Fame and fortune

Posted on March 30, 2010 by Aun

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 bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Anita / Married ...with Dinner March 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    I absolutely do not think you were too harsh. You hit the nail on the head, and I hope many others wrote and told them the same.

    I wrote them a polite, reasoned reply (much the same as yours, I’d suspect — certainly with the same rationale) and they didn’t even bother to reply.

  2. billy@a table for two March 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I am also approached by this project and wrote them to them regarding contribution fee. And guess what, I received the same response in the email as yours, I guess our concerns is only worth a “copy-and-paste” response when all they really want is our content.

    It is almost the same scenario as Flickr where there will be lot of people more than happy to give away their images in return of a small mention. Sad but is true, there will always foodbloggers out there willing to give away free content for that 5 minutes of fame.

  3. Chris March 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    You are absolutely spot-on Aun with your reply! Nowadays a lot of publishers are out there to skim off the hard labor of us food bloggers to make a buck! This happened to me ones with a Pastry Magazine in Asia and in the end I not even received a message that my article was printed in the magazine or even was given a hardcopy! The text in the end was distorted and not at all in truth. I love your work, your blog and effort and sense of responsibility to communicate with us foodies in the world!

    Best Regards from Dubai, Chris aka SugarHead

  4. Anh March 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Great post!I can’t agree with you more!

  5. Iron Chef Shellie March 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I got this too. I left it in my inbox for a while.
    I’m so glad you posted this though.

  6. tangerine eats March 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    So not only did they want to exploit you for your content, they gave you the patronising ‘You need me more than I need you’? They deserved that response!

  7. Karen | Citrus and Candy March 30, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Did every blogger on the planet receive the same email?! Or are they just breeding worldwide?

    Awesome post and actually, it’s not harsh enough. :)

  8. Helen March 30, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    You did the appropriate thing and they were condescening again. They contacted me also and I too disagreed with their logic, rhetoric and manner of approaching the issue but I have not heard from them.

  9. Chubby Hubby March 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Guys, thanks for your comments. I’m even more amazed now that it’s been made clear that not only did these yo-yos send out a mass email invitation (which is okay) but they had a ready response for all of us who value our content and just “cut and pasted” it into email after email. Sigh.

  10. Timi Siytangco March 30, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    I know you’re all too classy for this, but these people should be outed on The Bad Pitch Blog.

  11. Prime March 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    it’s good that you posted this. what that company is planning to do is downright dishonest and exploitative. i hope other food bloggers will read this post

  12. Fred Lin March 30, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Considering how they felt about you and undermined your profession, I doubt they really did much research. They were/are simply playing on the old trick of hooking people into the hope of getting famous, happens everywhere in every industry basically. Works for kids but really anyone who’s had experience in the media world would know what’s going on instantly.

    Its great to see the Shrewd-Businessman side of you for a change! haha :D

    Now what would happen if you find out eventually your blog writings still appear in the book, fully credited to you but done without your approval.

  13. Stuart Carter March 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Something that really bugs me about their response to you – publishing something on the internet does *not* make it “public domain”. If they take online content and publish it without an agreement with the author, it is copyright *theft*, plain and simple!

  14. Duncan | Syrup and Tang March 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Excellent to see more public documentation of this arrogant and presumptuous attempt to exploit the (presumed) flattered naïvete of bloggers. I first read news of the publisher’s approach over at Nourish Me (http://nourish-me.typepad.com/nourish_me/2010/03/free-content-are-you-kidding.html) and was sad to hear on the grapevine that some bloggers actually think the publisher is making a reasonable offer. This deserves much more attention across the blogosphere. (Should I be jealous that I missed out on an approach? LOL)

  15. Sally Pasley Vargas March 31, 2010 at 4:34 am

    Power to the people! Isn’t that what blogging is all about? Yeah, publishing is a tough business, but it only exists if there is content, and that content is provided by….writers! who should be paid. And, uh, don’t most blogs have copywrited material? Last time I checked, that’s not the same as public domain.

  16. Nicoletta March 31, 2010 at 6:06 am

    You’re not being harsh at all, you’re stating something which is absolutely true. I tend to not even believe the so-called bona fide intents of this publisher. It’s easy money making with other people’s work and energy
    Ciao

  17. Cybele March 31, 2010 at 6:33 am

    This has been going around for years. It’s the same as the old “Poetry Contest” and “Who’s Who” only they’re actually taking something valuable. (And please, your stuff is in the “public domain” because it’s on the web? Publishing it on the web fixes the copyright!)

    I’m more surprised that they didn’t ask for PAYMENT from you.

  18. Kathleen March 31, 2010 at 6:38 am

    I tried to leave a comment earlier but must have mistyped authentication code. Love your blog! You were spot on with your response.

  19. Gastronomer March 31, 2010 at 6:39 am

    I agree with you 100%. Bloggers need to know their worth.

