Monthly Archives: March 2010

Frommer’s Rights-Grabbing Contest Loses Prestigious Judge!

Rick Sammon, AKA “The Digital Dude” and consumate travel photographer, is no longer listed as a judge in Frommer’s odious travel photo contest.

Way to go, Rick!  You are indeed, the dude.

When I contacted Rick to ask him about the contest, he forgot that he had even signed on as a judge (it happens when you’ve got as much going on as Rick). Same thing happened to me when I agreed to judge the travel photo contest for USA Today with Nat Geo director of photography David Griffin.

Once David and I got wind of the rules, we pressured USA Today to change them. Because we were 2/3rds of the judges, we succeeded.

But Rick was 1/6th of a panel that otherwise consisted entirely of Frommer’s employees (in this job market, nobody’s gonna rock the boat on a fulltime day job in the editorial world by pressuring their corporate legal department to change unfair entry rules). So, being the only truly independent judge on the panel, Rick did the right thing, and walked.

Rick probably also walked from a nice honorarium for the day’s work. (Unless, of course, he’s a complete sucker liked me and agreed to judge the contest for a box lunch, mileage, and tolls because “budgets are tight these days.”)

But I think he’s too smart for that, and I’m happy to see that he’s also too conscientious to participate in a contest that so blatantly rips off both professional and amateur photographers!

Posted in Career issues, Legal Issues, Travel

6 Weeks, 17 Countries, 2 Carryons

Photo © Bob Krist

I’m getting ready to head out for three, back-to-back trips for National Geographic Expeditions, which literally will take me around the world. These are high end educational tours, and I’m one of a bank of speakers the Geographic provides for the guests on the tour.

I also have to photograph the trips for the company,  and give camera advice to the interested parties….yup, it’s a dirty job, but as they say, somebody’s gotta do it!

We travel mostly by charter jet, so the overseas airline carry on /luggage stuff is not a problem (yay!). Otherwise, I’d be rocking in a corner with my thumb in my mouth by now, trying to figure out what airline allows what.

But you still have to plan.

Because we’re going to be moving fast and through a lot of off the beaten track locales, I can’t run out to the camera or computer store if something goes south. So besides the usual stuff illustrated above, and in my computer bag (the contents of which I described here in an earlier post), I’m carrying a couple of spares and extras.

Hit the jump for a list of the extra gear. Continue reading »

Posted in Destinations, Photo Gear, Photo Techniques, Travel

Frommer’s Now F’ing Both Freelancers AND Photo Enthusiasts!

A while ago, I was contacted by an agency representing Frommer’s, an august name in travel publishing, to provide photos of Philadelphia for a guidebook. I had the depth and volume of photographs they needed, and it was winter and they were in a hurry, so shooting the thing would be difficult. The rates for the photos were the new dismal normal, but the volume sale of existing images would have made it worth it.

Worth it, that is to say, had they not wanted more rights….like the rights to use the pictures in a variety of their publications, and license the pictures to others, in perpetuity.  They didn’t ask for the copyright, they just wanted all the rights that copyright affords the creator. In other words, they wanted to own them and they wanted to pay $70 a  subject ( and a subject could include up to 5 photos) to do so.

But, there was a “bonus” fee for any photograph published as a “feature,”  up to $675 for a full page. So if there were larger pictures in spreads or “features” as they were referred to in the contract, they’d pay more, but basically it was $70 a subject for all rights.

I told them it was “one time use” at those rates, or nothing. They decided that they couldn’t live with that, and I walked.

Then, a little while ago, I heard from a young colleague who actually shot a similar book for them in the Middle East. She photographed the whole book, handed it in, got the layouts which had many of the big pictures and “feature” spreads, and waited for her check. Which, when it arrived, was much lower than provided for by the contract because Frommer’s all of a sudden decided that “feature” means “cover” and that no inside picture usage was worth more than $70.

Last I heard, they were going to court. A mega-publisher against a fresh-faced freelancer in a battle of lawyers….hmmmnn, wonder if they thought she might be naive and back down in the face of all that firepower. Think again.

I guess when you put life and limb on the line to document civil unrest, war, and violence while covering the Middle East like she does, a few suits from Hoboken with Ivy League law degrees are just not that scary.

And, in the spirit of three strikes and yer out, I just heard from another colleague about a photo contest Frommer’s is running….probably because of the problems they’re running into screwing the photographers they signed to work with. You can win $5000 and get your photo on the cover of one of their guidebooks. Sounds like a cool contest, until you read the fine print:

Participant retains ownership of the copyright in any submitted photographs. However, by entering photograph(s) in this Contest, participant grants Sponsor the irrevocable, perpetual right to edit, adapt, use and publish in any media now known or hereafter discovered any or all of the photographs without compensation to the participant, his or her successors or assigns, or any other entity. ENTERING A SUBMISSION IN THIS CONTEST CONSTITUTES PARTICIPANT’S IRREVOCABLE ASSIGNMENT, CONVEYANCE, AND TRANSFERENCE TO SPONSOR OF THE FOREGOING RIGHTS.

