Solicitation for Payment to Promote Artists – Use Caution

Over the last few years I have been receiving sporadic emails inviting me to have my work published and / or displayed in some form of publication on a cost to the artist basis. These emails almost always begin with ‘You have been specifically chosen from amongst thousands of artists‘. These solicitation emails have historically utilised printed media such as magazines and quote ‘ Art Books’ as their publishing platform. The long and short of this approach should you be unfortunate to receive one of these email invitations is that the artist or photographer is approached (usually via email) with an offer to have their work published in a quote ‘respected’ book or magazine. The offer often goes into quite some detail about the ‘extensive’ circulation of the publication, the importance of being included and the exposure that comes from having ones work displayed in the publication. The artist / photographer is presented with a number of different offers that range from a single page of publication to multi-page spreads at a cost of usually $600-$900+ USD per page. There is usually significant embellishment by the seller on the number of galleries the publication is distributed to as well as the extensive number of art purchasers who subscribe to the publication. The entire package is then dressed up for sale and proffered as an exclusive opportunity to the artist / photographer. Most of these books that I have researched are in excess of 300 pages which gives an idea of just how many artists you would be competing with should you pay to have your work included. Some simple math indicates that even at the lower end of $600 per page these publishers are raking in around $180,000 USD in revenue (and many of them are upwards of $900 per page and well in excess of 300 pages). With book publishing being as cheap as it is today in China  you can bet that less than a quarter of that is being spent on the actual publication. It doesn’t require much thought as to where the rest of it ends up. I did some checking with galleries here in Australia as well as those in New York and other prime locations. Most had never heard of the short list of ‘Art books’ I had been approached by and those that had did not have kind things to say about them; suggesting quite bluntly they were a complete waste of money and that any artist who was seeking representation should contact them directly for folio appraisal.

I am going to refrain from naming some of these publications even though I have both direct and indirect experience with quite a few of them. You should be able to quickly recognise these publications for what they are in how they market and present themselves. These publications prey on the often fragile ego of the artist photographer hoping to be recognised and to stand out from the crowd. The sales pitch is designed to entice the artist to part with their money in exchange for having their work published and distributed to an often unknown network that is difficult to verify. There is almost never any offer of follow up after publication to verify the distribution or of offers to work with the artist who is usually seeking gallery representation. I know of one recent example whereby a good friend paid to have his work printed in what was supposedly a well respected magazine. Despite making his substantial payment in full no magazine has been published to date and all requests for a refund have gone unanswered. In this magazine’s defence I believe they did release a digital PDF version after complaints from many of the contributors (all of whom payed to be published). Who this was distributed to remains unknown and wether an actual magazine will ever be printed remains unlikely. Either way, my friend is unlikely to get value for his money and even less likely to get his money back.

My advice if you are considering paying to have your work published is that you look very closely at the distribution of the media you are considering being a part of. The very first thing you should do on receiving any email that offers you publication in exchange for money is to Google the publication and find what experience other artists have had in dealing with them. I guarantee you will find someone out there who has been approached and written about their experience to help others. Put zero credence in their own website testimonials unless they include a full name and email link to contact the artist to verify the quote. Testimonials without  a full name and email address for verification are worth less than the virtual paper they are printed on.

More recently I have started to receive solicitation emails that are utilising the Apple APP store as the publishing platform. The email offer entices the artist / photographer to have their very own app developed comprising of their work. The company making the offer will design and build the app on behalf of the photographer and take a heavy percentage of any sales on top of a substantial up front development fee. On the face of it this may seem a fair deal. However, you should be sure to read the fine print about who owns the copyright to displayed work and what you are really signing up for. If you are approached with such an offer I suggest exercising caution. Be sure to do your due diligence. Try and speak with photographers or artists who have  paid to to use the medium and find out what they really got out of it. There are many application development kits now on the market that require even less work than setting up a website and I recommend you look into these before you hand over potential profit from sales of your work to a third party. The last such offer I received turned out to be using nothing more than an Adobe application for single issue publication called Adobe DPS Single Edition. This easy to use tool can be used by anyone to create their own application without development costs above those from Adobe for the software and Apple for access to iTunes. You don’t even need to know how to write code.

There are of course many legitimate reasons to pay for publication of your work. Just be very clear in your mind what you are hoping to achieve by having your work published if you intend to pay for the privileage. If it is purely ego driven then perhaps paying to satisfy this need is justifiable. But, if you are paying to publish your work in the hopes of recognition or with a plan to increase your exposure and publicity then I would think very hard about it before you make a financial investment. You are likely to get far more benefit from publishing your own book (or e-book!), or contacting a gallery or agent directly than you will ever get from being included in a artists book that showcases the work of many artists. There are a myriad of options out there for artists who want to promote their work and increase their exposure. Many of them require no where near the upfront investment some publications are asking. There are many roads to recognition for the promotion of artists – consider your options carefully and ask yourself what you are really trying to achieve before you part with your hard earned money to promote your work.

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