EPUK Editorial Photographers United Kingdom and Ireland. The private mailing list and public resource for editorial photographers

The state of the industry

14 November 2001 - Neil Turner

These are rapidly changing times, and our industry is changing daily. Our profession has always had an ambivalent attitude towards change, treating new technologies with suspicion, as new developments have nearly always meant job losses for some and the acquisition of new skills for others. This pattern seems likely to be repeated for many years to come.

Where are we now?

Employment. The vast majority of photographers are self employed, many by choice and many others because staff jobs are few and far between.

Payment. Most commissioned work is undertaken by freelances on a “day rate” basis, with a lot of the magazines and newspapers eager to grind the price of the work lower and lower. It’s an attractive profession and their tactic is to imply that if you won’t do the work for next to nothing, then someone else will. The pressure to drive rates down is constant.

Terms and conditions. More and more publishers are realising that ownership of the copyright of photographs is a valuable commodity. A lot of them are trying to alter the well established terms and conditions under which freelance photographers work in order to “grab” those rights.

Technology. As digital technology becomes more commonplace in the industry, photographers are being asked to shoot digitally without any account being taken by the publishers of the huge sums of money that we are being asked to outlay on this evolving technology.

The marketplace. There are more magazines and newspapers than ever out there, and websites are mushrooming. The use of images is also increasing, but the willingness of publishers of both old and new media to pay for pictures is diminishing. The use of bland stock photography is very appealing to them because it is effortless and cheap compared to good quality library material and commissioned work.

Legislation. Many victories such as the right to paid holiday for freelancers working consistently for individual clients and the absolute right to the ownership of copyright for non-staff photographers have been won in the (European) courts. These have contributed towards the owner’s attempts to vary terms and conditions.

Conglomeration. More and more of the smaller agencies, libraries and publishing companies have been swallowed up by the mega-media-corporations. The market has become constricted by a few giant players who can afford to squash the competition.

Now, more and more of the photographs supplied to publications are comminig from three or four major sources and more and more of the images are being supplied to a few large publishers. This wrestling for market share could easily suffocate photography as we know it and it is up to us to see that it doesn’t.

The future?

For each of the above points there is an answer. In fact there is one answer and independent photographers talking together, sharing information, is the first step towards that answer. Collectively we can help to make sure that our voice is heard in the industry and discussion forums such as EPUK are perfect for the pooling of information to take place. We can…

Be open about fees and expenses with each other so that publishers find it harder to play one photographer off against the next.

Establish reasonable terms and conditions that are fair to us and to the publishers. We must keep those under review so that when new concepts and technologies arise we are up with the game and don’t get exploited.

Monitor changes in technology and the market place and by keeping up with the evolving industry make sure that our own futures are secure.

As the globalisation of the media becomes ever more complete we need to make sure that we as a collection of like minded individuals ensure that we have a voice where changes to legislation on a national, European or international basis are proposed.

Most photographers are members of a Trades Union and/or a professional association. These bodies are often slow to spot developments and changes in the industry so it is up to us to make it happen in a way that suits us and those that follow us.

© Stuart Freedman 2001, with additional reporting by Neil Turner.

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