Sunny afternoon at Pere Lachaise, Paris, originally uploaded by WritingTravel.com. Currently "short listed" for the 7th edition of the Schmap Paris Guide. Â© 2008 Lanora S. Mueller. All rights reserved.
I was surprised and a bit flattered to receive an email through my Flickr account the other day from Emma Williams, the managing editor of Schmap. The message began thusly:
I am writing to let you know that one of your photos has been short-listed for inclusion in the seventh edition of our Schmap Paris Guide, to be published late April 2009.
I'd never heard of Schmap, so some research was in order. A quick Google search uncovered reports from numerous other Flickr photographers who had received similar notices, some of whom reacted with the same questions I was beginning to form.
Before I could develop any opinion about this opportunity, however, I had to learn more about the company. From a quick view of the About page on Schmap.com, I learned that Schmap is a publisher of more than 200 "phenomenally successful" digital travel guides that have been downloaded more than 90 million times since going beta in March 2006.
The guides are "free to users," a point which Ms. Williams underscored in her email:
While we offer no payment for publication, many photographers are pleased to submit their photos, as Schmap Guides give their work recognition and wide exposure, and are free of charge to readers. Photos are published at a maximum width of 150 pixels, are clearly attributed, and link to high-resolution originals at Flickr.
Such a well-mannered request, it seems, has met with mostly positive response from other photographers, especially from those who have chosen to allow use of their images with attribution via Creative Commons licensing. Some of these photographers, even some whose Creative Commons terms specify noncommercial usage, went on to comment that Ms. Williams's request was superfluous, as Schmap could have just gone ahead and used their photos without making a formal request.
And not only are many photographers happily giving free use of their images to Schmap and publicizing Schmap's guides via blog posts about the thrill of being published, quite a few are providing free ongoing marketing through use of Schmap's widgets on the photographers' websites.
Wait a minute, I thought, after reading yet another post by a flattered photographer. Just because the guides are free to users doesn't mean Schmap has no revenue model. It's a commercial venture. They must be making money somehow.
I read the fine print again.