Pirate Publishing

Submitted on Nov 02, 2011, 10:10 p.m.

Update: 01-Dec-2011: In a subsequent email exchange between myself and Grafenstein Freizeit und Tourismuswerbung GmbH, we were able to agree on my suggested donation of 50 Euros to a local charity, and at least one of my images will be used in their publication. A win-win (albeit modest one) for Grafenstein Freizeit und Tourismuswerbung GmbH, and German Cancer Aid.

Original Post: I received an email the other day, asking if one of my pictures on Flickr could be used in a travel magazine being published in Germany. The result was a short exchange of emails that I think epitomizes the challenges faced by the photography industry as a whole  - and so I decided to post about it. Here's a copy of the email I received:

Dear Sir, I have found your photo on flickr.com and would like to use it in a magazine about Thailand. Your photo is truly beautiful and would perfectly match our magazine. The magazine is the official issue of the Thailand Tourist Office in Germany and its main aim is to promote Thailand as a tourist destination. Due to the fact that our magazine is free of charge for all readers, we are always under the budget. Therefore, we cannot simply pay a fair price for professional photos or texts we publish. The whole project is a quasi non-profit project and bases on a good will of the participants. I ask you, therefore, if you would be interested in supporting our project by allowing us to use your photo free of charge for a printed and online version of the Thailand-Magazine. We would of course name you as an author of this photo and send you an example of the magazine after printing it. We can also try to link the photo in the e-mag with your website. I would be really grateful, if you would allow us to use the following photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/58bits/5031933712 Please mail me back, in order to clear out the details. I would then send you an extract of a page with your photo, so that you can see, how it looks like. Thank you in advance for your answer. Yours sincerely, J.M. Project Manager Grafenstein Freizeit und Tourismuswerbung GmbH experts in tourism communication

I spent a few minutes looking at their website,  http://www.grafenstein.net/, and while their publications seem to be of fairly high quality, I was troubled by a few statements in the email above. Firstly, what was an 'official' publication, and what is 'a quasi non-profit project'? And what was I being asked to do by 'supporting' one? Grafenstein Freizeit und Tourismuswerbung GmbH is in fact a commercial organization in Germany, not a not-for-profit registered charity or otherwise. They produce travel magazines on an ad-revenue only basis - which means they make money from their publications. I replied to Grafenstein Freizeit und Tourismuswerbung GmbH and told them that I would be happy to allow them to use my pictures in their publication, if they would make a small donation to a local Germany charity of my choice. I gave them the link to the donation page of the German Cancer Society, asking them to make a 50.00 Euro donation for each picture they used. And here's the reply I received...

Dear Anthony Bouch, thank you for answering so fast to my previous e-mail. As a person and, as well as a photographer, I admire your proposal of donating money for charity purposes. As a project manager, however, I cannot do it. You are right that the agency Grafenstein Freizeit- und Tourismuswerbung is a commercial organization. The problem by this project is of other nature - we are not paid by the client. The magazine is being financed only by the ad-sell. As you know, the advertising market in printed magazines has shrunk dramatically. We are, therefore, forced to cut all the expenses to minimum. I can always buy relatively cheap stock photos (www.123rf.com, www.fotolia.com, etc.) but the quality and the selection is rather limited. This is why I try to find great photos on flickr and ask their owners, if they were interested in supporting the project. Despite the evident financial problems, I try to produce a magazine of the highest standard possible. We would be, of course, ready to donate some money. As I mentioned before, I find the idea really amazing. We can donate, however, about 5 Euro per photo. This is what I can pay for a photo. Please do not understand me wrong. I try not to bargain. My only aim is to create a good magazine with a little budget. If you were not interested in supporting this project under the conditions mentioned above, I would understand it completely. I really admire your your idea of donating the money and hopefully we will work together someday on this basis. Let my know, what is your decision. In case of the negative decision, please forgive me for taking your time. Best regards, J.M. Project Manager Grafenstein Freizeit und Tourismuswerbung GmbH experts in tourism communication

Okay - so J.M. thinks my donation idea is a good one, although the limit of his charity appears to be just 5.00 Euros per picture. And again there are troubling phrases in the message above - in particular where J.M. appears to be asking me to share in his company's financial difficulties by 'supporting the project'. So there are two themes here. The first is the disingenuous nature of these emails. Please J.M., let's call a spade a spade. You want to use some pictures for free in exchange for credit/attribution in order to make money for your business. And that's all. So stop with the 'sharing' 'caring' malarkey - and just say that. Tell your potential contributors that you are offering attribution-only compensation. And whatever you do - be clear about the license you are requesting from them. The second theme - is well, the challenges of making a living as a photographer. It's not a profession I envy at the moment. There are thousands of J.M.s out there hoping to find amateur or novice pro photos that they can use commercially, for free - hoping that the kudos of putting their name in a publication will be enough for a photographer to want to license the image. I guess that's OK if you were just getting started and wanted a few tear-sheets to put in your book. But moving on from there is an even bigger challenge if the next wave of amateurs or novice pros are all prepared to do the same.

Welcome to the photo sharing world of Flickr, and Facebook, and what I guess those enamored with 'the market' would simply describe as a problem of supply and demand. Others however, might be more inclined to describe this as a symptom of the general trend towards devaluing high-quality editorial content, in the pursuit of greater short-term margins - and to the detriment of everyone in the longer term.