  20. Patti March 31, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Go Chubby Hubby. You are 1000% right.

  21. Rachelle March 31, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Well done!

    I support a variety of collaborative projects; I don’t think anything is wrong with referrals when it’s done correctly. The publisher’s actions show an extreme lack of respect for–or, at the least, ignorance of–this process.

    Maintaining proper boundaries is critical for the health of information sharing relationships. Thank you for pushing back.

  22. Joycelyn March 31, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Amen to that. The cheek. Thank you for taking the time to bother speaking up and setting them straight.

  23. z March 31, 2010 at 10:40 am

    wow! shameless! having photography as a hobby, this kind of freeloading and discreet “stealing” has been popular in photography. i can’t believe they’re doing it now to blog content.

    thanks for sharing this. i hope they don’t fool any blogger. my blog itself is obscure but i still wouldn’t write content for their book for free for no good cause. the complimentary copy is simply an added insult.

  24. blur ting March 31, 2010 at 10:47 am

    You did the right thing. No doubt about that!

  25. Ilva March 31, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I had that email too and I didn’t react like you do. I think we have to realize that most food bloggers are NOT professional writers or photographers and do not have the amount of visitors that you have and to them this book IS a way of getting some recognition and a way to get more known in this jungle that food blogs have become. After all, we are free to choose what to do what feels right to each of us. I would like to know how many professional bloggers have never ever given away some work for free in the beginning of their blog careers in order to get known and to get more work?
    I just want to leave another point of view here because I am beginning to find the whole thing a bit exaggerated, we are all free to accept or decline the offer as we feel is right.

  26. Meeta March 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I’d like to play devil’s advocate here – I think it is important to remember that the majority of food bloggers and photographers are not professional. While you and several others are professional publishers, writers, photographers etc., many are not. This could be seen as an opportunity of sorts for those who want more publicity and airing in the market and a step towards becoming more professional.

    When I started blogging four years ago it was not such a big business but it has become one. There is a lot of talent out there, which goes unnoticed and often the opportunities seem to knock on the few of the priviliged ones that have always had the market. So why should these other very talented people not use whatever means that is provided to them to show their material? This could be their chance of getting a certain amount of recognition and one never knows what other opportunites will come out of. Why should one kick the opportunity in the face?

    I also do not understand the talk about exploitation – why is this seen as exploitation? I mean why not see it as free marketing and free publicity for our work? I know how hard it is to market my blog and my work to get a few good jobs and I am seeing this as an opportunity to market myself in a different totally different sector – Australia, which has some of the best and creative Food magazines I know of.

    Last but not least – it might be vital for the professionals amongst us to think back a few years and ask themselves if they have never ever given their work away as “freebies” to get noticed or to get in on an opportunity. Did this devaluate your work? I think not.

  27. Christopher April 1, 2010 at 12:16 am

    I have no vested interest in the issue concerned i.e. publishing/writing/promoting blogs, but I read the communication between you and the publisher above with amusement. I would like to express that I think you are were indeed harsh in your reply, and somewhat arrogant.

    Remember that in this world, no one is indispensable, not even you, even though you have been published and sought after etc.

    Once you publish something on the internet, you become a global publisher, and whatever material you publish can be duplicated.

    Sure you can declare that you wrote the recipes, you lived the experiences, but this IS a public domain, and once anything is on the internet, no one can prove they own copyright anymore.

    Most people write blogs because of a passion they’re fueling, and if they can fuel this passion for free (as you are), anyone can (and will) attain them for free as well, something I believe was termed as ‘theft’.

  28. janice April 1, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I actually agree with Meeta. I’m not a food blogger–yet, but I would love to have the benefits of being a part of a printed publication. It’s free advertising basically and I don’t see any exploitation here especially when both benefit from the deal. Now if they took my tips and images with no permission, that would be another issue.

  29. SteveB April 1, 2010 at 1:11 am

    Speaking purely as a non-professional, hobbyist bread blogger, I applaud you for your stance. I think the attitude held by some print publishers that “you should be grateful we’re providing your blog with more exposure” is even more egregious when those publishers deal with non-professional bloggers. If my blog is, indeed, of value, then word of mouth (keyboard?) will ultimately generate its own publicity.

  30. Seduction Meals April 1, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Were you too harsh? Not at all. Your reply was filled with honesty, integrity and professionalism. (And clearly with an acute understanding of how the publishing business works). Kudos!

  31. Dianne Jacob April 1, 2010 at 2:28 am

    Good for you for standing up to them. I wish it happened more. But I’m sorry to say, for every one of you there are five more who blog for fun and will be honored to have a recipe published in this book. They will consider it a sign of credibility to be published in print. This publisher will just have to look a little deeper to find them.

