Time Inc. foists awful new contract on photographers

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business, industry, Links

New Time Inc., contract is an awful rights grab
New Time Inc., contract is an awful rights grab

It’s an awful part of the job, but photographers need to be able read and understand contracts. The new Time Inc. contract, which will be sent to photographers working for all Time Inc. publications, including Time magazine, Travel + Leisure, People, Sports Illustrated, etc., is an awful rights grab that results in lower fees paid to photographers. John Harrington has published a great deep read of the new contract. PhotoShelter has a nice overview of the issues.

Here’s the new contract below, along with an introduction from Time Inc. Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine. Pearlstine was also editor of Time magazine from 1994-2005. His introduction starts, “Since the 1920s and ’30s, when Time and Life magazines first appeared on the scene, Time Inc. and its brands have been known for the beauty and power of iconic photograph. While our commitment to original photography is as true today as ever, we are revising how we commission and use photographs.” Ironically, the contract that follows is an affront to the very livelihood of photographers. I couldn’t continue working as a photographer without decent fees, payment for reuse, and the ability to relicense photos taken on assignment.

Writing on PhotoShelter’s blog, Allen Murabayashi notes that the contract eliminates the notion of a space rate through a perpetual right to republish photos without compensation, makes all video shot for Time Inc. work made for hire, makes it impossible for photographers to relicense work used on magazine covers, takes away photographers’ recourse in case Time Inc. violates the contract, and allows payment for work done only in case an editor deems it “acceptable.”

I strongly advise all photographers to do what I do when confronted with contracts like this: refuse to sign until rights-grabbing language is changed. This is the only way for photographers to maintain their livelihoods.

In my 10 years of freelancing, I’ve given up the copyright to a photo (a single photo!) exactly once. In that case, I was paid five figures. There is, after all, a price for everything. In every other case in which an editor or art buyer has asked me to sign a rights grab or offered a pittance for my work, I politely refuse and offer some alternative ideas for contractual language that allows me to keep my copyright and the ability to license the work in the future. If the publication refuses to budge, I turn down the assignment or licensing agreement. Often, the publication will find a way to go ahead with the assignment or licensing on my terms, but not always. In a recent deal with Time Inc., in fact, I was able to get around the rights-grabbing contract and get a higher fee than their standard space rates by standing firm on my terms(but always remaining cordial and friendly). I’ve done the same with other major news and publishing organizations, including CNN, National Geographic, The Verge, and others. It can be done.

The only way to get rid of these awful contracts is to quit signing them. If you’re presented with a bad contract, strike the bad language and politely explain why you can’t and won’t sign the contract as it’s first offered. If they are open to negotiation, that’s wonderful. The client will likely view you as a professional. If not, stand firm and decline the work. There is no other way.

The curious case of National Geographic’s layoffs and financials

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business, magazines, News, ngos

The dirty secret is that NatGeo needed the money for their endowment. Nothing makes money. Nothing. The only thing holding them together is the channel now, spinning off money so they can be alive.” former Nat Geo executive, speaking to the Guardian

The news was everywhere recently that National Geographic would be laying off staff at the magazine. This comes after September’s news that the magazine would become a for-profit after 21st Century Fox bought 73% of the new entertainment company controlling the magazine and National Geographic’s television and other media properties. Variety initially reported that the new entertainment company would lay off “less than 10%” of its 2,000 employees. Jim Romenesko published notes from National Geographic Society President and CEO Gary Knell which asked staff around the world to make themselves available on Nov. 3 to receive information about the restructuring of the organization. Then, in the largest layoff in the organization’s history, 180 of its staff were laid off, including cuts at the magazine. The Guardian has a great piece about the whole thing: How Fox ate National Geographic.

Screenshot of former National Geographic photo editor Sherry Brukbacher's twitter announcement that she was laid off.
Screenshot of former National Geographic photo editor Sherry Brukbacher’s twitter announcement that she was laid off.

When the merger between Fox and National Geographic was first announced, Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi wrote a curious article about how the financial difficulties cited as a reason for the sale were not evident in the National Geographic Society’s publicly-available financial documents. “In fact, in 2013, the most recent year for which records are available, the organization had one of its best years. Its revenue grew 16 percent, topping $500 million and throwing off a $25.7 million surplus. Net assets expanded by 20 percent, putting the society’s net worth close to $900 million,” wrote Farhi. Executives at the organization, including the magazine’s then-editor in chief had all been well compensated for their part in buoying the Society through tumultuous recent years. Farhi reports that executive compensation there ranked among the highest in the country, though cautions that comparison to other non-profits might not be good because the organization is part-charity, part-commercial.

Nevertheless, Farhi’s Nov. 4, 2015, article on National Geographic’s layoffs says that the layoffs were done to avoid “financial derailment.” In 2014, Farhi wrote, “Its revenue declined about 5 percent, to $500 million, and its operations swung from a surplus of $25.5 million to a $20 million loss. Net assets declined by $90 million, to $805.5 million, compared with a year earlier.” In his earlier piece, Farhi wrote that much of National Geographic’s financial growth could be attributed to its investment portfolio, and thus the organization was vulnerable to swings in the stock markets. The sale to Fox was intended to stabilize the organizations financials.

National Geographic Society President and CEO Gary Knell told Farhi, “You can’t prejudge [the merger]. If in two or three years, if we mess up the [National Geographic] brand, then people will judge us. But give us a chance.”