Sunday, 13 January 2008

Sunday Rant VI

This Sunday's rant is all about photography...so the purists can rejoice this week. On a professional photography forum, I've recently seen venomous replies in response to a post from an editor of a Northern European magazine requesting photographers of South Asian images to contact him. The rather inept editor added the incendiary statement that his magazine had a limited budget, and I'm paraphrasing here...couldn't pay market rates for the photographs.

Hell broke loose, and photographers crucified the hapless editor for trying to exploit them...for trying to get their photographs for next to nothing while being handsomely paid by the advertisers of the magazine...and worse.

So here's the core of my rant: firstly, this sort of knee-jerk behavior from photographers alienates magazine editors, who may decide to shop elsewhere for their photo requirements. Secondly, this particular editor didn't ask for free submissions. That would certainly warrant the poisonous reaction he got from photographers. No, he was reasonably clear that he'd pay for the photographs, but due to budgetary constraints, the payments would be lower than prevailing market rates.

Let's examine this rationally, shall we? Corporations outsource everything...everything gets outsourced these days...from customer services to surrogate motherhoods. If I was a magazine editor responsible for its bottom line and to its shareholders, I would certainly look very seriously into outsourcing my photography needs. Globalization forces are at work in every industry...and photography is an industry like any other. If a magazine editor can satisfy his/her magazine's needs from photographers in India, Pakistan and the Middle East, at a fraction of what photographers in the West will charge... at comparable quality and delivered in a timely fashion, of course he/she would.

Globalization (and the internet/tech advances) has upended the status-quo...the South Asian photographers, the Middle Eastern photographers, the Asian photographers have all emerged as worthwhile competitors, and have proven many times over that their work is as good, frequently better, and as professional as any other. However, because their local costs of living are generally lower, they are willing to accept below market rates...rates that are or were determined by entities in the West.

There will always be magazines that only publish the best of the best...there will always be ample opportunities for the so-called 'legendary photographers'...but the rest of us will have to compete heads-on with photographers from all over the world, and must accept that ground rules have changed, and we must adapt. So let's not blame magazine editors for exercising financial acumen and waste our energy on silly arguments...let's be honest and agree that if we were offered a service (say digital printing as an example) from India or China at a cheaper cost to us than one we use in Manhattan, and provided the quality and delivery time were the same, most of us would give our business to these offshore service providers.

My suggestion to photographers who get all exercised about "lower than market" rates is simple...if you don't like what's offered, ignore it and move on....you'll live longer. The reality is that some photographers who don't have your cost of living standards will send in their work and accept lower rates. The culprits are not the magazine editors', nor the photographers who do...but market forces. Are there nasty magazine editors who will always try to nail photographers? Of course, but this is not about the bad apples...it's about the straightforward ones, who try to do the best for their magazines.

So we need to learn new skills and invent new ways of publishing our work instead of wasting our energy and credibility by piling on others who are only doing what we would do.

Let me be very clear: not paying for photographs on the pretext that 'it will enhance the photographer's career' is a scam and rip-off. I don't care whether the photographer is a beginner or a seasoned professional...it's still a rip-off. There are some exceptions to that, but very few.