There are two kinds of photo competitions. There are contests like The Pilsner Urquell International Photography Awards Competition, judged by experts and offering large cash prizes and heaps of recognition, even to amateurs. And there are ‘contests’ like the awards doled out liberally by members of Flickr. Although the prize is rarely more than a graphic image on a list of comments, it’s always nice to be admired by your peers rather than be scrutinized by a professional critic.
And then there’s JPG Magazine, which combines both online peer review and editorial judging to choose the best images for inclusion in its print magazine. Published photographers receive a fee of $100, a free copy of the magazine, and the kind of bragging rights that can only come from seeing your photo on a glossy magazine page.
Anyone can join JPG Magazine’s website and submit images online, but submissions must match one of the themes selected by the magazine’s editors who stress that they only want your best shots, not every photo that fits. Other members then vote on the images that they believe should be published. Votes are averaged out by the day, so early submissions only have the advantage of being known for a longer period of time rather than the opportunity of building a larger vote total.
Images that win the most votes though, don’t necessarily make the cut. In an interview with VentureBeat, JPG’s editor, Paul Cloutier, explained that one reason for not relying entirely on user opinion is that it can cause a site to become homogenous, like Digg and some other social networking tools. The website itself offers a more practical reason. It notes that the magazine receives far too many images for the editors to check, so the voting is simply an important way to sort the photos for editorial review, not a way of choosing images for publication. The magazine’s staff still make the final decision.
In fact, a spokesperson for the site told us,
[t]he website currently receives over 7 million visits per month and over a thousand new photos are uploaded every day. Our upcoming issue, issue 14, will feature the themes Fanatic, Emotion Capture, and Bird’s-eye View and received 10,993 submissions.
That amounts to around one submission for every ten of the site’s 110,000 members. These, we were told, consist of
the “in between” of amateur and professional. They may not be interested in the $1,000 lenses but carry their favorite camera wherever they go. They learn and explore the techniques they love, and leave the rest. There are photography students, wedding photographers that use JPG to share and develop their non-commercial work, photographers that build pin-hole cameras, and digital junkies as well.
With such a broad spread, it’s not surprising that a glance at the images submitted to one of the magazine’s themes and arranged by “newness” shows quality that ranges from the beautiful to the bland. It’s also possible though to browse submitted images by “hotness,” a collection of higher quality photos chosen according to a secret formula and which are likely to receive greater attention and more votes. (We asked how the magazine awards “hotness” but were only referred to the page that explains the voting process.) In addition to retaining the right to discount winning votes then, the editors also show that they also favor certain candidates during the competition.
On a regular photography site, this editorial power might irritate, but JPG Magazine isn’t a regular photography site. Although each edition is available for free download, the site is intended to be seen in print format:
We believe that no matter how beautiful photographs can look on a monitor, it’s just not possible to beat the experience of a print photo magazine.
Because it costs a great deal more money to create a print publication than a website, that does create a higher level of risk for the magazine’s publishers, 80/20 Media. (The numbers refer to 80 percent user contribution and 20 percent editorial control). With money at stake, it’s understandable then that the publishers will want to increase the chances that the magazine has images powerful enough to sell.
Paul Cloutier, however, has noted that the magazine only needs sales of 25,000 to break even and does recoup the cost of printing. He also pointed out that the site couldn’t exist without the print version.
Part of the reason for that might be the networking power that comes with an open voting system — even if it’s a system that’s not entirely democratic. Aside from shooting high quality photos that match the theme, the only strategy that a photographer can use to win votes is to spread the word among friends and ask for them to vote their photo up. By promoting their images, photographers also provide the magazine with free marketing.
Of course, that also means that if you win and get published, more people will know about it.
[tags] community photography marketing, jpg magazine [/tags]