Catching up

It’s amazing how missing one day can wonk your schedule for the week. The self-employed in particular loathe missing a single day of work, out of fear that it will result in losing business, ticking off clients, etc. It’s also amazing just how wrong a way of thinking that is and just how understanding your clients will be about it.

Yesterday, I had a stomach virus (I assume) and, as it is difficult to work when doubled-over, I got very little accomplished. To a man (and they were all men so do not get on me about not being PC), all the clients I had to contact to change appointments not only did not complain, they all wished me well.

Yes, my one experience doesn’t mean it will always work this way for you, but I can also tell you that, in the past, on the rare occasions when the photographers I repped had to change schedules because of emergencies (rare as that was), clients always understood and we never lost a gig because of it.

I like to look at it this way–if a client cannot understand that things need to change because of something out of your control, if they can’t have the compassion to work with you in the face of whatever emergency you are facing, then they are not a client worthy of your time and best efforts. That client does not respect you and your professionalism, and if they don’t actually fire you, you should seriously consider firing them.

But I bet, like me, you’ll find that your clients will work with you and will respect you for being honest and caring enough about the project to admit “I’m sick and can’t give your project my best efforts today–we have to reschedule.�?

Reading for Creativity, and Otherwise

I spend a lot of time reading. If you’re a creative, you should too. An informed creative is a more creative creative–pretty much always. Fiction and non-fiction, work-related or not, it all goes into the little grey cells and comes out in your work. It can help you talk to your subjects better, understand an assignment better, and give you new ideas on how to represent whatever art it is you’re trying to get out there. All good stuff.

If you’re like many visual creatives and find that you are either too busy to sit down with a book or you read too slowly for your taste, there are so many audio books now that you really have no excuse not to “read.�? Audible.com, iTunes, books on CD, etc., make it so that you can listen to books everywhere and any time. Use these tools.

I’m currently in a couple of work-related books (which I read the traditional way, btw): Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim & Mauborgne and Brand Sense by Lindstrom. Both of these books speak to sides of the same idea–that is, to be successful in today’s marketplace, you need to connect with your buyers’ and you need to figure out some way to differentiate yourself from the pack.

Sound familiar? Similar ideas have been spouted by me and also appear in Purple Cow and All Marketers are Liars (both by Godin). They’re good, solid ideas. And, the more I read, the more I hear them reinforced. In fact, the only places I ever read/hear the “cheaper, faster, give-the client what they want” theories (for service-based businesses) are from some of the photographers on the pro forums (who, almost universally, have mediocre work, at least on their sites), incredibly low-end “sales” training websites, and from smarmy business “gurus” in their spam emails.

If I read/hear one more person say “it’s simply a question of supply and demand” in reference to why creatives need to lower their prices, I’m going to go postal. What they need to do is differentiate themselves–change the market, make a new one. Blue Ocean Strategy puts it clearly in its very subtitle: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. That’s the way to be successful today. Reading will help you get there.

Summer often has a work lull for creative businesses. All the vacations by clients make for odd pauses in their marketing schedules and so you may find yourself with some “free” time. Why not take it to improve your business? Read a book, get some ideas.

A thousand words, my dupa

You want to know what a picture is worth? Ask Time, Inc. (People), Hello, and the other international publications who have now paid millions of pounds, dollars, euros, and who knows what else for the exclusive first publication rights to the Brangelina baby pics.

Now, I have absolutely no interest in the images from the celebrity standpoint–I’ve never cared for either parent as actors and really don’t care if they have one or a dozen babies. I will look at the images like I do most images, with a critical eye, and I won’t go out of my way to get my hands on the pubs with them, but that’s just me and I’m weird in that.

What does interest me about the pics is that incredibly high price. Some photographers are bitching and complaining about it–railing about the unfairness of Time, Inc. paying such sums when they make “regular�? photographers take low fees. But here’s the thing–numbers like that mean that they do understand the value of images and they are willing to negotiate.

What does that mean to the average photographer? It is yet ANOTHER reason to hold the line on prices and to negotiate better deals, or walk away from the table. Use the fact that they shelled out so much money for those images as one of your negotiating tactics.

Oh, and no one ever “makes�? a photographer take a crap deal; s/he chooses to do that him/herself. Always. You can always say “no.�?

The second part of the story is that Time, Inc. and Hello are going after gawker.com for infringing on copyright and their exclusive publication rights. Gawker, a blog-ish site that has repeatedly stolen images and other material to fill its pages, published a small version of one of the photos, in its original context on the cover the the publication. Ooops! That’s a double infringement–the image AND the cover as a whole. And the lawyers at Time, Inc. and Hello are serious about this.

Now why would they be bothering if they weren’t aware how important their intellectual property rights were? What value they held? They know, and every creative should know the value of his/her work as well.

As I posted on one of the photo forums earlier, infringement makes for strange bedfellows–go get ‘em Time. Inc.!

Bits and pieces

Yesterday the creative world lost another photographic legend–Arnold Newman. He influenced generations of photographers and inspired all varieties of creatives with his work. We should all take a moment to think about how he consistently followed his own vision and made art in the process.
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I recently came across a business-oriented blog that we should all share with our clients: Slow Leadership.
The writer advocates running businesses in a slower, more ethical and decent manner and cites several good sources to back up the various arguments. Search the posts for “how to kill creativity�? and you’ll get a good read.
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The next time someone tells you “the image is only going to be used in one outdoor location and only for a couple of months�? think long and hard about your pricing. Ask lots of questions. After all, one outdoor is not always minor placement–it could end up being used beautifully and with great impact, like this.

First day of BAP blogification

Today, being the first day of what I hope are regular blog entries, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the state of the industry. It’s in a dangerous one. Doesn’t matter if you are a designer, illustrator, writer or photographers, there is practically a war on. On one side, there are the large media giants who are using rights-grabbing contracts (and other techniques) like ogres’ clubs and on the other a few creatives, trying to hold onto their creative intellectual property rights in order to feed their families and make some sort of life for themselves and their creative colleagues.

Unfortunately, in-between, there are a lot of creatives who are getting convinced by the rhetoric of the grabbers that maybe they are being unreasonable or unfair when they protect their rights and defend themselves. We see on forums, way too often, the poster who says “I don’t want to be difficult�? or “my clients expect a dayrate so I give it to them�? or “they only pay $25-30 an image in this market so that’s what I have to work with�? when all that means is that they are not in control of their own businesses.

By the way, that last quote was off of a forum posting I read today; $25-30 an image for use in a newspaper. Shame on any photographer who permits a pub to use an image for so little.

We have to start following the words of Robert Altman’s classic Network:
I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.
If we don’t hold the line, together, against these abusive users (I don’t even want to call them “clients�?), there will be no way to make a living as a creative in just a few years.

One of the big threats right now is coming from our very on Congress (pushed by big media, btw): the Orphan Works bill. The Illustrators’ Partnership has done a wonderful job following and explaining the issues. Read their info here and take the time now to contact your legislators about the issue. Then tell your family to do the same, and your friends.

In my opinion, here is where we make our stand. Here is where all creatives need to come together and here is where we must say “No more for the big companies who are taking too much already!�? Take the time today to learn and to do something. Save your business, your colleagues’ businesses, and your creative way of life.