But we’re a small company!

So I have been approached in the past by various groups for use of images in advertising, or books, or whatever. The original thought I had was hey – let me check with the league and if they want to do it, great! Exposure! Woo hoo!

(Note that this doesn’t apply to people that want to use something on facebook, or in a tribute video, or for a funny caption contest on their facebook page, or stuff like that.  If that’s what you’re doing, no problem!  You aren’t the target market for this post!)

My thinking has changed a bit though. With all the good stuff about being helpful and whatnot in mind, I am starting to run into a certain wall with respect to un(der)compensated use of images – and I think the people that are in those images (generally skaters) should be thinking about some of the same things. Here are a few arguments you hear from various people who want to use images:

  1. “We’re a small company.” This may be true – and it’s awesome that this sport has created opportunities for small business and entrepreneurship. Here’s the problem. You’re a small company. But I’m also a small company. And the league that the skater is in is a small company. Even the skaters themselves, each and every one, are individual small companies with a brand that may not seem to amount to much in most cases – but it is, and it will be more as things keep growing. That personal brand is diluted with every arrangement they agree to.  My portion of the chain is more mechanical, but I wouldn’t be involved in the discussion if I hadn’t put in the time to be there. Especially if specific things that don’t already exist are requested – now it’s actual work that I need to really focus on, and I guarantee that specific sort of work is not free from a commercial photographer and you’re not going to get the $50 kid on Craigslist to do it the way you want. So in that case, just as a “Small Company” can’t afford to give their products out to everybody for free, I can’t afford to start doing spec work and the skaters can’t afford to start letting people slap their faces all over stuff for free.
  2. “It’ll be great exposure.” Really? The sort of exposure that would be cool to me would be getting something published in one of the major derby magazines – fiveonfive, Blood & Thunder, etc. Or a credited cover shot on someone’s (popular) book. Or a league promoting my work. Those don’t have much economic value but they are useful for ego purposes and maybe they will get seen somewhere.  An uncredited advertisement does not really do much for me, personally. It’s kind of cool, but it really doesn’t help anything. I can reach more people more effectively through social networks than any vendor’s website will ever bring me (especially if I am not credited). In fact, using my image is likely to drive more eyeballs to them, because I’d probably promote it myself just so people see it. I think it is the same for the skaters too. Showing up as the face of company X sounds cool, but what does it really get them? Showing a league jersey on a vendor’s website isn’t going to drive traffic to their merch table. That sweet action shot in a tournament program ad isn’t going to bring them a bunch of new season ticket holders. It might have the same effect of driving business to the vendor in question when the skater or league says “hey, look, I’m in an ad!”, but now you’re asking them to do marketing work too. Basically, the exposure doesn’t mean anything except for a personal ego boost in some cases. I am not saying that boost is a bad thing – I’m just saying that people should consider that “exposure” is not the same thing as “compensation.”

I guess I might sound like a jerk after saying all of this, so let me say a couple more things about my intent. The dollars here, in most cases, are small potatoes. We are not talking national ad campaigns from Fortune 500 sponsors, et cetera. In that case, I think the line is pretty clear. If you have money to pay a creative agency to make an ad campaign then you have money to compensate the people who appear in the advertisement and that were there to create the images in the first place.  And I think there is still a lot of “nice” out there.  In a lot of cases the freebie requests come from just not thinking all the way through things. This is not intended to be a complaint or criticism of anything or any company in particular. It is just what I am thinking.

Of course, if you want to help out, that’s always your choice.  If one of my friends wanted to use one of the shots I took for them for something big, I’d try to talk some sense into them regarding the business side of things, but they’re my friends – if they work something out that they’re happy with, unless it’s some outrageous exploit (i.e. they’re going on a Wheaties box for a couple coupons) I’m not going to tell them no. If the local derby shop wants to use something on their ad and everyone is ok with it, that’s personally something I am comfortable with.  But as all of this grows up around us, I think it makes sense to at least consider some of this stuff.

I guess my point is, watch out for people that are trying to get something for nothing.  You have a brand and a business, even if you don’t realize it, and it’s worth something.  Otherwise they’d just dress someone up in a bunch of crap from Hot Topic and tell them to look pretty.  Make sure you’re not giving too much away.

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