9.24.2012

One of those weekly phone calls that makes you question your career choice...


I was driving home from Maria's Taco Express, where I had a great lunch, when my phone rang. I thought it might be my errant lunch companion who failed to show up so I answered it. The call started out pleasantly enough, it was a woman from a publishing company in another city. She immediately went into the sell mode to tell me "what a wonderful series of books they produce about major cities in the U.S. and, isn't it wonderful?" They're going to do one on Austin.

Well, that's okay with me, I guess, but why was she calling me? "Well, in order to make it a great book about your city it would have to have photographs of stuff, including some food shots from some of our more famous local restaurants. So the publisher asked the restaurants to send in photographs. But here's the problem, the photographs from one restaurant are too small and mushy and they need big, meaty, high res images for their super deluxe, super high quality printed book." And they just kinda think I may have taken the photographs of this wonderful food that they want to put in a wonderful book that might just put Austin on the map as a city. Imagine that. Austin as a famous city. I can see people walking with more spring in their step right now....

I described the image I thought the person on the phone might be interested in and she more or less agreed that it probably was that image. Great, I say. What is your budget for the use of photography (one time) in your beautifully printed book that will put Austin on the map and save us from obscurity?  "Zero.  Ziltch. Nada."

But there are a couple of stumbling blocks to her wishful "free" thinking... The first is that the images were done for a magazine on a one time usage rights agreement. Oh darn, you mean the restaurant didn't get all the rights to my magazine assignment? That damn, pesky copyright law. Then came the "leverage."  "But well, if we don't get the high resolution files to use then we'll just have to pull that restaurant out of our book!!!!"  Oh no!!! This particular restaurant with a two hour wait for a table on week nights, the restaurant that's been here for twenty five years-----all that may crumble if I don't send off my intellectual property, ASAP.

Then why are you calling me? I ask.  "Well, you see, we need a high res version of the image and since you might be the person what took the image we were thinking we might be able to get the high res version from you. Because we need the high res image. See? For this impressive book."

Why didn't you ask the restaurant for a high res image? Isn't that their responsibility? "Well, they like this image but they weren't sure where it came from.... "  So why are you calling me? "Because we need a high resolution version for our book." But you don't have any budget to pay for it?

Now I'm getting a bit feisty. So you're producing a book to make money? "Yes." Your company is in the business of making books for profit? "Yes!"  And the restaurant will get free advertising because it will be in the book? Is that right? Yes!  And so why is the artist of the work the only one who doesn't benefit from the use of the work?  Why is the photographer the only one who isn't getting paid?

"Well, stutter,  I just trying to find out if you have some deal with the restaurant, like they pay you a yearly fee or something so we can use the image...."

But I don't have any business relationship with the restaurant. I own the photograph and I need to be paid if you intend to use it.

And then she asked, "Why are you getting so upset? Is someone you know dying or something?" (actual question...).

And I asked, Do you have any intention of paying to use my photograph?  "NO!" she said ".... .and you've been so unhelpful and mean I'll never call again and if I ever see your name come across my desk I will never use you!!!"

Thank you, I said, because you'd only be calling to see if you could get more stuff for free.

I don't remember who slammed their phone down first. But it never helps my blood pressure to be on either end of a call that's all about getting shit for free.

65 comments:

louisjkim said...

I had a similar experience with a friend of a friend who wanted to use my images for her card business, for free. Once I politely said it doesn't work that way, the chatty emails stopped.

Patrick Dodds said...

That digital paradigm of working for nothing not working out for you Kirk? ;)

John F. Opie said...

While I don't work professionally as a photographer any more (long past, those days), I run into this same thing in my real-world job as an industrial economist, folks calling up to chat about this industry or that, wanting to find out everything they can. Sorry, I have learned to say, you can buy our report on that industry and then give me a call if you still want to talk. You really can't get something for nothing. Somebody has to pay the bills at the end of the day, and the time spent talking could have been spent doing something productive. It's not like you're just sitting there, lonely and abandoned, just waiting for someone to call...

Sheez.

Kirk Tuck said...

This didn't start in the digital days.... Some people always thought artists should work for free...

Danhaines said...

AHHHH That resonates with me. Today I had a similar social-networking "chat" about pirated music fom the internet. His argument was he's been out of work for a while, albums are getting shorter than back in the day and (get this) The artist isn't getting apid by people buying CD's anyway! I could not get thru to him even with 1. its in the law its illegal to do what you are doing 2. Dont you think with every 2nd person worldwide doing this it might have an impact on the industry you claim to love?

