Self-publishing opportunities abound, as we report in a feature story that’s now available at PDNonline.com, called “Are Visual Storytelling Platforms a Good Thing for Photographers?” We interviewed photographers about how they’ve benefitted (or not) from using a variety of platforms, including Exposure.com, Maptia, VSCO Journal, and Medium.
In an effort to promote their work, photographers are filling those sites with what amounts to free content–much of it high-quality content. So the question is, are photographers benefiting from the exposure provided by those platforms, as much as the platform owners are benefitting from the free content they’re vacuuming up?
As the story was going to press, we got a thoughtful response to the question from Keith Axline, the former editor of Wired magazine’s Raw File blog, and now editor of Vantage. An offshoot of Medium, Vantage is new online magazine established to highlight the best photo projects that photographers post on Medium.
Axline’s response came too late to be included in our story. But here’s the question as we posed it, and his response:
PDN: What’s in it for photographers? With a few exceptions, those I’m talking to are reporting that their stories pretty much get buried on these self-publishing platforms, and they don’t really attract clients and assignments. Which suggests they’re of marginal self-promotional value so far. So my question is, how would you try to convince skeptical photographers that these aren’t just more sites vacuuming up free content (photo stories) shot by hungry professionals, for the benefit of the site owners looking to generate ad revenue for themselves?
Keith Axline: It’s a really tough question. Some projects that Vantage profiles, I really love, but they don’t get much traction with readers. It was the same when I was at Raw File at Wired. But others find their audience on Medium when they wouldn’t have found it anywhere else. There’s no one-size-fits-all for every photo project or photographer. Any of these sites, including Medium, is just a tool for photographers and it’s up to them to make the most out of it.
I totally understand the perspective that photo blogs are exploiting photographers by running their stuff without payment. That’s one way to look at it. I see that. Though I disagree with it. At Vantage we only want to make that ask of photographers who are excited to be featured by us and for whom the attention is an asset that outweighs the granted one-time use. It’s not for everyone. Our posts are promotional in nature because we’re excited to talk about photographers’ work. So in that sense whatever the perceived cost of the granted use can be viewed as a marketing expense. We also encourage photographers to contribute to us directly so that there’s no middleman between them and potential fans. They get to see all the traffic to their story, where it came from, and reply directly to comments that readers make.
I also think that it’s not clear to photographers, or most people for that matter, how to turn traffic and viewers into a plus for their business. Hopefully in the future Vantage and Medium can get closer to facilitating that, and I’m happy to have a “best practices” discussion with contributors (I’ve been meaning to even write a few posts about it).
I think anyone who runs a photo publication is passionate about photography to some degree and they’re probably not exactly raking it in from ad revenue. Participating doesn’t make sense for everyone, but there is a large swath of people who would love to be featured. I’ve never heard of anyone regretting being profiled by us, but maybe they’re just being nice.