Gourmet: Going, going….Gone:-(

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November will be the last issue of this grand old foodie mag published by the good folks at Conde Nasty. In the 90’s (that is, last century), Gourmet was one of my best clients. Their jobs were like a rich dessert: you stayed at the best hotels, ate at the best restaurants, and were treated like a king by everyone from chefs to PR folks.

Irwin Glusker was the AD and he always made you look good in the spreads with big pictures and pages and pages per story.  Ah the good old days.

Then came the internet, and with it, the corporate lawyers who decided that locking up “content” was the way to go to preserve Gourmet and Conde Nasty. So, overnight, the contract went from what was then the normal “one time use” to the following, now famous, bit of legalese:

“For these considerations, you hereby grant Conde Nast the copyright to these photographs in this or any other medium, now in existence, or hereinafter developed, throughout the universe…..”

The galaxy wasn’t enough for these guys, noooooo, they had to lock up your work throughout the universe.  So just in case Gourmet launched an edition on say, the planet Rigel VII, they still wouldn’t have to pay you, the “content provider,” another nickel over the old “one-time use” Earth dayrate.

Set your phasers on stun, and hit the jump to find out how we handled those odious snippets of legalese.

It was simple, in the beginning. We just crossed out those phrases and put in “one time rights.” Irwin was down with that, and he was as offended by the concept as were his photographers. That went fine, for about two more assignments. And then he got “the list” from legal. On it were the names of photographers who would not sign the contract as is, and were thereby forbidden to work for the magazine.

My name was there, as were several other shooters, including Annie Leibovitz.  Only trouble was, while they’d make an exception for her, the rest of us journeymen didn’t have that rep and clout, and so we were simply blacklisted by Conde Naste corporate legal department.

Irwin was about to retire, and I knew that whoever the new AD was, I’d probably be out in the cold anyway (one of the truisms of the magazine biz? When there’s a change of editors, ADs, or picture editors at a magazine, you almost always go overnight from being a “longtime esteemed contributor,” to a “running dog lackey of the previous regime.”). So I was prepared to take a stand and lose a client (and maybe a few pounds as well!).

Fast forward to the next century. Boy, did they really capitalize on owning all that content! Their web page still looks like it’s the early 90s and they couldn’t figure out how to monetize any of the content they stole (but by god, at least they prevented their writers and photographers from doing so in the bargain). And the upshot of all that legal wrangling and corporate decision-making?

As of November, all those talented editors, writers, ADs, photographers, stylists will be out of work.

The only ones who will still have jobs, and probably even get a bonus or two, are those very same corporate lawyers and execs whose harebrained decisions resulted in the folding of this elegant and highly-esteemed publication. Ah yes, it’s just like the banking industry—-lose money, disembowel a franchise, destroy lives….and get a nice big reward.

And you thought the financial industry was the only place where we are “through the looking glass?” Nope, the Mad Hatters are in charge of the publishing asylum too….and at night, they all jump back out of the rabbithole and go home to their nice penthouses on the upper East Side!

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Apparently the “copyright throughout the universe” stems from problems related to satellite communications, where “world” or “planet earth” wouldn’t cut it anymore … 🙂

    1. I hear you, Chris. It’s a post-Sputnik type legal question! BK

  2. What a fantastic post Bob. Anybody who ever thought about signing their life away just to be able to work with a prestigious publication needs to read what someone with real principles did in exactly the same case. Brilliant.

    1. Thanks Paul. It’s always hard to write a post-mortem on a place you loved. Been enjoying your posts as well! Bob

      1. I once had a great editor who was made to get her photographers to sign the ‘standard’ contract – unlimited usage of all images in every one of the company’s magazines worldwide! When she faxed it through to me I told her there was no way I could sign it. She agreed with me and we figured a way around it. She told me what the assignment was, I went and photographed it and then licensed the pictures to her as stock! It ended up running in another couple of the same company’s magazines and I got paid for all that usage as well. Ended up making more than the offered assignment fee and got to keep the copyright! Sometimes you just have to have someone on your side.

        1. Paul: That’s a courageous and creative workaround by your client. I wonder how many times it would work before management caught on? BK

        2. Unfortunately they went belly up not too long afterwards so I guess we’ll never know. But I certainly did appreciate the effort to get around the lawyers’ silliness.

          1. Paul: Well it was good while it lasted…sic transit gloria mundi, as the saying goes! Bob

  3. Interesting article. I find this pattern of making short-term decisions to the detriment of long-term viability to be pretty common at American companies.

    Wall Street investment banks are of course a prime example. Or look at how GM went about designing, marketing and selling cars, in contrast to the approach taken by Toyota.

    1. Hi Fabian: Yes, we should all be paid so well for making bad decisions….it sure would have made the sub-prime crisis a different ballgame! Bob

  4. to paraphrase something I tell my patients…”short term gain for long term pain” Maybe those corporate types would like to work in the health insurance industry.

  5. Lawerys are by far the low end of the food chain. bottom feeders, Cause more pain and suffering than any Doctor ever could, and if you do need one, much more expensive, at least your Doctor won’t charge you when you call him in the morning. Great shot in the Nikon calendar Bob, We’ll call you “Mr September” from now on

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