To me IP is just the same as a Ferrari parked outside, it needs to be paid for and valued the same.

Mike Peters said...

You should have asked them if they'd print you next book, FOR FREE! Tell them you have no budget for printing, but that you'll give them credit.

Libby said...

This kind of crap is one of the reasons I pulled all of my stuff off Flickr. Because I used to shoot out of the way places and stuff like small hotels in my area for fun, I would get about 3 emails a week from one of those those online travel guides. And this was just snapshot stuff. I haven't had the problem yet with paid work. Then again, who wants my images of hex wrenches and spanners except for the manufacturer who makes them?

Carl Frederick said...

"-But it never helps my blood pressure to be on either end of a call that's all about getting shit for free.-"

Unless it's the IRS, and you're on the receiving end!

cfw

Anonymous said...

Best post in a long time. You have some great things to say when you're not being a fanboy for brand X or brand Y!

David Liang said...

My graphic design friends experience this all the time. Their non-artist friends always assume since they do it anyway, that they'd be willing do them a "favor" for free.

A lot of people get it so twisted thinking because we love doing something, that translates to us loving to do that something, for someone else, for nothing. I'd be receptive to people who offer something in return, it doesn't have to be money, it could be a connection, advice a favor. At least have the awareness to give recognition that the "art" is worth something, and that the labor of love has real value.

Steve J said...

As a freelance consultant I frequently find myself involved in a bidding process for a piece of work where I am more or less asked to provide an analysis of the problem as part of the process.

This is usually a sign that they already have someone in mind but have to go out to tender because of internal policy. They just use the process to pump everyone for information. Very annoying and a total waste of everyone's time, especially if I have to do a lot of work to respond to the tender.

I usually interview the client as part of the tender. If they don't act professionally they are normally not worth bidding for as you will probably end up in dispute anyway, or chasing payment.

Kirk Tuck said...

usually I dump comments wherein I am called a "fanboy" but.....I'll let this one slide. Go Sony!

Kirk Tuck said...

Let's not confuse the issue. This person and her company were strangers to me. Not friends or family. Strangers at a "for profit" enterprise. And they didn't bring anything to the table to even the offer.

Kirk Tuck said...

In our industry we (the one's who are in it for the long term...) say, "Sorry, we don't do spec work." Hire me and we'll show you the good stuff. If you're just shopping we've got a portfolio for you to look at. I could do "on spec" stuff for the rest of my life. People are happy to watch you work for free as long as they don't have to pay for it... (damn elipses keep following me around...).

MartinP said...

[irony]

Well, that's it then. You'll have to pack it in.

You are interested in food and cooking aren't you? Maybe there's a vacancy on the grill at the local MacBurger franchise??

[/irony]

Possibly that's sarcasm instead of irony though.

SK said...

So what's a guy to do about these insulting offers? You can't avoid the phone but when these offensive calls come in, I think it's best to cut it short with style and grace. Getting into an escalating war of words benefits nobody. I find it hard, even after more than 25 years in the business, to separate my personal feelings from my professional work. But I have picked up a few coping mechanisms along the way that make these insulting calls less painful.

One thing that helps me immensely is to never ask, "what's your budget?" I want the person who is contacting me to know that I alone set my prices rather than waiting for them to say what they'll pay.

My strategy is to say, "let me get some information from you so I can calculate a price based on how the photograph will be used." That's when the "dirty business of free" would have been revealed which would be my cue to exit the call in a firm yet graceful manner.

I'd say something like "I'm sorry Miss, but I'm ever so busy at the moment with important work on behalf of paying clients…..good luck on your project……yada yada yada….."

Did I just miss out on a teachable moment? I don't know since I'm not a teacher and I hate lectures but I do know that there is an entire business model based on asking photographers like us to willingly offer our work for free. It stinks. But life is too short for me to let this bother me, especially if lunch is waiting.

Thanks for sharing this story.

Kirk Tuck said...

I'm sorry, MartinP, I don't understand your comment. Can you explain?

Kirk Tuck said...

I'm only bothered when they insist. Believe me I tried some graceful exits. She kept trying to "close" the "deal". At some point enough is enough.

lsumners said...

Never ceases to amaze me that people/companies do not understand or care that everyone has to make a profit (I should also include governmental agencies).

Peter Tung said...

Very interesting story. You'd think a for-profit business knows better than coming up to anyone asking things for free (really? not even offering to display your info/website/etc...). That just sounds all kind of fishy to me as well, so it's probably good that you blew them off.
I think our experiences tell us better that you will get what you pay for, and the ones that try to take advantage of others will eventually fall due to their own shortcomings.

