Paid-for photo competitions

The blog you’re currently reading is relatively high profile. I have written about photography competitions in the past (including the inspiredly-named ‘How to win photography competitions‘, which, if you haven’t read it, is worth a peek, if I may say so myself, and I may, because, well, this is my website, and I happen to quite like promoting my own articles in ridiculously long run-on sentences in parantheses when I really ought to be writing about completely different things, like the actual topic of this article, and I hope that you might in time forgive me for wasting your time with this aside). Anyway, as a result, I frequently get approached to help people judge their photography competitions.

Recently, however, I’ve received a series of e-mails (about ten in the past few months!) asking if I would pretty please judge their paid-for-contests. The idea is that aspiring photographers pay an entry fee (anything from $10 per photo via a $500 site membership to a $100 per photo fee structure). They then get entered into a photography contest, and the best photo wins.

Personally, I think paid-for photography competitions are absolute shite. Why? Well, for one thing, there are plenty of free photography competitions out there – witness the site ran by my good friend Will (of Earthshots fame), and there’s no way that you should be paying silly money to enter a competition.

Goldmines for the organisers

Okay, so this photo has nothing to do with this article, but how do you illustrate something like this anyway? Click on it for my recent gallery of photos from Vietnam.

Look at the maths – at some of these competitions, they charge $100 per photo entered (!) and offer prize values of about $10,000. I imagine the ‘values’ are retail values, which means that they can pick them up for cheaper, either as gray imports, or via discount retailers, for about $8,000 or so. That means to break even, they have to get only 80 entries into the competition. Of course, to get enough people entering, they need to get a lot of photographers to enter. And how do they do that? By approaching high-profile bloggers to be competition judges, in the hope that the judges will blog, tweet, and promote their competitions for free.

Where it gets really sinister, however, is that several of the people who have contacted me recently, have also offered me a commission for each person entering the competition – so in effect, they’re not even trying to be sneaky about it: They just want to make a crapton of money, and are willing to give the judges money (!) based on how many people they manage to get involved in the competitions. Most recently, they said they would “like to offer you $10-$20 per every person signing up through your link. $10 for the first 5 participants, and if you bring more than 5, we will pay you $20 per each participant including the first 5″

Only 50% spent on prizes

Next, they made the mistake of apologising for the low kick-back – and revealing how much money they are making off these competitions: “I know [$10-20] doesn’t sound much with the entry fee being a $100, though please bare [sic] in mind that 50% out of it will go to prizes.”.

So the business model is like this: Profit = Entrants * $100 * 40%. So 100 entries into the competition is a $4000 clean profit, $1000 paid back as commissions, and $5000 spent on prizes. With numbers like these, no wonder these paid-for competition sites are popping up all over the place.

Finally, many of these competitions will make you pay money to enter and try to grab your copyright off you at the same time (more about this in my Be Careful what you Sign article), making it doubly sinister.

So there we have it. The honourable, exciting activity of photography competitions reduced to a simple, affiliate-driven business model. Is it just me, or is that bloody appalling?