There’s been much coverage of Time magazine’s miserable pay for use of Robert Lam‘s photo of coins in a jar on the magazine’s April 27, 2009, cover. Receiving only US$30 for the usage from his stock agency, the microstock company IStockPhoto, the photographer and others expressed delight about the sale on the Model Mayhem web forum. Ironically, the photo was used to illustrate a story on “The New Frugality”. Photo Business News & Forum weighed in as one would expect (and be sure to read through the comments), the Lightstalkers community was typically and understandably enraged, but the story even jumped into the non-photography news, with notable coverage at Salon. The most likely explanation of the abysmal fee is that the cover is an illustration cover, rather than an editorial photo cover, and the illustrator, Time art director Arthur Hochstein (no website for him, but here’s a discussion about Time’s 2007 redesign with much input from Hochstein; and here’s a note from Time publisher about Hochstein being a “whiz on our Apple Macintosh computer design system”), was likely compensated at the usual rate for his illustrations. As any designer might do, Hochstein likely cut costs on the stock art used in the illustration to minimize expenses for the job. And while outrage at the low fee for photography is justified, the sheer volume of generic pictures of coins in a jar suggests that one need not pay too much for use of such a picture; were similar images more rarified, the fee would necessarily be higher. And then, today, in the lightstalkers discussion, my favorite addition to the coverage appeared in a comment by Don Denton:
I was reminded of this story while rereading the 1984 Patricia Bosworth biography of Diane Arbus last night. Here’s an excerpt from a section on the photographer Robert Frank….‘In 1947 the Franks came to New York and Frank began photographing for Fortune, Life, Harper’s Bazaar. The pay was terrible ($50 a picture)’.”
Now, 62 years later, we’re at $30 for an image on the cover of Time. Adjusted for inflation, that comparison is even bleaker. Frank was getting paid $483.62 for a picture in 2009 US dollars, and the IStockPhoto photographer was paid $3.10 in 1947 US dollars.