Yeah, um, you didn’t win, and sure you “own” the photos, except that we’re going to use your photos in perpetuity for nothing, (so screw you and your sense of what ownership or copyright means!)

Apparently Frommer’s is expanding its field of operations  from screwing professionals to duping amateurs, and they are doing both with energy, audacity, and an astounding lack of scruples (way to use your law degrees, guys. Keep burying that shit in the fine print—-who reads anymore anyway? After you finish up with the photographers, there’s always taking candy from babies and foreclosing on disabled veterans to look forward to!).

I think it would be wise to boycott this contest, and boycott Frommers guidebooks or travel products entirely, and let everybody within earshot or “webshot” know that this is another rights grab in sheep’s clothing.

UPDATE: Below is  response from Jason Clampet, Senior Online Editor of Frommers, and my response to his response! These are in the comments section, but I wanted to give them more play so here they are below.

I’m an editor at Frommers.com and one of the judges for the photo contest. I wanted to respond to your blog post.

At Frommer’s, we engage dozens of professional freelance travel photographers on a commission basis as well as license images from stock photo agencies. This year we’ll spend a substantial sum on professional travel photography. Our per-location rate is higher than just about any other competing guidebook company (I should know, I’ve shot books for two competitors myself) and it is significantly higher than the day rate for a news outfit like the AP. We also employ photo editors to work with freelance travel photographers. To me that says we’re investing in professional photographer talent, and not screwing professionals.

Like all travel publishers, we pay for comprehensive rights when we commission photos, but we do not ask for assignation of copyright or prevent photographers from selling their images elsewhere. In fact, the commission fees we pay help many photographers underwrite additional photography of the locations we send them to. We typically bundle dozens or even hundreds of location shots into our agreements, which is much more profitable to the photographers we work with than one-off agency licenses — and the photographer gets to keep 100% of the fee we pay, not share half of it with their stock agency.

Our Cover Photo Contest on the other hand is not a forum for pro photographers but an extension of the upgraded community features we’ve had on our site for a year and a half. In that time, users have shared thousands of their photos in destination-specific galleries (“Best of Paris,” “Best of Italy,” etc.) in the same spirit that our users have shared advice, tips, and travel horror stories in our Forums over the past decade. When people travel, they tend to like to share, too, and our website is a mix of professional and amateur content. We think it’s a great idea to let travelers show off their photos and maybe even have a shot at getting on a cover. Like many websites, we lay a non-exclusive claim on anything that’s uploaded. This isn’t sneaky, fine print stuff, it’s standard Terms of Use language that you’ll see on just about every website.

Let’s be clear: We publish over 100 travel guides a year and only one of those will have a cover image sourced through this contest.

Perhaps we can agree to disagree, but I wanted to weigh in and add some insight and context from our side of the business.

–Jason

Jason: Thanks for weighing in here. But there are still things that I think your response misses.

Like all travel publishers, we pay for comprehensive rights when we commission photos, but we do not ask for assignation of copyright or prevent photographers from selling their images elsewhere.

Yes, you don’t ask for the copyright, you just take all the rights of reproduction that the  copyright protects. So what’s the difference? You let photographers continue to sell their own pictures that you’ve secured for let’s see, a location is 5 pictures and it’s $70 per location so 5 into 70 is, what, $14 a photo? For virtually all rights, including, if I remember the Philadelphia contract correctly, the right to license those photos to others!

That’s, um, something to be proud about?

We typically bundle dozens or even hundreds of location shots into our agreements, which is much more profitable to the photographers we work with than one-off agency licenses — and the photographer gets to keep 100% of the fee we pay, not share half of it with their stock agency.

Yes, volume sales are great, as long as they are not at firesale prices ($14 a picture for all rights). Let’s face it, you guys have to minimize your dealings with stock agencies because stock agencies would never sit still for those heavily one-sided agreements and throwaway prices. They’ve got lawyers too. It’s only the individual struggling freelance content producer that will bend to those terms for short term survival, (and long term extinction.)

When people travel, they tend to like to share, too, and our website is a mix of professional and amateur content. We think it’s a great idea to let travelers show off their photos and maybe even have a shot at getting on a cover. Like many websites, we lay a non-exclusive claim on anything that’s uploaded. This isn’t sneaky, fine print stuff, it’s standard Terms of Use language that you’ll see on just about every website.

Jason, puhleeze. Do you think the average traveler, whom you are so concerned about in sharing and creating community, knows that he or she is giving you guys carte blanche to make for-sale items from their vacation pictures when they enter them in your contest? Sure, take the winners pics, because they’re getting a quid pro quo for the usage.

You guys are counting on the fact that most people will never read the fine print, and most will never miss the income from their pictures because they’re not professionals. Please don’t couch this as some kind of community service. It’s out and out rights grabs from unsuspecting civilians (aka amateur photographers).

Your basic defense on all these points is that “other publishers are doing these things with even worse terms.”  It’s kind of like me telling you I went into Barnes & Noble and boosted 7 copies of Frommer’s Guides (I didn’t, this is just an analogy), but it’s okay, because everybody was shoplifting that day, and most people took more than 7 copies.