  32. Stephanie April 1, 2010 at 5:58 am

    If I might also present an alternative view:
    * A percentage of the content of almost every edition of almost every glossy food magazine in the world is recipes provided by chefs for nothing. The magazine I work for runs a column every month in which we publish up to six recipes from a notable chef and ask that chef to spend half a day cooking the recipes at his/her home for friends/family. We don’t pay the chef anything. Not for the recipes, not for their time, not for the cost of the ingredients. It’s understood that each party benefits. We get content that our readers love; they get fabulous exposure. These are not amateur chefs; they are some of the city’s most high-profile chefs. We have public relations people begging us to include the chefs they represent. I think there is some parallel there worth considering in the context of this current debate.
    * I believe I know the publisher who is at the centre of this storm. And I know the intricacies of his business. It’s tough. His margins on this book are likely to be extraordinarily slim, if any. Books don’t make much money. It is very very hard to create books, especially illustrated ones that require photography and colour printing, that will even break even. He will not be making big bucks on this project. And he is an incredibly passionate food person.
    * This publisher’s intention would be to produce a book that was a comprehensive guide to great food blogs around the world. To the best of my knowledge, this hasn’t been done before in book form. Correct me if I’m wrong. It would be a great shame if the book was less than it could be because people refused to participate.
    * I understand people’s concerns about the value of their work being ignored but for many food bloggers, as Meeta points out, so many people don’t get to see the value of their work because it is hard to spread the word.
    * As someone who gets a salary for my writing and editing, I would have been more than happy to share a recipe and a photograph for this project if that was what was requested (I’m not sure what people were asked to provide.) No big deal.

  33. Chubby Hubby April 1, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Thanks again for all your comments. It’s especially good that some alternative viewpoints have been expressed. Very valuable to hear different perspectives on this issue.

    I guess there will always be a fine line between what is considered a gratis contribution to a project or editorial product versus a commercial, editorial assignment. At the end of the day, really comes down to who’s gaining from the work. I do agree that in some instances, using traditional media platforms to reach a larger audience is sufficent justification to take part — like a chef submitting a recipe in Stephanie’s magazine. It provides fantastic reach and positioning for the participating chef.

    But such a situation is a clear win-win scenario for publisher and contributor. And I think that’s fair.

    What I don’t like is when it becomes far too obvious that the scenario is not win-win for both parties but too clearly one-sided. And that’s kind of what I felt was going on here (and in other similar cases)

    Interesting, the publisher I and many of you received the letter from, left a rather upset comment (as you can imagine). Here’s the bulk of it: “You have in fact just done exactly what you are preaching against. Those words you have published are mine, that were written in confidence to you. And you have leveraged MY words for your own exposure and blog content.”

    Now, correct me if I am wrong, but it has been established that she’s cut and pasted the same reply to several of us. Knowing that, I’m not so sorry I breached her confidence (I did not mention her name, the name of the book project nor the publishing company she works for, did I?). But more interestingly, I don’t see airing a form letter sent to me the same as asking for free content. But maybe I’m being myopic and stupid.

  34. Lamont April 1, 2010 at 9:09 am

    “Never argue with a fool…onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” –Mark Twain

  35. dindin April 2, 2010 at 7:57 am

    i hope you’ve moved on from this little hiccup aun. i’m a fan. and at the end of the day, all you really need to sleep soundly at night is your conviction and nobody else’s.

  36. Lori April 6, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    MY god Aun, I didn’t even have to read the entire post to be thoroughly sickened by their presumptuousness. Thank goodness you just brushed them aside. I get letters like this quite often and frankly, I don’t even bother to write back.

  37. Sherine April 10, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    i’m not that smart a person but, publishing a book to teach people where to find the best blogs? that’s like making a solar-powered torchlight.

  38. Nabil M April 13, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I’ve come to the dance a little late, it seems.

    Just wondering though, and this related to the post, albeit slightly tangentially.

    From the sentiments of a majority of the comments, it seems that most people are appalled at the way in which the matter was handled by the would-be publisher, or the fact that something like this was published, with no remuneration.

    Let’s take the first aside, because that is/was a subjective exchange between the parties, and who knows what gets lost in translation over emails.

    When it comes to the second point though – and I open this up to any food writer/blogger here – are there no circumstances under which you would contribute your works on a gratis basis? If there are, what would be the justification(s) for acceding to the request. Could be on your part, or the that provided by the person requesting the work without remuneration.

    And how is this publisher’s endeavour different?

    And no, Sherine, it’s not the same as making a solar-powered torchlight -

    1) They’re in different mediums. There are heaps of printed publications out there that are guides on how to access a collection of what publishers respect as the best websites for a specific subject matter.

    2) Taking your own logic, there’s nothing wrong with a solar-powered torchlight – as long as the torch light is used at night.

    3) If you take a closer look at several street lights and parking signs around Singapore, that’s exactly how they work – they’re charged by solar power.

  39. Dave April 24, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Harsh no, sarcastic yes, but you did it will style. Excellent work.

  40. Ciki October 5, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    well said. totally 100% behind you. They way they turn things around and make it sound like they are doing you a favour.. Man, these people need to wake up and smell the roses! Bloggers are the new media woohoo ;)

    Signed,
    A big fan of the Chubby hubby website

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