such as Shortlist are some of the most profitable in the UK despite being given away for free.

There's no legal crime here. The photographer owns the images and can give them to whomever she wants on whatever terms she sees as reasonable. So if Tracey views the work as worthless, then it's understandable that nobody else will place any value on it either. Agency standard practise is that models are provided for test shoots as long as there's no commercial usage - but that's down to each individual agency's policy. Tear sheets are good. Paid ones are better.  And ones where the team are given the simple respect of being made fully aware of what the end usage is going to be are best of all. The image itself is actually quite beautiful - it certainly stands out amongst the rest of the shots from the day - but then again, it remains a beautiful image regardless of whether it has 'Chesire Resident Magazine' across the top. 

You can find the mag's Facebook page here. If you're lucky, it'll appear through your door for free. Or if you're not a Cheshire Resident, you can pay a fiver for it here.

And in a neat circle of events, here's a cover for another of Archant's titles I spotted this week in a BP station. From a commercial shoot I did which included rights to use the image commercially. Granted, there's no photographer attribution in the masthead, but that's another post…