The Going Rate for a Time Cover Photo

Slate magazine just published an interesting article on David Hobby and his popular blog Strobist, and shared this interesting example of how the photography industry is drastically changing due to low barriers of entry:

To get a sense of just how bad things are for professional photographers right now, the story of Robert Lam is instructive. When Time needed a photo to illustrate its “New Frugality” cover story in late 2009, it purchased Lam’s image of a jar of change from stock-photo agency iStockphoto. The going rate for a Time cover had typically been $3,000 to $10,000. Lam was paid $31.50. Nevertheless, Lam declared, “I am happy”—the payment was more than he’d expected the photo to generate, and he was delighted to have a Time cover in his portfolio. Veteran professional photographers were livid, calling Lam an “IDIOT,” among other unkind words.

The article also mentions how Robert Lam earns just $4,000 from his stock photography hobby, and that the Time cover photo was shot using DIY equipment purchased from a local sign store. What are your thoughts on the changing landscape for professional photographers?

  • pauldavey

    The most successful online publications, and lets face it, online is becoming more and more where its at, use a lot of images. The Mail Online is expanding and rolling out its successful image-heavy content model in new territories. It is not uncommon to see between 30 and 80 pictures AND video in a feature. Other online publishers use the same template: lots of pics and videos.

    This says two things: 1) that there IS budget available and 2) that pictures are so cheap as to allow publishers to fill their boots.

    Stock agencies will not go away, but they are clearly, given the above, selling their photographers (and therefore themselves) short. They all believe price and quantity is better than quality – but the fact that many small quality pic agencies are still selling into major publishers proves that this isn’t necessarily true.

    Photographers need to accept that the days of pics selling for over £100 are long gone, but they also need to accept that selling direct to picture desks will be more effective and they’ll keep 100% of the money. Build relationships, specialise and become a favoured ‘go-to ‘ supplier.

  • sinister dexter

    Time you stopped blaming the picture takers and started blaming those who screw the picture takers.

  • Jude I⚡caяiot

    If you devalue the work, then yes, you are wrong. You are hurting everybody by doing so. You are the WalMart of photography if you do that.

  • Dana Winston

    As with all of the arts, there is an art and a science to it.

  • Mirek

    Brittany! As a professional photographer I never used calculations for depth of field, even with a view camera. For exposure use a light meter not a formula. Though with some practice it is possible to become a human light meter, but again that was when film was around in the last century

  • Roger

    The best solution would be to shoot RAW files and work on them latter in Photoshop. If it is a studio environment, experiment for the best desired result.

  • Mirek

    I am afraid the days of getting $ 3000 for a cover shot are over. I’ve been in editorial photography since the early 90s and I have seen fees for usage dropping from great to single digits. There is better money in teaching photography, organizing tours and workshops than in selling stock. Amen!