Fame and fortune

To pick up a tangential thread from one of Matt’s recent (and most fantabulous) posts, last week, I received an email from a publisher congratulating me for having been shortlisted by them to contribute to a cookbook/guide to the best food blogs on the Web that they are producing. The email (rather amusingly) said that they spent 3 months researching the Web in order to best determine which blogs would be selected. (Please. I could get an intern to spend less than a week and produce a list of the world’s best food blogs–especially since all these great resources already exist). The letter essentially suggested that I should feel honoured to be included in this project and that while the publisher could not afford to pay any of its contributors, fame and fortune would be ours. Or in their words, “We believe the benefits you receive in terms of exposure and satisfaction will make involvement worthwhile.”

The publisher further outlined 3 reasons why a blogger like me should feel special about being part of this project.

“The ‘why’ for you is three-fold:
1. To be a part of the printed world. There aren’t many things better than seeing your words and photos in ink on a page, and on the shelf in bookstores.
2. To let the world know about your blog, and drive traffic to your site. The inclusions in <TITLE OF BOOK> will be deemed by us to be the best blogs on the internet. Make sure your blog is one of them.
3. You have nothing to lose. No risk, no cost, not even much effort. You have already created the content, and we want to maximise its exposure for you, without any risk to you.”

Well, I’ve been a published author (and still am thanks to a monthly column in the Asia edition of Reader’s Digest), so I have no urgency anymore to achieve reason #1. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of us bloggers have better traction with the foodie world than the publisher producing this book, i.e. our participation helps validate the book and not the other way around, so reason number #2 for me simply doesn’t ring true. And even if I have created content, it still has value. This is the same for any content creator in any industry. So I actually oppose reason number #3.

In response, I sent a short polite message to the publisher, thanking them for writing to me but that I really don’t contribute to book projects like this unless compensated. The response from the publisher is here:

“We are not offering payment, as outlined in the proposal. The reason behind this was that we are not asking for any new content – only content that is already published online in the public domain. Also, the motivation behind this project is to profile your blogs, not capitalise on your content. We want to publish a guidebook of food blogs, as a way of showing readers where to go to find the best recipes, writing and photos on the internet – not to replace the need for your blog by publishing content in a book. I hope this makes sense, and is sufficient explanation for our decision.

Also, I’m not sure what sort of compensation you would consider reasonable, but we had always intended to provide all participants with their own copy of the book for free, and then any subsequent copies at a significant discount (50%) so the opportunity then exists for you to on-sell the publication through your blog at the RRP, with the profit going directly to you.

The basic truth is that, as much as some may incorrectly assume (but I’m sure you understand), book publishing is a difficult industry, and this company is taking a risk on this publication because the subject matter is one we are passionate about. There is no guarantee that book sales will even cover our own labour costs, and if we were to pay for content the project would lose a significant amount of money and it would not be viable to proceed, which I think would be a shame for the food bloggers who are keen to be involved.

I hope this has answered your concerns, and I look forward to hearing from you further.”

Wow. I get my own copy for free! And I get to buy copies at only 50% off? Give me a break. That’s the same deal publishers give their distributors.

My response to the publisher is below:

“Thank you so much for your reply.

You are correct in assuming I understand the mechanics of the publishing industry. I’ve spent a decade working as an editor and publisher in the magazine world. I have also been a paid author for several books and have, through my own company, helped several chefs and restaurateurs publish their own books.

I have, when publishing books, always paid contributors, or given them a royalty split. Similarly, when working in magazines, I always ensured contributors were given proper monetary compensation for their work.

To take your argument that once content has been created it should be free, do you think that rationale would work with Reuters or with Getty Photos? Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if every stock photo agency in the world simply said, “Oh well, we’ve already taken the photos… guess they aren’t worth anything. Hey, we’re waiving any licensing fees or copyrights on these images. Whomever wants them, they’re free for use.” Or if every publishing company, magazine or book, said the same thing, that any article or content they have ever published can now be syndicated free of charge since, well, it’s already been produced, is out in the public domain, and now has no monetary value. Let’s see if Conde Nast would be cool with giving away articles for nothing.

So, to be a little blunt, I’m sorry. But I think what you guys are trying to do is wrong. Perhaps you have the best of intentions and I applaud you for looking to promote food bloggers. But the first thing you and a lot of other publishers need to do is stop assuming that food bloggers (or other bloggers for that matter) are not media professionals and therefore don’t care about the value of the content they create. Maybe this might have been the case six or seven years ago, when blogs first started emerging, but now the line is being blurred. Professional authors like Dorie Greenspan and Michael Ruhlman are now bloggers. Do you think they’ll take part in any publishing project for free?

Again, sorry to be rude. But this is a subject that has been kind of bugging me for a little while. And I apologize if I am taking it out on you.

Good luck with your project. I hope you find some bloggers who want to take part.”

Am I being too harsh? Am I overreacting? Would any of you guys and gals out there want to take part in this?

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!