One of the downsides of earning a living from photography is the steady trickle of begging emails and phone calls. The detail varies but the gist is the same - these people (the vast majority of whom, incidentally, are salaried) claim to have little or no budget, but offer the prospect of publicity beyond the photographer's wildest dreams. To paraphrase Harlan Ellison, go tell that to someone who's just fallen off the turnip wagon...
And then the same email, from the same airline, turned up in my inbox this morning. Here's an exerpt (with names removed to protect the innocent / prevent a lawsuit - delete whichever suits your mood):
'Dear Seb Rogers,
The staff of XXX XXX, the luxury magazine of XXX XXX, is in the process of planning our Spring 2008 “Sporting Life” issue, focusing on many high-end products and articles related to health, sports, fitness, and wellness.
One of the articles we are working on is a photographic feature story -- a visual compilation -- of some of the best places on earth to experience a particular sport shot by some of the best photographers in the world. Examples include spectacular settings for sports such as fly-fishing, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, scuba diving, golf, biking, and surfing.
We are interested in showcasing ONE of your favorite images of biking, preferably at a location within a couple hours of a destination XXX XXX serves. Several well-known photographers will be participating in this effort.'
And so on, in a similar vein. Only this time, presumably because of the number of photographers refusing to prostrate themselves at the prospect of (gasp!) a byline in an in-flight magazine, the airline in question has spelt out their non-payment policy in very clear terms:
'To clarify, we are interested in publicizing ONE of your favorite images and featuring information on you, including your website, books, and other projects you're working on. This is an expose of top sports photographers. And because of the size and scope of this feature, and because it exposes your work, website and book project to potentially more than three million readers of XXX XXX first and business class, we are unable to pay for or in any way purchase an image from you. This effort would be for publicity purposes only, and we will understand (but will be disappointed) if it is not something you are interested in.'
They are, of course, going to be disappointed. But, since they'd been pretty cheeky to me, I couldn't resist the opportunity to be a bit cheeky back. Here's my reply:
Thank you for your email and your interest in my work.
I would be delighted to license one of my images for use in XXX XXX; however I note that you are unwilling to pay and so, on this occasion, I will have to decline. The vast majority of my clients don't fly First or Business, so I can see no value in the publicity and, unfortunately, a warm fuzzy glow doesn't help pay the mortgage.
I am, I have to say, disappointed (but not surprised) that XXX XXX feels the need to poach 'free' use from photographers in this way. Perhaps you could shave costs even further by persuading the magazine's printers that their credit on the masthead is sufficient payment?
Just a thought.
I take some comfort from the fact that they're clearly struggling to find enough photographers to fill the pages (I'm not kidding myself that I was anywhere near the top of their list). But the depressing thought is that they probably will, one way or another, manage to fill enough pages to make their feature a viable prospect. And not one of the contributing photographers will get any benefit from it.