Questions About MPCA

Posted on 6/6/1996 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)


Questions About MPCA

June 6, 1996 -

I believe it is time to examine what has been accomplished in the three years since MPCA was launched and what it might reasonably be expected to accomplish in the future. Here are some of the questions I think members should be asking. I have also provided my answers:

Question: Will MPCA be able to get better prices for stock usages?

Answer: In a letter dated March, 1996, Dick Weisgrau stated when referring to MPCA sales, "We made numerous submissions and quoted many fees. We lost most sales to stock agencies which priced work below the limit set by MPCA and its members." MPCA appears to have a choice - - sell at low prices, or refuse to make sales. Neither option gets better prices for stock photographers.

Question: Will MPCA be able to "enforce" fair prices?

Answer: The only way this would be possible is if MPCA controls a majority of the world's images. Most ASMP photographers seem to be leaving their images with their stock agencies rather than putting them with MPCA.
If MPCA controls a minuscule portion of total content, and decides to set their prices high, buyers will use sources that have more images to offer at less expensive prices. At the moment members stipulate a price level for their work. The process by which any negotiation could take place is extremely complex and gives every other stock agency an advantage over MPCA when it comes to "negotiating," because the agencies are in direct back-and-forth communi cation with the clients and MPCA is not.

Question: If MPCA will "protect and promote the interests of professional photographers," even if it will only directly benefit a small segment of the total ASMP membership, shouldn't we support it?

Answer: Of course. But, no one has provided a logical explanation as to how MPCA will accomplish this goal. The premise is false, and as a result is leading to some false conclusions.

Question: Will MPCA be the savior of copyright?

Answer: It has been reported that in a recent chapter meeting in Michigan the statement was made that, "MPCA will be the savior of copyright which is in dire danger of being legislated out of existence..." Even if MPCA were successful it could not have this impact. Currently, MPCA represents about 100 photographers who have supplied images, and their is no indication that there will be a dramatic increase in the number supplying images in the future. On the other hand as a trade association ASMP speaks for 5,000 photographers and should have, if exercised properly, more influence than MPCA.

Question: How can ASMP as a trade association provide independent and unbiased advice to their member photogra phers about stock agencies and Corbis? Haven't they compromised their objectivity?

Answer: I think they have compromised their objectivity.

Question: Are the Europeans likely to support MPCA?

Answer: In the February issue of PDN Martin Beckett, vp of Pyramide (the largest group of European Photographer's Association) said, "I think the Americans have made a mistake. With the MPCA, they got into bed with the enemy, which is the Copyright Clearance Center. {The CCC} was created by and run for the benefit of publishers, not cre ators. I think, basically, once you've lost your moral base, then you've got little chance of going far."

Question: Will MPCA benefit the photographic community at large?

Answer: This implies that MPCA will be influential enough to set standards and maintain high prices. So far the reverse seems to be true. Consider the Time agreement that became a "fait accompli" when MPCA supported it. Consider also the acknowledged fact that MPCA is having trouble getting the fees on their price list. I believe ASMP as a trade association would have more influence. MPCA should be operated separately from ASMP.

Question: Does MPCA have a business plan?

Answer: In the meeting packet for the April 96 ASMP Board Meeting Mr. Weisgrau said: "Indeed MPCA has not published a business plan. Nor can it. MPCA is part of a three way alliance which carry out a business function. The major investment and activity are in the hands of the other parties in the alliance. No business plan can be drawn without their participation and, in fact, their guidance, since it is primarily their resources and efforts which will advance the system. MPCA is not in a position to force these corporate entities to draw a business plan until they are ready to do so. That is a process which will be undertaken in months to come. One must understand that MPCA is not seeking, through the alliance to establish a traditional business, but is changing the way business is done in certain areas of stock photography. This requires innovative thinking and carefully crafted plans. This planning is underway, as will be demonstrated to you."
This is a poor excuse for inadequate planning. There could be a plan for photographer participation because that aspect is totally under the control of MPCA, not the partners. A plan that sets goals, and has projections can at least provide a yardstick for measuring progress. There could be milestones with a budget tied to certain levels of progress. I doubt if anyone can point to any other organiza tion which would be allowed to spend in excess of quarter- of-a-million dollars without a plan for what they expected to accomplish. When a promised CD-ROM fails to appear in a timely manner that shows lack of proper planning. Frequent changes in direction are not a substitute for planning.


Question: Is there growing participation in MPCA?

Answer: In July 1993 there were 411 members. In April 1996 there were 579 members, but 130 were in arrears in paying a $50 dues assessment. There are quite a few more that are current with their dues assessment, but indicate that they do not plan to submit images in the near future.

Question: Are members supporting MPCA with images?

Answer: After three years the file has 12,272 images annotat ed and Dick Weisgrau says there are 17,000 more awaiting annotation.

Question: How many member photographers have submitted images?

Answer: According to Dick Weisgrau about 100 photogra phers have submitted images. This is less than 20% of the members of MPCA and only about 2% of all ASMP members.

