Dear Esteemed Colleague: THIS IS A STICKUP!


I’d love to say that email like the one below is a rare occurrence in my life lately, but then I’d be a liar.

If you wonder why freelance content producers (i.e. photographers, writers, screenwriters, musicians, etc. ) can be seen hanging out near Dunkin’ Donuts dumpsters these days (hey, don’t knock it, those “day-olds” can be tasty), consider the following exchange!

From: “Chris@T*****************.com

Date: September 30, 2010 8:04:18 AM EDT


Subject: Photo Traveler Contribution Opportunity


Hello there,

We are writing a comprehensive guide on Single Parent Travel and as an influential figure in travel we would like to ask if you would contribute to the guide with 100-200 words. We will publish your advice on the website along with a link back to your site. The guide will also be published as an ebook and if demand is great enough the book will be published in hard copy too, so your tips would appear in the final hard copy published version.

If you have any tips you would like to share, then we would love to hear from you. The guide aims to share with single parents where to visit with their children, what they can do, as well as offering tips and advice in the process. Whether you are a single parent, or have any tips for those travelling alone with children ˆ we welcome any offerings.

T************* is a leading travel site throughout America, with millions of people hitting our site every year.

Look forward to receiving your contribution.

Kind Regards, Chris

Now, the impersonal greeting, and the awful grammar notwithstanding (i.e. “as an influential figure in travel, we would like to ask you….” Really? Who’s influential: you, or me?  It’s a bit hard to tell from that sentence construct), it’s a fishing mission for free content… another “industry leader” crowdsourcing content and then trying to make you feel honored to give it up, while they rake in ad revenue thanks to their “millions of hits.” 

I particularly love the part where they dangle the published book version (which they’ll also sell) as an added incentive to provide free content!  Talk about cojones!  You gotta love it….

Here’s my reply:

From: Bob Krist <>

Date: September 30, 2010 8:13:15 AM EDT

To: chris@T**************.com

Subject: Re: Photo Traveler Contribution Opportunity

Hi Chris: Thanks for your email and the contribution opportunity.

As an influential figure in travel and a professional writer and photographer, I am unable to provide content to you for links and credits (until my bank and supermarket accept same for mortgage and food payments!).

I will make an exception if the T************ staff is also working on this project for only links and credits, but somehow, I think you might be getting paid in US currency to crowdsource free content.

all the best, Bob Krist

Crowdsourcing is all the rage now and the travel journalism business has been decimated by it. Consider the following report from another colleague who recently attended a travel journalism symposium at UCLA.

The first speaker was the former head of a big syndicated news service who now runs a company syndicating travel stories to mags and newspapers. Cost for a subscription for a news outlet to use three stories per week (each with 3 photos supplied by the writer) is….wait for it…$9.00. She admitted that writers don’t get paid and supply the text and photos for free. They do it for credits and the free travel! 

More shocking was the third panel member who was an internet star with his own travel blog, Twitter following, Facebook presence etc. The students really loved him but at the end someone in the audience asked him how he got paid. “Paid?” he replied. “I don’t get paid.” He was shocked someone even asked.

For a long and comprehensive look from an internet luminary at what the future may hold for individual content producers as this trend continues, read artificial-intelligence pioneer Jaron Lanier’s book “You Are Not a Gadget.” 

Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty.

So, the next time you’re thinking of wanting to go pro in the travel photo and writing biz, think twice…..and,um, are you going to be finishing that donut?


This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Dear Bob
    Food for thought – that is if you can afford it working for fresh air. There was always exploitation of the freelance and now it is merciless. It is not just travel writing – a few months ago I was approached to write a major feature on ‘macro’ (their heading) for an up-market UK digital photography magazine (if that is not a contradiction in terms). I was to be paid moderately (by UK standards) for text so I agreed… they have long regarded images as a freebie.

    Slowly, it also transpired that they wanted me to source images from other pros to use (no payment) with mini interviews in this 4000 + word feature. Luckily, I have friends and we can work the old ‘quid pro quo’ moonlighting on each other’s records as it were…

    I will not be asked to work for them again because I wrote and said what I thought about this attitude of working for the ‘exposure’ in their magazine when they were all salaried. Perhaps in publishing it should be a law that anyone who works for a salary must have hunted around the bins first as a freelance. Maybe, just maybe they would not feel that their time was worth ‘lawyer’s’ payments whilst we plebeians do it for love or for that great opportunity of ‘publicity’ in their latest venture.

    Paul HD

    1. Hi Paul: I like that idea of making it a law that if you’re getting paid to work on a project, you can’t ask other people to do it for free.

