Paying for Pages
Dan Grant, Publisher
JUNE 2016, IMPORTANT
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Q: How do you start lengthy, heated arguments amongst photographers?
A: Get them in a room.
Modelresource started doing PunchUPs a few years ago, never expecting it to be a combative environment. The informal, community-building exercises were supposed to be about getting people that typically work in isolation of one another to share their experiences and learn from others' frustrations. You would think the backroom of a bar would be an ideal place for a such a support group, right? The meetups weren't actually branded "PunchUPs" until after the second one, when I realized that some photographers get awfully feisty when they don't feel they're being understood.
At the last slugfest I presented this question to the group:
Is it ever okay to pay a magazine to publish your story?
I think everyone, at least initially, feels a bit icky forking over their own dough to buy increased visibility, yet some really good photographers are, in fact, doing just that.
And the others... they think it sets a really bad precedent and besmirches the artist.
In one corner we have the haters; the ones that bled their craft for years, shooting, submitting, networking and pleading before ever thumbing through a glossy showcasing their product.
And in the other corner are some that endured the same jabs, hooks, uppercuts and bodyblows, and when they finally did get published, tasted the indignation of gazing on a story that didn't look the same as when they sent off their final selects.
As someone whose writing has been published several times I can only think of one occasion when my article (Alana Zimmer, Models.com) appeared exactly as I wrote it. Usually there are minor, inoffensive edits, like in the current issue of Corduroy, but other times I've opened a magazine to see quotes – actual sentences uttered by someone I interviewed – changed by an overzealous editor for reasons that were never approved by, nor explained to, me.
When my stories get revised, it's still my name on the byline, even though the published version may be a sloppy reflection of my final copy. You think that's what I want to show other publications that would consider me as a writer? Is it reasonable to assume they would understand that someone else took liberties with the original?
Filler Magazine's head honcho, Ryan Johnson, attended the last PunchUP, and defended the right of publishers to adjust the images. Different crops, borders, filters, page order and composition are all within the editor's purview. As Johnson explained, photographers should keep in mind what it was about the magazine that had them wanting to see their images there in the first place. If they don't see their style fitting with the magazine's aesthetic, they probably shouldn't have pitched in the first place.
One of the benefits of paying to be published is the increased control you should have in the story's final layout. Another obvious advantage is the audience a site like Ben Trovato can provide. It's kind of massive.
A less obvious advantage is that those tear sheets don't just fill out your own portfolio, but also the books of everyone else that contributed. Having a tough time getting solid artists and models to work with you? See how much better you fare when you call around to agencies guaranteeing pages in print.
In the hoity-toity world of classical performance, there's a Toronto company that offers a similar service. Opera By Request allows a fledgling Heldentenor to pay for the opportunity to perform the role of Florestan, by using his funds to stage a full production of Fidelio. Is it as impressive as, say, the Canadian Opera Company casting our young hero in the same role? Definitely not, but it's an opportunity to learn the role, add Beethoven to his resume, and better prepare him for a tour of German opera houses during the next audition season. Also, OBR lets the performer keep a piece of the gate, so our aspiring divo can recoup part of his expenses if he's willing to promote, promote, promote.
Relating it again to my own experience, when I authored The Canadian Model's Resource, I paid for it to be self-published. I would have loved for a publishing house to have offered me a contract and push my book to Chapters, but when none was forthcoming I had to reach into my own pocket for it to go to print. A few weeks later a soft-cover version appeared at my door, the innards of which resembled almost exactly what I had sent (the bilious, brown-green cover was definitely not what I expected). I had my very own ISBN and a copy was added to the permanent collection at Archives Canada. On my own I sold dozens of copies, including 27 into Toronto Public Library locations, while online purchases from Vancouver Island to Cape Breton have sent me cheques for more than six years now.
If, as a photographer, you can pay to be part of a magazine that not only gives you exposure, but also a physical copy of your work to leave with clients (looking as you envisioned) and also gives you back a piece of the sales, is that really so bad?
Maybe it doesn't carry the same prestige as appearing in Pulp or [Dress to] Kill, but if it furthers your career should you really be ashamed of your investment?
You decide... I'm already planning the next fight card.