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Increased Competition, Decreased Rates

Natalia Zurowski, Features Columnist

How some agencies are finding it more profitable to let rates drop.

When a model travels internationally, the host agency will often advance their accommodations, flight, weekly allowance etc. Did you know though, some agencies charge a premium for these expenses, and can generate a substantial revenue from just one model, even if that model doesn't end up working well?

Depending on the market, the agency can take anywhere between 30-60% commission from the model's earnings while the remainder goes to the model. However, before they begin to actually pocket any money, models have to essentially 'pay back' the advances the agency made on their behalf. What many don't realize, is that in markets like New York, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong etc., agencies are notorious for overcharging their own models, especially for accommodations.

For example, the cost of renting an apartment could be approximately $1000 CDN/month. In a typical scenario, there can be up to six girls sharing one cramped apartment with one bathroom! Instead of charging each model a fair amount, the agency acts as a landlord and will bill each model $1000 to their accounts. That is six times the actual rent! So even if the models don't leave with any money for themselves, the agency has still generated a substantial amount from each body they've housed.

In order to avoid paying for these expenses, many models have opted to arrange their own accommodations and flights. However, doing so can cause the agency to not push the model as hard to clients because their other models have to cover their expenses. Once the model does cover his or her expenses, the money they make from then on will start to go into their own pocket. But inflated expenses, combined with high commissions means that models will have to work two or three times as hard just to break even, making it even more difficult to earn a living in an already unstable and unpredictable career.

Seeing this as a profitable business opportunity, new agencies are opening up with staff that have little idea how the industry works. Their motivation is simply to make money. Instead of pushing for higher rates these agencies will actually quote the clients a lower rate to ensure their own models book the jobs. As a result models work more, but get less than they deserve. At the end of the day, it makes little to no difference to the agency because they are still making money regardless who the client is or which model is booked for the job. I am not saying that every client will opt for a 'cheaper' model, however this is how it generally works with smaller clients.

This was the case for Pawel Bednarek; a very successful male model from Poland previously featured as models.com's Model of the Week. Clients continually book him in Europe and Asia not only for his look, but for his great work ethic and professionalism. I have had the opportunity to work with Pawel and I can honestly say that he can give Coco Rocha a run for her money as a posing master.

Pawel recently posted on, “Model Access” - a Facebook forum for models worldwide – about his current situation: " [I] was about to leave to Korea for one month but since they cancelled two jobs because some other agency was asking a lower rate - I'm stuck in Poland." For some models like Pawel, modelling is not just a summer job or part-time gig. It's their career. They count on jobs to sustain themselves and the lowering of rates puts that in jeopardy. Quality models are being put out of work by inferior agencies offering lower rates.

Not only are models affected by lower rates but legitimate agencies are as well. If their models are not working their reputation is on the line. In this case, what are the agencies supposed to do? Do they match the lower rates or risk suffering financially? It is a lose-lose situation.

A similar situation can be seen in Europe where the economy in countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy is currently unstable. Many models go to Europe to develop their portfolios knowing that there is little money to be made if they are not a top model. Or if they do make money, many do not see a paycheque for several months or even up to a year. What many of these models do is work between Europe and Asia to try and find a balance between collecting tear sheets and earning money. Now that the amount of money that can be earned in Asia has decreased, that practice is under threat. This is not to say that there is no money to be made – a model can still earn a good income – however, even more established models are beginning to encounter some trouble getting what they deserve.

My own first trip overseas was approximately four years ago, to Shanghai. At the time, catalogue rates ran between 1000-1400RMB per hour (approximately $150-200CDN). Today, catalogue rates in Shanghai can go as low as 500RMB per hour; a 50% decrease over the past four years. A friend of mine, model Dawid Salachna, told me how his recent trip to China was great but models there now, “practically work for free.”

In order to facilitate a happier and healthier working environment, models and their mother agencies need to tackle this together. Mother agencies need to screen their placements better and start refusing to send models to markets where they aren't valued. Models, meanwhile, have to stop just 'being thankful' for a job.

By working together, models and agencies can start to address the problems of poor rates and foreign agencies overworking their models merely to cover their own inflated costs. Otherwise, if the way things are now continue, it will go from less pay to even lesser pay.

As pessimistic as it sounds, if people see you as a pushover in this industry they won't hesitate to take advantage of you. Not everyone has your best interest at heart.

Therefore, it is crucial that you remember your rights (for more information please refer to, Bill of Rights, courtesy of Model Alliance, push your agency to be more accountable, and get the money that you rightfully deserve.

Natalia Zurowski is a Chantale Nadeau model who just completed her B.A. from Western University.

She is currently in Hong Kong with Model Genesis


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