      Unfortunately, it’ll never happen, but we can dream! Bob

  2. Bob,

    It ain’t just in travel photography. It’s happening every day in newspapers and local television. We routinely ask (like every single day) readers to send in their photos and the last line of the request goes something like “All submissions become property of The Name Omitted” (I left out the name of the paper to protect me). And guess what? We’re flooded with submissions from people giving their way their photos.

    It rained in Phoenix this week, which is big news in the Land Where It Never Rains. One of the local TV stations did SEVEN FREAKIN’ MINUTES of viewer submitted video of the rain. Rain hitting sidewalks. Rain hitting streets. Rain hitting plants. Rain hitting swimming pools. Rain hitting windows. It was horrible. But it was seven minutes of free content (or 1/3 of that night’s newscast) that they didn’t have to pay someone to shoot.

    I hold out hope that it’s going to turn around. At some point some newspaper is going to get burned by a reader submitting a picture so faked (I mean a good, hard to detect fake) that it causes an uproar in the journalism community. At that point some publishers might say “Whoa, we need to take a hard look at this.” I just hope I am not the one working the photo desk that night.

    Then again, I might be smoking wacky weed and we’ll find publishers don’t care about credibility and just blame the foul up on the photo editor.


    1. Jack: Credibility? We don’ need no stinkin’ credibility!

      I am looking for partners for my Dunkin Donuts franchise though!

      cheers, Bob

      1. Bad idea. Putting me in a donut shop would be like putting the fearsome chupacabra in a goat barn. But I appreciate the offer.


  3. That was a fantastic response Bob.

  4. hi Bob,

    I was recently discussing this with some friends as well.. These days the basis for the idea that everything should be free seems to stem fro the factthat distribution via the internet is free, and therefore all content should be too. This obviously ignores the distinction between what it costs to create that content and the cost of distribution. The distribution isn’t really free either ,people just like to pretend it is because those costs are very broadly distributed so as to be pretty much free to the people looking at the screen.
    I think there are some awfully big, powerful, and wealthy companies putting up the money that pays for advocating and political lobbying for the relaxation of copyright (also something the freenies want) using disguise that copyright stifles innovation.

    It was a real pleasure last week in Albuquerque to actually meet you after all of these years. I enjoyed our conversations.

  5. Hi Ellis: I enjoyed it as well. I’m currently trying to cobble together my video clips….give me stills any day! Bob

  6. Wow, I can’t agree with you more on this matter. I’ve had this happen countless times, someone dangling the promise of links and credits as a prize in return for my free contribution , either in writing or pictures, to this or that blog, magazine, book and even once a TV documentary. This was several years back when I was pretty clueless about these things. I spent 9 hours of my day with the crew, handed over dozens of pictures for them to use, and never got any compensation. They claimed it never aired, and they never made any money for it. Then a couple years later I saw it online, with BMW and Canon ads at the start and ending, which leads me to believe the makers of this documentary did indeed make money off of it, just didn’t bother to mention it to me. Some things you just learn the hard way.

    Anyway, I’ve often wondered how other self-respecting artists, photographers, writers, whatever, feel about this.
    I particularly love this line :
    “I am unable to provide content to you for links and credits(until my bank and supermarket accept same for mortgage and food payments!)”

    Thanks for this very refreshing post!

    1. Hi Rebekka: Yes, there are a lot of unscrupulous crowdsourcers out there.

      How are things in Iceland….it’s one of my favorite places. I did a cover story for National Geographic about Iceland way back in the mid 80’s and get up there whenever I can.

      all the best, Bob

  7. Dear Bob,

    Very nice article. I really enjoyed reading it.
    However, i have a question:
    Lets say National Geographic asked for a picture from not-well known but talented photographer. AS a very well establish National Geographic photographer , you know how desperate people want their pictures to be in NG(I have that dream too). Any advice how to handle such situations?
    (Bob, please don’t misunderstand, I am referring to very high end journals)

    Best Regards,


    1. Venura: Very high end journals like NG would not ask for the picture for credits and links, unless it’s one of their blogs or online enterprises, which I believe don’t pay much, or at all, for content, but I don’t know.

      For the printed pieces, you’d always be offered a payment.

      1. Thanks Bob!

  8. Bob,
    I have to admit to have helped undermine you and other professional photographers when I first started shooting (apparently, some people will take anything, even my shots), and I’m sure I’m not the only one. However, tempting as it may be to give away a shot, I have finally learned to say “thank you, but no thank you” to the “we have no money for photos” crowd. I realize how hard survival is in the photo business, and we amateurs have no right to deprive you of your livelihood for a mere pat on the back, which is basically all we get. Great article, Bob. I hope the message gets out eventually.
    Best regards,
    Marianne Bush

  9. “Free travel” doesn’t sound like “without payment” to me. Unless you can get free flights from airlines in return for credits and links.

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