Bill Cramer has an excellent piece on negotiating an editorial contract with a new client over on Wonderful Machine (here).
It’s pretty amazing that people starting out on the publishing side know so very little about the appropriate terms to include for hiring photographer. Inevitably it starts with boilerplate language handed to them from some well meaning lawyer looking to protect the company but you got to wonder why companies think they need all these rights and all that protection in the first place. It’s not like there are examples where the lack of an indemnity clause took down a media company or the lack of all encompassing rights prevented them realizing their true profit center, selling mouse pads with cover photos on them.
When starting a new job photo editors have a couple big hurdles to sort out if they want access to the high end talent of the industry. Your rates and your contract are deal killers on all but the biggest of jobs. I’ve never had a problem raising rates after starting a new job but I always ran into insane roadblocks with the contracts. At one company I worked at they had such a lock down on contracts that any changes had to be run by a very busy lawyer who was in charge of multiple titles. And, they refused to pay an invoice if the company didn’t have a signed contract on file. We ended up knocking on the lawyers door so many times in the first couple months that she finally called a sit down meeting to modify the contract. Of course any changes we made had to be approved by the owner of the magazine so I was very careful to insert language where I could instead of wholesale rewriting because he would be less likely to strike the entire change if it was small words instead of entire paragraphs. Anyway, half the modifications were passed and half were rejected leaving me in the position to let photographers know the terms were only negotiable in extreme circumstances, because now the lawyer instituted a policy of once a week modification discussions (too much door knocking I guess). Combine that with the fact that editorial could be slow in handing over assignments for each issue and working with new photographers could become a real high wire act if they didn’t like the terms of the contract.
Back to Bill Cramer’s piece (here), he shows incredible aplomb after striking the offending passages and receiving the loaded reply of “I know the photo editors are excited to work with you. Can you reconsider your positions and sign our standard terms and conditions ‘as is’?” and instead of flying into a rage, taking the time to calmly educate the client on why the changes are necessary.
In the end he prevailed, but it seems so insane that people would want to spend an ounce of time mired in contract negotiations defending terms that as far as I’m concerned have zero value to the media company instead of producing content that will attract readers and advertiser to their product.