I received this question from a reader:
I hope this finds you well.
Look I have a question that might be interesting for the other photographers following your blog.
The other day I was on on 6th ave when I saw smoke coming out of a building. I pointed my G9 to it to zoom in to see better, and BOOM, big explosion which lasted about 2 seconds. I got one shot of the actual explosion.
I immediately phoned a contact at the NYTimes and they said they wanted the low res for the website + the high res for the newspaper the next day. Because I had been talking with them for a while, we agreed on me giving them exclusivity on the pics and them signing me in as freelance. This was all done 15 minutes after the explosion.
In the following minutes, many newspapers and TV stations who had seen my picture on the NYTimes website starting going through every media they could (even my husband’s facebook) to reach me to buy it. Of course I had signed with the NYTimes so I went along the lines of the exclusivity agreement.
Should I have reacted differently?
What do you do in this kind of situation when time is precious? Who do you call? Can you impose your price and non exclusivity on the NYTimes and others?
People told me I could have made an awful lot of money with this and it’s not that I regret but I’d like to know what the reality is.
I emailed David Burnett to gather his thoughts on the situation and here’s what he had to say:
There was certainly a time when New York, with its many daily papers, and many more magazines, would have offered the enterprising photographer a reasonable sum for their photographs. As competition narrowed, so did the chances of having your picture bid up by interested parties, and reflecting a greater value for the picture.
There certainly is a chance that some major (i.e. catastrophic) event could fetch something extraordinary but these days the big money seems to be paid for celebrity coverage far more than what was once considered “news.” That said, it’s generally not a good idea to simply make a deal with one publication, as you thereby immediately close off other opportunities. The excitement and panache of that “page one on the Times” picture wears off quickly, if you have sacrificed future earning power of the photo for an exclusive deal as you mentioned. In a city like New York you should expect to be paid more for the exclusivity, and if that additional money isn’t forthcoming, there is nothing to be gained by giving up those rights.
The one exception to that would be an iron-clad deal which enabled you to let the first company syndicate the work on your behalf, and that your share of secondary sales would be at minimum, 50% of the gross of each sale (not the “net.”) Truthfully, if you are not experienced in these matters you’re better off making a deal with–-my real first recommendation–-an agency which would syndicate the work. There are fewer agencies than ever, and the overall atmosphere is far less fulsome that it once was for ‘scoops’ but for the right picture at the right time, money will come in. And you need someone to guide you, or take over that work. Again, 50% or so from the gross would be reasonable. Both sides, the agency and the photographer are in the deal together at 50-50 and if there is money to be made both will have the incentive to push the work. Once other outlets see something published in a major publication (i.e. the NY Times) there would naturally be a rush to get that image for themselves.
I have been a founder/partner for 34 years with Contact Press Images, and we often take special cases like this-–scoops which essentially come in off the street. The advantage to an agency (Contact, Polaris, Redux… etc.) is that their main business is in syndicating material, and you would do better than merely getting a small check and having your material tied up. TO be sure, most pictures do not fall into the category of ‘scoop’ but when you find one, do not just give it away.