By Kenneth Jarecke
I can tell you why the "frugal" Time cover written up in the previous post was such a bad harbinger for our industry. The going rate for a Time cover shoot—just the shoot, regardless of whether it was published or not—used to be $4,000 plus expenses. That was the flat fee—for Dirck Halstead, David Byrne, or even Andy Warhol. Of course, that doesn't mean you couldn't get as creative with your expenses as you could with the actual imagery!
Dirck (like myself) was a contract photographer, which means he was obligated to allow the magazine to publish the Lewinsky image (which was made on assignment for the magazine). Still, the $4,000 licensing fee would have applied.
I think the $1,800 fee Mike mentioned comes from some published price guidelines that were for images not specifically made for a cover, but I don't think anyone who knew better ever billed less than the standard $4,000.
All of Time's covers are collected by the Smithsonian. Which makes it a bit of an honor. So I can claim I have several of my photographs in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
In the past, the magazine was very protective of its cover images. They often demanded ownership of the copyright, and there was a separate contract for the covers. The last thing they wanted was for anyone else to run the same cover image inside their magazine, let alone on the cover. Which would have precluded the use of not only microstock, but even a wire image that had not been licensed exclusively for cover use.
During the Vietnam War, a UPI image appeared on the cover of both Time and Newsweek in the same week, and both magazines were extremely embarrassed. So, if you were a wire or agency shooter with the only shot of a historic, newsworthy event, you could receive more than the $4,000 for the cover, but technically the magazine would be licensing your complete take for use throughout the magazine that week.
(Obviously, there are rare situations such as the O.J. mugshot where there is no real ownership and both Time and Newsweek end up using the same image.)
Knowing all of this, in addition to knowing the proud history of the magazine, the printing of the April 27th 2009 "New Frugality" cover (and there 's another example which is even worse, a composite of three microstock images of a crying baby getting inoculated) was when the magazine publicly gave up on creating great, original content for its readers. At that point, even a casual viewer could see that the new mantra in newsmagazine publishing was "good enough is good enough."
That's why this was such a big deal. The bean-counters had finally beaten the creatives into submission. Sure, free content on the internet and the economy take a lot of the blame, but really you have to think this "victory" by the business side has to take a lot of the blame for the poor state of magazine publishing today.
I wonder if Steve Jobs can reverse this trend with his new gadget today? Maybe content—content of the highest quality—will matter again.
KenThe Monica Lesson," you really should—it's one of the quintessential essays of the digital transition, an essay I am certain will become part of the history of photography. —MJ
Featured Comment by Jayson Merryfield: "As a bean-counter myself, I object to that line of thought. It is the penny-pinchers who are at the root of this issue (read: management who are more concerned with the bottom line than with artistic or creative standards). A bean-counter will tell you how many beans you have. A penny-pincher decides how many beans are spent."
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? Are magazines and newspapers disappearing like snow on a hot griddle because subscribers and advertisers are for mysterious reasons spending their dollars elsewhere? Or have readers and advertisers left in disgust because (after corporate consolidation saddled publications with colossal debt and absurd profit expectations) magazines and newspapers have so fatally degraded the quality of their product by squeezing every last nickel out of it?"