Four Corners

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Getting paid to give things away.

My Dad spent six years in the printing trade as an apprentice "Compositor", setting every letter of cold type by hand. He said he learned the job in the first two, then spent four years doing a mans work, for a boys wage.

Some of my earliest memories are the smell of books bigger than me and fonts with magical names I could barely read.I loved their shapes. I'd trace them with my finger. Then with my pencils.

He wasn't a printer by that time, he'd just kept the books. One day in 1960 Fairchild Semiconductor invented the Phototypesetter and his job disappeared.

I have the benefit of this knowledge at my back. And like many passionate media creatives I do not want to sell insurance. You work in the media or else you wouldn't be here, so you know that our industry is illustrating how business models do or don't adapt to technological and societal evolutions.

I'm running a series of live trials that form (for lack of a better word), "Research". They're the sort of thing that all long-term freelancers do, just I'm making mine public.

I know freelancers generally don't collaborate. And I've never been drawn to a particular Union. So I thought this would be just a case of sharing information, maybe a few people would comment and chuck in some experiences of their own. I thought I'd publish information on a series of ongoing experiments and then hope others'd pitch in and help me work out what conclusions to drawer.

I didn't expect people to actively engage. I've never seen the industry (in it's broadest sense) that way before.

I'll record Cory (the subject) Doctorow's massive and hugely generous support no doubt, in detail in the future, but I wanted to drop a couple of things here that happened last week.

So you know what particular trial I'm referring to now (?) if not click here. This week I was approached by the Art Director of a Magazine in NY wanting to use one of the images of Cory. He approached me saying that he understood the images were CC licensed to be available for reproduction (Cory and I agreed this particular flavour of CC license for the purposes of this test) but that he wanted to use the image for the cover of the magazine and ...

"As a long-time art director and former freelancer myself (illustration), I am always concerned about fairness in compensation for photographers.
I also work for a (currently) budget-strapped magazine, and as a result we always try to figure out how to do our covers for free (fairly of course), or as cheaply as possible. Many of our cover photo images are provided by publishers because they serve their purpose of promoting their books while serving our need to illustrate the story. Other times we come up with original design solutions.
But I also respect your desire to be compensated, and putting the photo on a print magazine cover is probably extraordinary usage of your imagery. I appreciate you checking in with Cory re: the scope of the CC licensing (of which I admittedly need to become more educated about).
We have an broad agreement with XXSTOCK AGENCYXX for photography, and the cover we were considering for this issue before deciding to make Cory Doctorow the cover, was going to use a royalty-free image from XXX which would have cost us only $150.00 (US dollars).
Would you be OK if we compensated you $250 for use of your image..."

I explained that he was not obliged to pay me and it's worth noting (one way or another) that for the period of this Blog my website and online folio have been off line - so this AD has no idea who I am or what I've done in the past. He just has an image that he likes, which serves a specific purpose.

It's also worth noting that Cory has a bunch of similarly licensed images that are freely available to use from his flickr stream. But anyway, the AD wanted this one and, he wanted to pay me for it.

I didn't expect that.

I didn't expect it so much, that after a some back and forth emailing we're meeting up when I'm next in New York. That's someone who likes my work, and wants to pay me for using it, which means that meeting goes into my "Perceivable Non-Material Benefit" column and the fee goes into the perceivable benefits column.

Here's another thing. When I began using Twitter (as opposed to signed up for and forgot about) one of the first people that I came across who was Tweeting things I wanted to learn more about, was a very reputable Art Director whom I'd worked for in the past.

I became a part of his Twitter community, and through the echos that are RT's I gradually sidled up, before tapping him on the shoulder and asking if he remembered me and came here often?

Up to now, I'd always always thought "Networking" to be a hollow and crap term, which summed up what vacuous Trustafarian Socialites did and whose sole motivation was personal gain in a fashionably fair-weather world of parasitic exploitation.

I've never understood it as a variable sifting through, of all the friends, colleagues and acquaintances one had come across, to find those who, at that particular moment you have the most in common with. I don't now think there's anything sinister in this practice as I did before. It's just great.

I wonder, is that what the younglings mean by the Social-Media-Interface-tubing in my space?

Anyway, here's a line of what Wayne Ford wrote in a blog titled "In the New Media World, Photographers Who Embrace Change Will Succeed" for Black Star:

(of our subsequent conversations)"it is the dialogue itself that will ensure the media’s long-term survival — and the success of photojournalists and others. "

Dialogue, with another ally. Not Patron, but ally and partner.

My Dad assists me these days and not long ago we did a job that meant hanging about waiting for someone in a dank and forgotten storage area. Against one wall were a bunch of old wooden drawers a yard across and at least as deep. Each of these were divided and subdivided into open topped sections.

My Dad explained that these were the Type-Cases he'd had to use as a youth. He pointed where every letter of the alphabet, the numbers, the punctuation and the spaces would have lived.

Although there aren't as many books bigger than me now, I still love the smell of ink.

And I love making Photographs. And I'm not ready to sell insurance.

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