TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!
Is Net-30 a Thing of the Past?
There’s no question times are changing not only with photographers, but also with the goals of the printed publications with for which they work. With the development of the Kindle, the iPad, and other digital browsers, the printed media is having more and more difficulty acquiring advertisers and readers willing to flip through pages. Those publications that have debated the move to digital media are now desperately trying to keep up.
As a professional photographer, I owe my clients a debt of gratitude for their willingness to work with me and I am grateful for each day a new client joins the team. I understand that many of the obstacles faced by companies in today’s fast-paced market are not always their fault, however it’s usually the photographer, writer, graphics supplier or other media provider that gets the brunt of the financial punishment.
Photographers and content providers who have had works published in physical publications are often left wondering when their invoices are going to be honored. Even those clients who are thought of as reliable are now pushing their net-30 bills to 45 days, 60 days and sometimes longer. While it may be convenient for the client to hold off payment until they are in a comfortable position, content providers still need to pay their bills and put food on the table. Additionally, the time invested in marketing, editing, scheduling photoshoots and in general growing a business are now spent chasing after past due funds.
I took a close look at my business to figure out what I was doing wrong. Why am I working 12 to 14 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week and still coming up short on my bills? There was actually an obvious answer, but one I hesitated to tackle. Three invoices having been dragging on unfulfilled for over a year, four invoices are past 90-days and another is entering 45-days. Despite my keeping in contact with these clients as well as an optimistic attitude, they’re simply not in a position to pay. And although there are means to collect, none of those options are pretty and will guarantee a falling out. Just because a client is unable to pay at the time doesn’t mean they’re a bad client and not worthy of working with in the future. We all go through tough times.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard a photographer works, in the scheme of things they will almost always be at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole. They are the last in a long line of transactions. Such as the case, publications have established a standard of not fulfilling invoices until at least 30-days after publication. This enables them to recoup most of their printing and mailing expenses before shelling out money to contributors. Though to the photographer, their job was completed anywhere from 2 to 6 months prior to publication. That’s a long time to wait for payment.
I tried comparing my business of photography to that of most other business using their logic. I couldn’t imagine asking my grocer to forgo payment on a loaf of bread until after I had finished eating it. Or informing the gas station that I’d be back to pay for fuel once I finish using it. Few realize a photograph is a product. Camera companies don’t allow postponement for payment on equipment, so why are photographers allowing postponement for the purchase of imagery?
I recently began moving my aviation archives over to a database-oriented website called Photoshelter. Contained within this site is the ability to license images online utilizing software that has become the market standard, PhotoQuote. In a perfect world, clients can scour the archive for that optimum image, fill in the licensing-appropriate questions and pay the resulting quote. Once funds have been transferred, they can then download the hi-resolution image for use. No more billing. No more waiting indefinitely for a check to arrive, no more chasing after past due invoices.
Is this the answer photographers have been looking for to warrant industry-wide change? For years Getty Images has utilized this business model with great success. Of course, as with anything, acceptance and understanding will take time. Publications may need to adjust their practice of accounts receivable and payable in order accommodate this transition, but if the sole photographer can do it, I’m confident a business can adjust.
I’m eager to hear the thoughts of other photographers and businesses alike.