Bill Bresler said...

Oh, companies know full well what they're doing when they ask for free work. The problem is that there are way too many fools with cameras who will say yes to such a request.

Anonymous said...

Book publishers seem to hire staff that are clueless.
For 25 years I had a business doing art, mainly charts and technical illustration for some major text book publishers, and our clients were cheap and disrespectful of the creative effort and the time it took to do the work they required. And yes, the price of books went up and up as did the company profits.

theaterculture said...

Dang. I could _almost_ appreciate the hutzpah if she was calling to ask for a freebie, but had a budget behind her to go with if that wasn't flying. Zero is a remarkably low-ball place to start a negotiation, and you'd wish to live in a world where people actually want to treat each other well and value each other's work fairly, but it's tough out there for everybody and sharp negotiation is one of the unfortunate results of that.

But claiming to be in bizness as a for-real publisher, and having zero budget for images...at some point people have got to stop leaning on the "it's a rough economy out there" thing and start stepping up and behaving like real human beings.

Kirk Tuck said...

Bill is right. I mention above that we get calls like this all the time. Vanity city book publishers and city magazines are the worst. I got a call last week from a magazine that wanted to use an image we'd done for a major client, didn't want to pay for it AND needed those high res files by the end of the day. Some unscrupulous ublishers have learned that there are stupid people who are willing to throw away their valuable work/creative content just to say it was published. No matter how obscure the demographic. Their new model is to never pay. Anything. At all.

Kirk Tuck said...



There's an old saying I heard over and over again from printing press operators: If it's good enough to use it's good enough to pay for. If it's not good enough we'll reprint. Either way you don't get free printing.

David L. said...

My wife is a professional musician and they get the same treatment. Venues and promoters want them to play for free and view them as on the bottom of the food chain. Sadly they get stiffed more often than expected.

Wadda ya want for nothin' R-r-r-r-r-rubber biscuit?

Alan said...

Hilarious, I work in engineering and this stuff never happens. The closest we get is when projects start to go off scope and something else needs to be done and the first thing out of everybody'd mouth is "who's paying for that" and nothing gets done until that question is answered.

John Flores said...

That sucks. I can't think of any other profession where people will try stealing from you right in front of your face. Those types of robberies usually involve firearms or sharp pointy things.

Kirk Tuck said...

Alan, suggestion: try being a freelance engineer. I'll bet people beat down your door just to ask you a few questions....

Clay Olmstead said...

Not the Medici family. You still get what you pay for.

Bill Bresler said...

Funny you should mention city book publishers. Way back in the 80s I got a call from a publisher to shoot for one of those. They wanted me to do all of the photography for the book. Restaurants, city sights, cultural institutions, etc. I figured it would take me at least a month, seven days a week to shoot everything they proposed. They offered me a grand for the whole project. A friend who sold ads for them was ticked off when I turned them down.

Robert Roaldi said...

Or banking. :)

Dave Jenkins said...

This is the basic business plan of my whole market area and has been from time immemorial. When I go to a major city about a hundred miles away to solicit work, what they want to know is "How good is it." But here in my own mid-size city, all they want to know is "How cheap is it?"

Clay Olmstead said...

There's a difference between a fanboy and someone who's excited about the possibilities of the materials for making art. For me there's no thrill like prying the end-cap off a new roll of Belgian linen and letting the smell roll out into the room. For a few seconds all the frustrations and disappointments of the past disappear - the world is full of endless opportunities...

David Liang said...

You're right, that puts it even more in perspective. I don't think I would have been as calm as you seemed.

Ian said...

Thanks Kirk,

I enjoyed looking at your photograph on this post. I wonder what the bowl of food would look like on a larger canvas? With or without some other relevant small objects, I like to think of its potential to become art on art on art. Food art made photography art presented as art. Exquisite. No doubt someone has already done this and there may be many masters of it.

Just my thoughts, inspired by your image.

Thanks.

Ian

rgonet said...

I'm a lawyer and I get this, too. Everyone wants free advice since it appears to take no effort on my part. It reminds me of my Polish grandfather, born in 1890, who said he was always looking for "something for nothing," but it was never there.

Craig said...

Thank you Kirk! Chalk one up for all of us working photographers. Maybe she'll think twice before calling any more Texas photographers! ;-)

Raianerastha said...

Kirk, I have a question: if you were driving your car, you took the call on a cell phone. How did you slam it down?

