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Zuma? Cal Sport Media? Icon?
Gary McCullough, Photographer
Jacksonville | FL | USA | Posted: 1:00 PM on 11.11.18
->> What is the best spec company to use as a sports photographer?

Zuma? Cal Sport Media? Icon? Someone else?

I am most interested in the ability to produce income. I am not looking for a way to obtain credentials.

I retain image rights for most of what I shot. Thus I have leftovers from pro and NCAA sports events; mostly basketball, hockey, football, golf, baseball; also some NASCAR.

Where is the best place to put my leftovers to create a secondary income flow?
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 8:30 AM on 11.12.18

You say you're looking to create a revenue stream for yourself which is an admirable choice since you, me and everyone else are in the "business" of photography and not creating art for art's sake if we want to pay the bills.

As to which company is best, that has to be your decision because what fits you may not fit me and others. Just don't fall for a common ego hype ploy about how your images will be seen by thousands or millions. Stick with how your images will generate income for yourself and most importantly, ask how much and HOW. The second "how" will be laid out in the contracts you review from each and the what-if scenarios you ask which you must get the answers to in writing as part of the contract or as an addendum with signatures of both parties. Keep in mind that anything "said" that is not within the four corners of a written contract is not enforceable. Verbal hype is just that -- the same as the stereotypical hype some used-car sales people use to get you to buy a clunker.

Keep in mind that if you want maximum return for your work you have to distribute your images yourself. You lose income with every middle-man in the distribution process and that can quickly eat away at your share. A friend of mine several years ago shot a Univ. of Utah football game and that made ONE sale via Zuma. For his 6-hour day he got a check for 75 cents. Instead of cashing it he had it framed as a reminder.

When discussing money with the various agencies be sure to get a copy of their contracts first to read the fine print and then ask for clarifications and who they partner with. For example, AP sells their images through AP Images (formerly Wide World Photos) which also distributes photos supplied by Zuma, Icon, Cal Sport Media and others. You can rest assured that any sales made by AP Images have a chunk of the licensing fee taken out before monies are sent to the agency you hooked up with which is then divided with you. And the more people in the distribution mix means there is less revenue for you. The photographers who create the marketable content are at the bottom of the food/money chain.

It used to be that agencies licensed only their own stock photos. Now they do cross distribution to increase THEIR revenue streams which means what trickles down to you can be greatly reduced. I just looked at and did a search for Zuma. Some had multiple credits such as a photo shot for Zuma that was given to AP for distribution via Cal Sport Media. So that appears to mean that there will be three slices of the revenue pie removed before the photographer gets his/her share.

Also take note that any deal you sign with an agency will most likely have that agency named as your exclusive rep. But there is no language that restricts the agency of working deals with other agencies which cuts into your revenue stream. And that while they will start marketing your work immediately, there may be a clause that says they can continue marketing well after your contract with them ends.

Also keep in mind that contracts are not written in stone; they can be modified. I've done it with various companies as have other photographers. One clause I had inserted was if somebody stole an image of mine and the agency decided not to pursue, then I had the right to file a copyright infringement case myself. If you don't like something then counter. You won't know if you don't ask. And if you don't ask you could be lining the pockets of others instead of yours.

I noticed you didn't list AP, Getty and USA Today Sports Images as possible avenues. Why? By having AP Images rep your images you may remove third-party fingers like Zuma and Cal Sport Media from taking shares -- but not those AP has partnered with such as agencies in Europe. It is a tangled web nowadays. Just make sure you read the contracts carefully and do side by side comparisons with one thing in mind -- that the contracts are written to provide the "distributor" with the best revenue stream potential, not you.

For simplicity sake, let's say everyone gets a 50% cut of the pie. You go with ABC agency and it sells your photo for $100 which means you get $50. But ABC partners with DEF who makes the actual sale. That means DEF takes half and you split $50 with ABC which leaves you with $25. But then there is also company GHI in the mix -- three distributors. ABC takes $50 of the $100; DEF takes $25 of the $50; and you split the $25 with GHI who you signed with leaving you with just over $12 on a $100 sale. And this is based on gross sales. You'll find in contracts that royalties are based on "net" which means fees will be taken out first before any splits leaving you with even less.

In an AP freelancer contract from 2009 it says photographers working for it will get a 25% royalty of the NET revenue of qualifying U.S. sales. (Above I used a 50-50 split of gross.) This means if you shot some foreign athletes like in the NBA then all sales to European and Asian markets are excluded and you get no split from them. And those markets are huge.

With USATSI, you get a 50-50 split of a la carte licensing which excludes subscribers to its service. A few years ago Reuters let go all its U.S. sports photographers and struck a deal with USATSI for coverage of college, NBA, MLB, NFL, etc. That I'm sure was a nice financial gain for Gannett that owns USATSI. Did the photographers get a boost in pay? No, not a penny because the Reuters distribution is not a la carte.

With both AP and USATSI they also distribute images not specifically shot for them on assignment, such as your archives. I do not know what those splits are and the agreement details. You'll have to ask yourself; but carefully read those contracts and ask questions.

When approaching all these agencies I strongly suggest you ask how royalty splits are handled in addition to just your share with them for photos they license directly. Ask who their partners are and how much of a take is taken off the top. If there are fees subtracted get it in writing what they are and how much (flat or percentage); don't leave the word undefined. Do they have minimum licensing fees or can they market your photos Royalty Free for a discounted price to good clients of theirs leaving you with pennies. Etc.

A couple years ago I noticed that sports photos from various teams could be purchased at Costco for close to the price of print if not the cost; not tens or hundreds of dollars. How much money do you think the photographers made off that deal after all the trickle down pie pieces were removed? Probably a few pennies, if that. But I can guess the agency distributor made money via volume.

So let me close with one guiding light: FOLLOW THE MONEY!

Then after you've vetted the contracts, please share your comparisons with the rest of us. While there is sure to be a clause that says you cannot share contract details, that is only enforceable after you sign it. Without a signature there is no agreement.
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Tim Cowie, Photographer, Photo Editor
Davidson | NC | USA | Posted: 12:05 PM on 11.12.18
->> Don't recommend any of the above to be honest. However, of the ones you mentioned, you will most likely make more money from ICON.
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Gary McCullough, Photographer
Jacksonville | FL | USA | Posted: 3:04 PM on 11.13.18
->> Thank you Doug and Tim, for the input. Over the years I have sold images through all three, Zuma, Icon and Cal Sport. For the past five years I have used Cal Sport Media exclusively, but have not compared against Zuma or Icon since 2013.

Like comparing insurance companies every five years -- that is what I am trying to do; trying to see if Cal Sport Media is still as good or better than other spec services when it comes to income.

Tim, you are the second one to suggest Icon as being a better choice. Thanks again.
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 4:34 PM on 11.13.18
->> Gary...

Keep in mind that if you find a better deal with say ICON, then ask Cal Sport to match the terms and money -- or you'll switch reps. Either way you'll end up with a better deal.

Also, no contracts are always the same with everyone. There are sometimes exceptions. The key is to make yourself worth a modified deal so it is profitable for both sides. And if a company takes a staunch stance against a reasonable request then is that a company you want to be tied to if something happens later on that needs to be negotiated?

Good luck!
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Ric Tapia, Photographer
Los Angeles | CA | USA | Posted: 2:16 PM on 11.17.18
->> Gary,
From what you have described I would go with Icon.
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Thread Title: Zuma? Cal Sport Media? Icon?
Thread Started By: Gary McCullough
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