Hey, Toronto Star, can I have *your* photos for free? Oh? Why not?
The Toronto Star is publishing a book!
Last month's ice storm ravaged Toronto, decimating trees and property and leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the dark during the Christmas season.
Now the Toronto Star is capturing the storm in book form, pulling together more than 100 photos and stories to illustrate the devastation that hit the city and the resilience residents showed in the storm's wake.
Sure, why not. The Star has many talented writers and photographers, and why shouldn't their work be preserved in a quick-turnaround natural disaster cash-in.
Oh, what's this? "But we're also looking for readers to contribute their own photos to help tell the full story."
Your photos! Alongside those of the Star's team of photographers! Published in a hardcover volume that'll sell for "about $30" a pop at "major retailers"! Now everyone will see your work has value!
"Readers whose photos are selected will receive credit and a free copy of the book."
Thankfully, Torstar Syndication Services (the division of Star Media Group putting out the book) provides a handy online tool to help you determine just how much they'd be screwing you. Say you want to license a Randy Risling photo of the ice storm, similar to the one at the top of their give-us-your-pics-for-free article. Just tell 'em you want it for a full page of a domestically-available retail book with a run between five and ten thousand copies, and boom - that'll be $155.40, please.
Of course, Risling's a Star employee and, as such, is compensated for the time and effort involved in taking his photos. What if you were a freelancer looking to sell the Star a picture to run in their pages? "We do buy images from freelancers," wrote reporter Kevin Donovan, when asked in a May live-chat why the Star didn't purchase the crack video, "but that is usually in the neighbourhood of $300 to $500." (This may or may not be the standard rate, but it's probably not off by an order of magnitude.)
The Toronto Star is not blogTO. Crowd-sourced aggregation with no money changing hands is not a respectable, ethical, or valid way to put together a book.
The Star is also not a charity case (regardless of whether "a portion" of the book's profits will be donated to the Fresh Air Fund). Times may be tough in the news business but not so tough that Toronto Star publisher and Star Media Group president John Cruickshank couldn't pull in $909,920 (including bonuses) in 2012 [pdf, p. 28].
Last week, at a Canadian Journalism Foundation panel on the future of digital revenues, Cruickshank was asked what advice he would offer to someone getting into the industry these days. As with "anybody starting up in any new job," he said, both frankly and with tongue in cheek, "it's always better to have been born wealthy."
There were uncomfortable chuckles all around.