Seriously, though, I'd lay odds that her next call was to the restaurant to ask if they knew someone who was good with a camera who could take a high resolution photo that looked enough like your shot to be usable, and by the way, the person wouldn't be paid for the shot but would get photo credit, yada yada.

As you pointed out in your article about calculating what to charge for a job, a lot goes into producing photos worthy of printing in a "terrific book". People often have no idea, mainly because so many really don't know what sets a pro apart from "Uncle Stan and his really nice DSLR".

MartinP said...

Ahh, this was meant to be the point of view of the caller. "If you aren't going to give your work to us for free, then your business will be the less for it" - then taken to the extreme.

When I re-read my comment it does indeed lack clarity and context. I should have added a sentence at least. My apologies for that, and thank you for not dumping my comment instantly!

jason gold said...

I have had the exact same wonderful offers from publishers, who have budgets, even in these times for fancy eat places, with fancier prices.. Mine were for Fashion and Travel( so exciting to actually live in Africa..).
It seemed that it would be my most favored miracle to go out and shoot hundreds(days of film) photographs for their choice! Free of course. There was a BUT! They couldn't guarantee a credit line for my work.
OH! Have you been to South Africa? No! Well it's not exactly Africa.. I live in the largest industrial center south of Milan. I had to add Italy.. WE have a vast population, vast capabilities and at that time..ICBM's with nuclear capability..
Free! Yes I will do it.. immediately.. I am still on it. 20+ years later in Canada.
The calls from that publisher stopped some years ago, the letters getting more demanding much later..Kirk phone her back. Do it my way..

hbernstein said...

Even though this is a blog for adults, I don't think that you'd want to post the epithets I have concerning giving away art and labor for nothing.

Dave Jenkins said...

A doctor and a lawyer were conversing at a party when a woman came up and began asking the doctor questions about her symptoms. As she left, the doctor turned to the lawyer and asked "Should I charge people when they ask my advice in informal settings like this?"

"Of course," the lawyer replied.

Two days later, the doctor received the lawyer's bill.

Anonymous said...

I think people believe, in their own minds, that a photograph is "just a photo, anyone can take a photo" and have no concept of the work and talent and knowledge involved. It's only after they ask their brother-in-law, who "has a really good camera" to take some pictures for a company brochure and then wind up with a packet of dull, badly lit, cluttered background, and just plain insipid 4X6 prints. At that point, they hopefully realize the difference between professional work and Joe Dokes who has, 'a really good camera'.

John Robison

Bat54 said...

My dad was a freelance engineer (civil/structural)and people would want him to "stop by" and look at their foundation cracks/wall separations, etc., and his response was "Call my office and I can book an appointment and give you my rate".
That usually got the message across.

George said...

I think you better keep an eye out for that book in the coming months in case they use your work. It's unbelievable how much people think they can get away with as far as "borrowing" others' ideas.

Alex said...

Its not only artists. Someone always thinks, that the other one should work for free or for significant less money. Of course, this ONLY accounts for the other one.

Kirk Tuck said...

The food doesn't light itself....

Kirk Tuck said...

George, I'm on it. The end result would make a nice down payment on a new car...

shooter said...

I'd agree with Anon re the friend, relative, acquaintance etc. all own a great camera, and take pics and of course the devils work aka Flikr. I have always beat the drum about the advent of top end cameras being able to produce a good shot and that if one gave it to a monkey they could produce an acceptable image. I'm sure you perhaps recall the incident where photographer leaves his top of the range canon on remote near to some wild monkeys in the jungle? Monkey takes a self portrait which is published ! I did wonder whether he got the fee for the published shots albeit in truck loads of bananas.

I pop by a number of blogs, one of which has upgraded from the D700 to the D800, I am reminded of some of your posts Kirk, did whoever they shot for suddenly say these D700 files are just shite we need you to upgrade pronto mister.

Somehow I think not, so I question the rush to the D800, my own take on it is that cameras now resemble computers and we all know how that race fares, "what youve only got 250 meg of ram" you really need to upgrade, and that processor is so yesterday.

I do love your posts Kirk, you have a very readable style of writing which I have to say is always on the money and both witty and engaging.

After such a glowing tribute I'm sure you could do a portrait at that special reduced best friend rate (free) should I ever happen to get to Austin.

Go Sony Go !!

Tom said...

@Kirk. That is unfortunately true. At least in the It business it's pretty much the same. Some people also tend to think I like fixing their computer problems for free in my leisure time. And get pissed if I dare to ask for money.

Marcus Thompson said...

Just saw Maria's taco express on tv in Ireland. She has a good story and the food looks great. Quality always Einstein out I guess

Kirk Tuck said...

