Head In The Sand - Gary Elsner

Posted on 3/15/1999 by Gary Elsner | Printable Version | Comments (0)



March 15, 1999

    Gary Elsner, former Sales and Marketing VP at FPG International, and currently an

    independent consultant on stock photo issues, shares his thoughts on ASMP's new

    approach to photographer education.

By: Gary Elsner

Story 203 on ASMP's

decision to cancel the Dallas stock seminar is a tremendous disappointment to all

elements of the industry. It is another step in shutting off communications

between stock agencies and the photographers they depend on.

I understand the fears and concerns that photographers across America have about

what is going on in the stock and royalty-free industry today. In my consulting

business I have fielded calls from many key photographers who, at the very least,

feel left out or without representation as the drama of big business unfolds.

The industry's largest companies are doing a horrible job of involving the

photographer in the process of "growing the industry". Agents give most

photographers the impression that if they don't like what is going on, they can be

easily replaced by someone lined up outside the door?

Agents make little effort to understand their photographer's needs and concerns. In

order to develop a successful long-term relationship agents simply can't conduct

business as usual. Agents need to listen to their photographers and treat them as

individuals. Learning how they work, how they think, and their goals are essential

elements in nurturing those relationships.

Adults don't enjoy being treated like children. Many of today's top commercial

photographers have worked long and hard to get where they are. They have risked

much to do so, in many cases giving up substantial commercial careers working

directly with advertising agencies and corporate accounts. It is not enough to

simply say, as Jonathan Klein and others have said, "Don't worry. We know what is

best." The leaders of the industry need to slow down and deal with their

photographers as partners.

Photographers are not just products. If the working relationship you share with your

photographers has to be changed, discuss it with them. Be prepared to sell them

with facts, not just hype, on the need for changing the relationship. Be prepared to

offer more than one standard approach to resolve outstanding issues as one model

will not fit all. Don't just assume that people whose livelihood and future depends

on the ongoing success of the business will just accept those representations at

face value.

We are living in exciting times. Technology affords us new opportunities to offer

and market our products and services. Everything I've heard from agencies I've met

or spoken with indicates that the

industry is planning for much greater expansion and growth than we've already

accomplished. How is that going to happen if much of the major talent is chased away

or turned off because they felt they were no longer in partnership with their agent.

The future might very well require many changes in the basic structure of the

business. Agencies should be able to sell that to their photographers, just as they

have to sell the cost of financing expansion to investors, their stockholders or to

a board of directors.

Photographers are not doing a very good job either. Very few of the photographers I

have spoken with have answers, but worse yet, they don't know the questions to ask.

As a business grows, it will reach a point where the systems and concepts that got

them this far are no longer effective. Like it or not, this industry is going

through a sea change and photographers will have to become comfortable with the fact

that things are changing and there is no stopping it! Stock photography is big

business and as such, photographers need to approach the issues in a business-like


Photographers need to live in the present and plan for their future. Big business

answers to the bottom line. Photographers need to devote less energy to worrying

about the concept of change and figure ways to enhance their bottom line.

If I was a photographer and my agent wanted to change my deal, my first reaction

would be what is in it for me? Photographers need to listen closely to what their

agents are saying and consider the proposal as a "business venture." There is

nothing wrong with demanding accountability and/or options should you go along with

your agent and your agent fails to deliver on what they projected, represented or

promised you.

If your agent insists on a "trust me" attitude, maybe that is the time to ask

yourself if this is the best you can do. Is my agent the best one out there for me?

Sad to say, but many of the more sophisticated and productive photographers of the

last decade are looking at the deals offered and are turning from stock production

to other forms of photography.

THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX! Back in the '60s stock agencies, changed the standard

photographer share from 60 percent to 50 percent. By the late '70s, agencies were

charging photographers for catalog space. Through that period and up to the present

time, annual photographer incomes soared to extremely meaningful heights. That does

not mean that special product fees have to rise and commission splits have to

continue downward, but it also doesn't mean that they can't and shouldn't in order

for things to get even better for the entire industry, including the photographer.

Sit down with your agency and devise a win-win game plan. If your

agency is demanding changes in your agreement or if they are planning to change

their part of the relationship, you are entitled to ask "what is in it for me?".

Guarantees, opt-outs and image exclusives are only a few of the paths you can use to

create some degree of security, should your agency find it necessary to change the


The more you can find out about what your agency is planning for the future and how

you fit into their plans, the clearer your vision should be on how you need to

proceed. Remember that in order for the next quantum leap to occur, the industry

will have to continue to innovate and attract new users, which will enable us all to

prosper. Don't be caught idling in neutral simply because you are afraid of change,

or want things to remain as they have been.

The ASMP has played an important role in helping to mold photographer-agency

relationships throughout the years. I'm sorry to hear that at this critical point

in time the best they can offer is "head to the mattresses" and "we demand equal

time". It would seem to me that by doing that, the ASMP has joined forces with some

stock agencies in being equally guilty of treating their members like children.

Information is critical at this point in time. Would the ASMP prefer to have their

membership get their insights by word-of-mouth or in some other indirect manner?

Schedule informative events, bring in the players and participate in open debate.

By encouraging the debate the ASMP can continue to play an important role in helping

to educate photographers.

Copyright © 1999 Gary Elsner. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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