Survey: Why is the Editorial Market Unfair to Photographers?

Posted by on Wednesday July 20, 2016 | Business, Media

In the current editorial photography market, budgets are shrinking as contract terms become less favorable for photographers. As a follow-up to our story “What Lawyers See When They Look at Editorial Photography Contracts,” we surveyed photographers who shoot editorial assignments about the financial challenges of the editorial photography market. A total of 142 photographers responded.

We asked photographers which factors were most important to them when they are deciding whether or not to take assignments. Day rate, subject matter and the prestige of the assigning publication were most important to the respondents. Less important factors were the ability to re-license images and whether or not the shoot would provide a good tearsheet.

We also asked what would make editorial photography assignments more fair for photographers. Better day rates, higher expense budgets and fewer licensing restrictions were the most important factors. Respondents were less concerned about restricting clients’ reuse of the images and shorter embargo periods.

Roughly 50 percent of respondents say they are “frequently” (33.1%) or “constantly” (17.6%) carrying balances on their credit cards for more than 30 days while they wait for clients to reimburse them for expenses.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents say they lose money on editorial assignments infrequently (i.e., 10 percent of the time or less), while 15 percent of respondents say they lose money on at least half the editorial assignments they shoot.

Other things we learned from the responses to our survey include:

Day rates are usually—but not always—the most important factor photographers weigh when deciding whether to take an assignment. But secondary factors they consider depend upon how frequently they’re covering expenses for their assignments.

For photographers who usually get reimbursed for expenses, the most important consideration for whether or not to take an assignment is the day rate, followed by the subject matter of the assignment. For photographers who occasionally have to cover their own expenses, day rates are the most important consideration, followed by the prestige of the publication offering the assignment. Photographers who frequently cover portions of their expenses say subject matter is their most important consideration, followed closely by day rates. Photographers who usually cover assignment expenses say their most important considerations, after day rates, are creative freedom and having a good tearsheet.

Photographers are dipping into their day rates or their own pockets to cover expenses at roughly the same rate regardless of whether they are shooting for news media or consumer magazines.

The expenses photographers recoup from clients differ depending on the percentage of the income they earn from editorial assignments. Photographers who earn more than half their income from editorial work are more likely to recoup equipment rental costs than photographers who earn less than half their income from editorial work. But photographers who earn less than half their income from editorial work are more likely to recoup studio/location rental expenses and photo assistant day rates. About 30 percent of photographers in both groups said they recoup retouching expenses “most of the time.”

Photographers who earn more of their income from editorial work more frequently carry balances on credit cards for more than 30 days while they wait for expense reimbursements from clients.

About 7 out of 10 photographers who say they earn more than 50 percent of their income from editorial work, say they “frequently” or “constantly” carry those credit card balances for unreimbursed expenses.

Of the photographers who earn less than 50 percent of their income from editorial assignments, slightly less than half say they “constantly” or “frequently” carry balances on credit cards.

In the same survey we asked photographers to identify editorial contracts that they feel are unfair, and we’ll be publishing their answers to that question in a subsequent post. In the chart below, scroll down (using the bar on the right) to see all the survey results.

Related: What Lawyers See When They Look at Editorial Photo Contracts
Does Spending Your Own Money on Editorial Shoots Pay Off? (For PDN subscribers; login required)
Unfair Editorial Photo Contracts: VICE Wants “All of Photographer’s Rights”



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