Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

I got schmapped: Should I be giving up content for free?

with 4 comments

I got an e-mail yesterday that both flattered and irritated me, and I’m still on the fence about it., a site/software of interactive city maps for tourists, contacted me about using a photo of Montreal’s Bon Secours market, which I took this spring and posted on Flickr. One of the features on their map is user-contributed photos of landmarks. Of course, there’s no financial retribution but “many photographers are pleased to submit their photos, as Schmap Guides give their work recognition and wide exposure,” they say. Reminds me of all those unpaid internship offers where they told you working in their newsroom was a privilege and a “great learning experience.”

As the daughter of a freelance writer, I early on understood that content is worth money and businesses who ask writers and photographers to work for free are hogs. Every time you give up content, you bring down the rates for thousands of freelancers whose livelihood depends on people understanding there’s a monetary value attached to writing and photography. Pick one cause you believe in, my mom once told me, and write for them for free; the rest of them can open their wallets or ask someone else. Then I started writing myself, and I got it even more. But I also jumped on the citizen-journalism bandwagon, which is pretty much the same thing. In fact, it’s the one thing that’s always bothered me about it: we’re asking people to give up material that, especially in breaking news situations, could be worth thousands to them, exploiting the fact that they may not be familiar with media and rights.

But what’s the difference between Schmap’s query and my putting the photo on Flickr, geotagged for everyone to see when they look up Montreal? Maybe it’s that I’m getting a service in exchange from Flickr: they host my photos. I could, I guess, get a service from Schmap if I was visiting any of the cities they cover. Maybe, I’d feel more comfortable if Schmap was an open-source, non-profit, good-doing kind of an enterprise, but it sounds too commercial for me to willingly get robbed of my picture. I have till Sunday to give an answer. What do you think?

In the meantime, my vacation snapshot — which frankly isn’t worth a blog post — will get “wide exposure” right here.


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Wednesday, 16 July, 2008 at 09:33

Posted in Photography, Travel, Web 2.0

4 Responses

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  1. I see this all the time in my line of work: a large entity wants creative content for free in exchange for “exposure” or “the chance to build your portfolio.” However, the accepted corollary to this is that a doctor will not perform a rhinoplasty free of charge in hopes that someone passing you on the sidewalk will exclaim, “What a fantastic nose job! Where did you go for it?”

    Typically I just tell these types of people to sod off. If someone or some entity recognizes the value in whatever they’re trying to acquire (a great new website or, in your case, a photo), they should be willing to pay for it. If not, your assessment of these companies as “hogs” is dead on.

    The sad truth, however, is that they’re not going to pay anyone *else* for a photo either. As there are probably millions more photos of this particular location in existence, in this situation your bargaining chip is null and void.

    No offense to your photo (which is lovely), but if you turn them down they’ll just keep hunting until they do find someone who will grant them rights to use a similar shot in exchange for the “exposure” they proffer so readily. In this situation, they have nothing to lose by not using your photo (except time), but you do, admittedly, have something to gain (this aforementioned “exposure”). If this were me, the only two ways I would turn down their offer are
    a.) Someone else is offering you money for your photography.
    b.) You don’t value the exposure you’d get from this company.


    Wednesday, 16 July, 2008 at 14:13

  2. They already have plenty other shots of this place in their current edition of the Montreal guide, I checked. But I don’t believe in the “if not me, somebody else will do it” reasoning, from an ethical standpoint. What matters to my karma (my ‘principles’ if you will) is what I do.

    As for exposure from this company, it’s significant, purely in numbers, but I doubt it’s people actually looking for a professional photographer. And if it were, they wouldn’t stop on this particular shot.

    Isabelle Roughol

    Thursday, 17 July, 2008 at 03:24

  3. Désolée pour cette réponse en français, qu’Isabelle traduira si elle le juge nécessaire.
    En fait, la question de la gratuité dépend aussi un peu de la nature de ce que l’on te demande. Une seule photo, oui, peut-être… un reportage, non, clairement. Comme le jour où un festival m’a demandé sans honte de rédiger TOUS leurs programmes de l’année à l’oeil, parce que “cela ferait connaître ma plume…”. J’ai répondu que ma plume était déjà connue puisqu’ils me le demandaient.
    Moi, je dirais oui, mais à une condition irrévocable : le copyright Isabelle Roughol, et un lien pour te joindre. dans ces conditions, cela devient effectivement une -petite- vitrine pour toi.



    Sunday, 20 July, 2008 at 12:08

  4. At this point you’ve probably already made a decision on this. However, I would say no to them if I were in your position. It’s your photo and it just wouldn’t be logical adding grease to an already slippery slope if you want a decision that stands true the little guy/woman getting taken day-to-day in the profession. And knowing you, I know you’re all for the little guy :)

    I’m poor but planning for a visit.


    Tuesday, 22 July, 2008 at 17:22

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