Question: How many photographers have received more that $1,000 in commissions so far from the licensing of their images?

Answer: On May 13th, I asked Vic Perlman to give me the names of one or more photographers who have received in excess of $1,000 from MPCA so I might be able to balance my reports with some comments from satisfied photogra phers. Dick Weisgrau responded two weeks later saying that he can not give me any names or information about sales. Most stock agencies are happy to provide names of one or two of their top selling photographers. I can not find anyone with MPCA who seems to have received income from the organization. I would be interested in talking to anyone who has received income from MPCA.

Question: What are the gross sales of MPCA since its inception?

Answer: Dick Weisgrau said, "We do not release this information through the media. However, MPCA trans ferred all marketing and sales responsibility to AGT and CCC in the contract, signed in January of '96. Those entities are presently creating a business plan, with MPCA consult ing, to carry out the marketing and sales effort which MPCA could not afford to do in its own right."
This answer raises some other interesting questions. How much control does MPCA presently have over pricing? If AGT and CCC are handling scanning, keywording, marketing and sales is there anything left for MPCA to do? Consequently why do they need to continue to spend ASMP resources? The goal of the "members referendum" is simply to stop the use of ASMP funds in support of MPCA. If MPCA is supported financially by some other entity that's fine.

Question: What is the current cost to operate MPCA?

Answer: In Aspen the chapter presidents were told that it would only cost $10,000 a year to operate MPCA. (We think the figure is much higher when staff costs, office costs, telephone, fax, etc. are taken into consideration.) However, even at the low figure they mentioned, National Board members were unwilling to explain why MPCA members could not be expected to pay these costs, and why it is necessary to borrow from the ASMP general fund for this purpose.

Question: Can keywording be done for $1.00 per image?

Answer: Our experience, and the experience of many other stock agencies, tells us that it costs in the range of $7.00 per image, or more, to adequately keyword an image. Think about it. If you are paying someone $15 per hour they have to keyword and image every four minutes (if there is no cost for overhead). Try it. Either MPCA has found some magic answer that no one else has discovered, or they will (1) do a very superficial job of keywording or (2) they will lose money on every image they keyword. You decide which is true, and which will benefit the MPCA photographers in the long run.
For me this is another evidence of inadequate planning.

Question: In March the Executive Committee approved a scanning subsidy of $200 a year for 4 years for Charter Members and $50 per year for 4 years for all MPCA members who paid $250 to join. What is happening with that scanning subsidy? How will it be funded?

Answer: I don't have an answer for this yet.

Question: Can MPCA function effectively without staff?

Answer: An organization without staff can do nothing. Certainly, MPCA has the benefit of half of Victoria Satterthwaite's time and extensive hours of Dick Weisgrau's time. Vic Perlman and many or the rest of the ASMP staff probably spend a great deal of their time on MPCA matters, but no specific records are available.

Question: Does MPCA have anyone in management with experience in selling stock photography?

Answer: Not at the present time. MPCA has had three board members with extensive experience in selling stock photography. They are: Ellen Boughn, Vince Streano and Roger Ressmeyer. All were forced out or removed in favor of tighter control by the ASMP Executive Committee, and now the entire ASMP Board.

Question: What is the nature of MPCA's content?

Answer: To date they have been requesting editorial and documentary images. They have discouraged photographers with generic advertising images from submitting. They have long insisted that they will not compete with the stock agencies that specialize in generic images.

Question: What is currently in demand as stock?

Answer: The greatest demand for stock is for images that illustrate concepts that are often used in advertising and brochures. The weakest demand, and the area where the lowest prices are paid, is for editorial subject matter.

Question: At the Mid-Atlantic chapter meeting in June of 1995 Dick Weisgrau said there would be a disc of approxi mately 3,000 images released in the "late fall or early winter of 1995." What has happened to that disc?

Answer: Weisgrau now says, "the disk release was postponed for several reasons which were explained in past mailings to MPCA members. Target release date is now September '96 for multiple disk catalogs." If ASMP members are paying to operate MPCA why aren't these things explained to them as well?

Question: What clients get to look at the on-line database of images?

Answer: Until recently only Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report were able to access the digital link. Dick Weisgrau says that the digital link can now be accessed by other organization, but who they are and their number is not specified.

Question: Is MPCA a stock agency?

Answer: In the May Bulletin Dick Weisgrau says, "MPCA is not a stock agency." Then he goes on to say, "MPCA is operating as an agent not as a stock agency. Effectively, the combined services of AGT and CCC fulfill the stock agency functions of marketing, sales, licensing, distribution, collec tion and royalty administration."
In my opinion they can't even make up their mind as to what they are. "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck and performs all the services of a duck; it probably is a duck!"

Question: How does the client get film if he is not interested in a digital file?