It’s kind of bogus logic when it’s held up to a mirror.

Look, nobody is more sympathetic to the trials of publishing than I am, having made a living from it in these last 30 years. And you know, we’re all accepting lesser fees and tightening our belts. I’m not one of these romantics who wants it to go back to the 80s. I understand the new realities.

What rankles me is that your contract (and that of many, but not all, I have to add, of your competitors) seeks to make up every shortfall in the business by taking it directly out of the hides of the weakest link in the publishing food chain, the individual freelancer. Offer $17 a picture…that’s fine. But make it for one or two time usage and not this bullshit “all rights throughout the universe” that your lawyers love.

If we could both shoulder the burden of the new business realities in a relatively fair manner, both sides might survive this recession/depression in publishing.

But if it’s up to your legal division, you’re gonna slowly kill the freelancers. Which is okay now that you can crowdsource travel pictures from gazillions of amateurs. Nobody said your lawyers were stupid, just a tad ethically challenged.

I appreciate the fact that you’re weighing in here and understand if you can’t come back at us. I notice you mentioned you’ve shot for competitors, which means you were probably a freelancer once. So don’t do anything to jeopardize the full time gig, because it’s murder out here at the moment!

Thanks, Bob

Posted in Career issues, Ironies, Legal Issues, Travel

More Fun at Home….

Photo © Bob Krist

Well, I know this is supposed to be a travel photography blog, and I have been traveling lately (but again, can’t show the results just yet due to legal issues), but I am having a stone-cold blast working on my “New Hope: In Character” community portrait project.

New Hope, or Coryell’s Ferry as it was called at the time, was the place where Washington and his men crossed the Delaware to defeat the Hessians and the Brits in Trenton on Christmas Day all those years ago.

These guys re-enact that crossing every Christmas Day here in Bucks County. They get in those longboats, and unless the river is choked with ice, they row across Delaware come hell or high water. It’s an amazing sight to see and a Christmas morning tradition in these parts.

Now, I don’t want to say that they take their roles seriously, but some of the guys who re-enact the crossing had ancestors who were actually involved in the original crossing three hundred years ago. Can you say, “tradition?”

I was so appreciative that these gentlemen decided to come up and participate in this portrait project. In these parts, these guys are almost as famous as the men they are embodying.

For a look at the lighting setup, hit the jump. Continue reading »

Posted in Destinations, Events, Ironies, Lighting, Photo Gear, Photo Techniques, Technology, Travel

Tales of Customer Service Continued….

Time for more of the copyrighted feature, “Tales of Customer Service.” Actually, I’m ripping this concept off from another copyrighted feature, “Tales of Airport Security,” from Harry Shearer’s excellent weekly radio program “Le Show”on NPR. If you haven’t caught Harry when he’s not being Mr. Burns, Smithers, or the guy in Spinal Tap, you should catch Le Show.

First, the good news.

The guys at Camera Bits, creators of the best and fastest image browser in the universe, Photo Mechanic, continue to innovate, and to provide the best damn software support in the industry.

If you have a glitch or a hitch with a new version of PM, and you report it, you’ll get personal responses, and advice, from not one, but a bunch of different guys from Camera Bits, and your problem will be solved, post haste. No case numbers, no bizarre reporting rituals, no bullshit runarounds. Just solid answers and personal service.

If Photo Mechanic wasn’t already the best browser in the business, I would still follow these guys into the jaws of hell, just on the strength of their concern and followup with their customers.

Alas, for every great, there’s a grunt. And in the world of self-publishing, that grunt is Lulu.

I’ve been publishing my book, 101 Tips for Travel Photographers, with Lulu for some time now, and have not had a problem with quality control. Peggy, on the other hand, just wrote and published a book called On His Way Home, about our son, Jonathan, and her experience has not been a happy one.

On her first shipment of 100 books, 83 had smeared pages and blotched pictures. When we reported it, we got case numbers, order numbers, incident numbers and a couple weeks later, instructions to send pictures of the flaws. We snapped jpegs of several pages in a few books, and sent them off.

No response for another 10 days, then a report. We were supposed to line up all the books and photograph the flaws of all the books in one picture, one picture of each flaw in 80+ books!

Are you f’ing kidding me?

Now, I’m no still life photographer, but if you had to line up and open 83 6″x9″ books and photograph page spreads in one shot, you’d have to use a gigapan to get enough resolution to show the actual flaws.

This is a level of customer service bullshit the audacity and stupidity of which beggars belief.

Nobody messes with Peggy, so she packed up the 83 books and shipped them back to Lulu.  Now they can get first hand views of the flaws. And we’re shopping for another publisher, needless to say.

Got a tale of customer service? Vent it here in the comments….it’s therapeutic!

UPDATE: After receiving the books themselves, the customer support folks at Lulu say they are going to issue a refund for all the damaged pieces. Never underestimate the power of the grand gesture!  BK

Posted in Ironies, Photo Techniques