Thursday, June 30, 2005

Maybe I should just shut up and be flattered ...

A fellow Flickrer, whom I've never met, has a publishing contract to write a book about photoblogging. She has asked for permission to use a couple of my photos (this one and this one) in her book, with attribution. I'm surprised at myself for not having the immediate inclination to say yes. In fact, my gut response was "No thanks," which puzzles me, because every hobby photographer wants her images published, right?

I think part of it was that I was a little baffled as to why she's asking me--I'm not a photoblogger, or at least I don't consider myself one. A photo turns up in my blog now and then and sometimes a bloglike caption may turn up under one of my photos, but that's hardly photoblogging. Also, why those particular photos? I don't consider them all that noteworthy, and I'd select different ones if I were picking photos to publish. In what context will they be used? What will the accompanying text say? It's funny that I should all of the sudden start thinking about this because all of my Flickr pix are published under an attribution/noncommercial/share-alike Creative Commons license, which pretty much tells people they can decoupage my photos to a urinal as long as they credit me and aren't doing it for money. So is it the money thing that's in the way here?

I hate when people act like every effort they make in life should be compensated. It's petty and tiresome when someone won't consider doing something for anyone else unless they get some sort of tangible benefit. I try not to be like that because I think that sort of mindset leads to discontent and mean-spiritedness. I believe it makes people value things and actions for what they're worth monetarily, which makes things they get for free--such as favors and nice gestures--end up having less value. But here I am thinking about money (or more precisely, compensation, which doesn't always have to be money) ...

So is it the fact that this woman has a contract from a major publisher to write the book? Because if someone like Andrew Riddles were to ask if he could use one of my pix for the cover of his next book, I'd let him use it in a heartbeat. But he's his own publisher (and I consider him a pal). Maybe it's because I found out, by visiting this woman's web site, that she regularly sells prints of her photos ... yet she wants to use mine without offering anything, not even a free copy of her finished book. I guess I'm supposed to feel special and excited about seeing my name in print (I got over that years ago when I was a journalist and my byline appeared in the paper every single day). Maybe I'm just in a crabby bitchy mood today and she should have asked me yesterday. Maybe they don't want to offer a free copy of the book because the only people who would buy a book about photoblogging are the people whose photos they use .... oh mee-oww, I think I'm getting catty. Time to go, but I'd love to know what other people think ...

6 comments:

lisa said...

first off, i do think you are a photoblogger-- on flickr. your photostream amounts to a blog at this point, IMHO.

i think it's what you say in your last paragraph that makes me understand why you'd say "no thanks"-- and i probably would, too, if someone had the potential to make money off of my work without sending any compensation my way, especially since she'll have the freedom to recontextualize the photos any way she wishes.

andrew said...

It is a tough question. I am the doyen of giving stuff away for free and sometimes I just sit back and think, "What the fuck am i doing?" I am designing websites for about a quarter of the prioce i should be charging at the moment but there is always a reason (expand my portfolio, it's for a friend, more exposure.) As much as I hate to agree with the old capitalist cliche: all publicity is good publicity. So if opportunities you like the look of come along then I would contribute. Perhaps you are just not convinced of the validity of the book this person is producing.

Years ago I was trying to produce a book with a friend. It was a series of interviews about Mrs thatcher and the evil she had done. My partner and I wrote to loads of famous people and one response - that from Germaine Greer - still sticks in my mind. She wrote a really angry rude letter, accusing us of trying to steal the food out of her mouth because she was a fanous writer and we were not, and that we were trying to get her to do our jobs for us. As she said in her letter, "You wouldn't get the plumber round to fix the toilet and then tell him you weren't going to pay him, would you?" (We wrote back and told her that our plumber was a woman, but she never replied to that.)

It's funny you should say that you would donate one of your pictures if I asked for one for my next book... My new novel is about a famous, dead photographer. Her esate is notourisouly well guarded by the trust set up by her son and so i doubt I will ever be allowed by them to use one of her images. So can I have a picture of one of the restaurants you eat in? Or Lucy in competition? Not anything to do wuth the novel, but they would look great on the cover of my book.

Thanks for the mention btw

Anonymous said...

It's never pleasant to be taken for granted.

Lisa B. said...

Lisa, you're probably right about that last paragraph being the key ... although I am also bothered by the fact that the two pix she has in mind are not ones I would choose to publish for real. Mr. Pants said last night that if I don't feel good about letting her use my photos then I should just say no and not worry about it, so I think that's what I will do, but I will write her a very polite e-mail explaining why.

Andrew, YES! You can use one of my photos. In fact, I'll be happy to try to get the exact shot you want if nothing I have fits your needs.

And anonymous--I think I did feel like I was being taken for granted and it rankles a bit.

Sarah said...

it's possible that she can't offer you a free copy of the book because of the expense. Most authors only get a few free copies, and many publishers don't even allow their authors to buy copies for less than retail. If she's including the photos of 100 people or more, that would be a huge expense. It might well cost more than she ever earns from the project. You're probably right than she's counting on people being so flattered to be published that they don't mind the lack of compensation.

What would bother me more, if I were you, is how much control you'd be giving her over your work. How are the photos going to appear in the book, what will she say about them? will they be used in advertising material? or in future projects of hers? For both reasons it sounds like you're right to decline.

I wonder if this experience has made you rethink the Creative Commons license, or if you still feel OK about people using your work as they please as long as there's no money involved.

ps: I agree with Lisa that you are a photoblogger.

andrew said...

Yes, I agree with Sarah - my main concern would be with the contextualising and the editing of your pictures. I use http://sxc.hu for a lot of my professional images and i really admire the contributor's trust in us people who completely use and abuse their genrosity. I imagine 99% of the time their pictures are edited by the people who download and then you lose something, and pretty soon people are claiming the picture for themselves.

I do give a lot of work for free but i also think, however much i would love it if someone decided to write a movie based on my book, i would find it excrutiating to see how it was chopped and altered. (Although I recently heard a writer on tv describe the process of adapting your own novel for screen as trying to circumcise your own son. Eww!)