Answer: They produce a film output from the digital file for a fee that the client will pay, or they call the photographer. Both of these methods are inefficient, and not client friendly. In our own case we find that over 90% of the buyers still want film even though we would be happy to supply them with digital files. However, most of our sales are to high end user, not interactive CD-ROM producers.


Question: Is MPCA helping photographers produce more marketable work?

Answer: No. It provides no editing and no guidance as to what to submit. Many photographers are being misled into thinking that somehow MPCA will be able to market work they have been unable to sell themselves. In fact, due to the subjects the photographers have chosen to shoot, there may be virtually no market for much of what they are producing and calling stock.

Question: Is MPCA helping photographers discover the types of subject matter that will be in demand in the future?

Answer: No. They could be conducting and publishing surveys. They could be providing guidelines about electronic pricing to the general membership, not just MPCA members. By not doing so they are allowing, if not encouraging, photographers to waste time and money shooting and producing the wrong kind of images. To give one example, Direct Stock which produces a print catalog which photogra phers can buy space in and then receive 100% of sales, has people on staff who do research and will give photographers a great deal of guidance as to what type of subject matter sells, and what doesn't, if the photographers only ask. Stock agencies, while taking a percentage of sales, also give this kind of guidance.

Question: At the Mid-Atlantic chapter meeting in June of 1995 Dick Weisgrau said, a White Paper on electronic rights would be released in October, 1995. What happened to the White Paper that would be of use to all members whether they are selling stock or doing assignments?

Answer: Dick Weisgrau now says, "The white paper, with pricing, was held up in the ASMP review process and required some re-writing and editing, and final agreement on content by the group. It is now being printed and will be mailed to ASMP members soon." Is it possible that it would have gotten out sooner if everyone wasn't spending so much time on MPCA matters?

Question: What is MPCA offering clients that they can't get faster, easier and cheaper somewhere else?

Answer: I can't see that there is anything it is offering, but if there is then the question needs to answered more clearly than it has been.

Question: Why should photographers who have chosen not to participate in MPCA be forced to support its operations?

Answer: I believe MPCA should be funded by its members. ASMP has provided enough "seed money." Management functions should be handled by people on MPCA's payroll, not ASMP's.

Question: Does it really hurt anything to give ASMP another year to prove that MPCA can be successful?

Answer: Let me set aside for the moment what other things might be done with the money that will be spent on MPCA, and what other things our ASMP staff might do with their time if they didn't have to focus so much energy on MPCA. I believe that if photographers wait for MPCA to become successful they may miss other opportunities to work with organizations that can actually help them sell their images. In addition, if there is no plan to gage where they should be a year from now what is to prevent them from coming back in July 1997 and saying, "We're almost there, just give us another year."

Question: Can photographers protect their ownership rights to their images, if there is no MPCA?

Answer: Yes, there are many things photographers can do and are doing every day to protect their rights and reduce the risks of misuse of their images. The answers are not absolute, any more than copyright has been an "absolute" guarantee against misuse. But, to the degree that photogra phers rely and depend on MPCA to solve their ownership problems they may well miss what an active trade association could be doing for them. They may also miss what they could be doing for themselves on their own by using proper paper work and standing up for their rights. Photographers need examples and success stories not false hopes.


A referendum on the issue of "Should the ASMP Board continue to allocate ASMP resources to the MPCA," will be submitted to the membership for a vote in July.
Members concerned with the funding of MPCA by ASMP began circulating a referendum petition in mid-April. The petition with more than 200 signatures was submitted to the national office on May 26, 1996. Many of the people who signed this petition did so because they wanted a much more open discussion of the "pros" and "cons" of MPCA rather than a steady stream of positive PR which has been primarily what has been provided in the past three years.
The ASMP constitution provides that a referendum petition on any issue that contains signatures of more than 5% of the members must be submitted to the membership for a vote within two months of its arrival in the National office. It also provides that both "pro" and "con" statements of equal length will be provided with the ballot statement.
There will be two questions on the referendum ballot.

Petitioners' Proposition

The following is the wording of the petitioners' proposition: "ASMP shall immediately cease all funding of MPCA and related activities, included but not limited to loans, legal costs, personnel costs and other direct and in-kind support, effective thirty days following the date this referendum is approved."
ASMP's Constitution gives the General Membership the right to order the Board to take an action, or to reverse a previous Board action.

ASMP Board Proposition

The National Board has prepared a counter position which says: "I recognize that the continuation of the operations of MPCA is an important part of satisfying ASMP's constitutional objective: to protect and promote the interests of professional photographers whose photographs are primarily for publication. Therefore, I support the continued operations of MPCA as a positive force for the benefit of all ASMP members, and endorse its support by ASMP in accordance with established ASMP policies."

Members Choice

Members will vote to affirm one or the other of these two positions. Anyone voting for both will effectively cancel their vote.
I support the Petitioners' Proposition and would urge ASMP General Members to vote to have ASMP immediately cease all funding of MPCA. Read the position papers that come with the referendum carefully, and consider the arguments above.


Copyright © 1996 Jim Pickerell. 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

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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