Raianerastha, forgot to mention the free iPhone app called, "slamming it down." I keep it enabled, just in case.

Ron Nabity said...

Well said, Kirk.

These types of calls seem to be coming up more and more frequently.

I think one of the contributing factors is the lack of experience/history on the part of the designers and PR folks. They don't seem to have a background that includes discussion of usage. I don't know how many times I've tried in vain to explain this concept. The reaction is usually one of dumb-foundedness, where they keep saying they don't understand or they think I'm inventing extra costs and giving them a fancy name. And believe me, I've used every analogy in the book. Of course, it doesn't help to use the "stealing music" analogy with people who don't see that as a problem either...

For the most part I now combine the usage costs in the photo fee and leave it at that. I use the project description to derive the usage costs. I just don't itemize them separately anymore, unless the client intelligently answers questions about usage in the initial conversation. And I'm sure I end up eating some of the usage fees when I realize the combined amount is scary big.

The other part of the equation is lowering the cost of doing business. And that's another struggle as well.

Oh well, keep shooting for the good ones.

camper van man said...

Come on, they werent trying to steal. They asked for something for free - there is a difference.

The Flymount people said...

Great story and I get this, but rarely. Fortunately I specialised in industry and they are, almost without fail, very respectful of my time and the value of my images. They may not pay as well as advertising clients but they are very loyal - up to 30 years in one case. Now I run another business where I give my work for free and send it all around the world to promote our products. Much more satisfying!

camper van man said...

But will you buy a copy of the book, to check the pictures ???

Pa Ul said...

Interesting post to read. I was wondering about three reasons why you should join Artsia.

David said...

Did you get there name and number?

The chain of thought here from most is not at all what popped into my head. This is a book getting images from business to publish! Do the business have the right to give these images to 3rd parties? When you sign a contract to take images for a restaurant do you give them full rights to the image? Do you let them sell it to a 3rd party? Is the ownership of the image indicated in the contract.

What I am thinking and would have said, is that this sounds like a huge mess of Illegal copyright infringement and suitable for mass legal investigation for the rights of the photographers whom made these images. Do all the photographers involved know their images are being used by a 3rd party? Has anyone been informed.

This reminds me of when a president used an image in printed campaign material. Then realized they did not have the rights to it. The person on the phone instead of being stupid like your caller, called and asked the photographer if they would like to be featured as free advertising with their name on the material. The person agreed and instead of being paid, got "Free" advertising of their photo and name credit.

Your caller and conversation reminds me of the 1 to 2 million awarded to photographers for images stolen and printed without their consent.

Low Budget Dave said...

Since it is a business, (not a charity) then the appropriate thing to say would be your proposed price. If you are willing to part with a photo for (let's say) $120, then say so right up front. If they decline, then the business transaction is at an end, and your blood pressure remains low.

If someone continues to insist that you are being unreasonable, ask them to sign their next paycheck over to you. Tell them that in exchange for their paycheck, you will promise to say many nice things about them in your blog, and maybe even your next book.

Explain to them that it is not about the size of the paycheck or the value of the picture, it is just a personal sign of respect. You are donating to their company to allow them to publish high quality photos, and they are donating to yours for the exact same reason.

Any argument they can make can then be repeated back to them like a bad echo on a Skype connection. (They are helping market Austin? Wonderful! So are you.)

At absolute least, this would turn an annoying sales call into an enjoyable discussion of philosophy.

Mitch Wojnarowicz said...

BUT I BET THEY WOULD HAVE GIVEN YOU CREDIT!!!!!

This never gets old:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

Bold Photography said...

Kirk's Rolls has a Cadillac for a driver, so he doesn't have to worry about it. And, the weight of the end of the call was sufficient to slam the phone down by itself.

He is, the most *interesting* photographer...

The only thing I would have done was to say that the normal rate for book usage is "x" for that usage. When they replied and said their budget was "0", I would say "fantastic. My rate is 'x', let me know when your budget is improved to match. Have a good day!"

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a hilarious email conversation involving piecharts. http://www.27bslash6.com/p2p.html

Kirk Tuck said...

I had a request again last week. It was from a car enthusiast site. They'd seen an image I did last year of Gov, Rich Perry standing next to the premier of one of the Australian states and he was examining a model Super V8 car that he held in his hands. The site had come across it and wanted to use the image and wanted a higher res image. What were they willing to pay? "Good Exposure" for me. I sent a reply. It ended cordially but neither party won.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous poster above is what we anonymous posters refer to as an "asshole."