Self-promotion is tough. Any of us who have tried to market our photography know this. It’s so difficult to cut through the noise and gain even a little bit of recognition among all the others who are trying to do the same.
With that, sometimes, it’s tempting to resort to certain tactics simply because it makes the self-promotion process easier. And there’s one tactic that I’d like to talk about. It’s something that is very prominent in the world of self-published books, and I think that if we look around, we’ll see it in photography, too. Let me illustrate through the book publishing example.
In self-publishing, there are all kinds of ways that authors can pay to get reviews once they’ve published a book. They can buy reviews outright, or they can offer free copies of their novels in exchange for the reviews. They can pay to have a reviewer write a lengthier book review and post it on a prominent review site.
This is problematic, I think. Because of these kinds of tactics, for many authors, actually producing a good novel becomes secondary to promoting it. They might cut corners or skip fixing plot holes, skimp on the editing. When they publish that book and publicize it, they’re not relying on its quality in order to sell it. They’re not banking on the idea that people who truly enjoyed it will share it with friends through word of mouth. Instead, they’re relying on the reviews they paid for—not the writing.
Though it’s harder to spot in photography, the same thing can happen here, too. It is possible for a photographer to find review sites that will promote the photographer’s work for a small fee or for some other benefit the photographer can offer. It’s something that has been negotiated, something that has been bought and paid for.
The result? The hype that comes from these paid promotions isn’t organic. And when publicity is inorganic, it rarely lasts. The photographer in question may experience a brief flash of attention before people lose interest again.
And the reason for that is simple: The photographs were never designed to last. Much as we see in the example of self-publishing, the quality of the work becomes secondary to promotion. When reviews cost next to nothing—or when they can be obtained in exchange for things like a free e-book or free prints—then there is less incentive for the author or artist to create something so powerful that word of mouth is enough to promote it.
And that’s a problem. The art should always come first and foremost. If you aren’t gaining popularity through organic means? That’s a valuable learning experience because it signals that it might be time for you to reevaluate. If your work isn’t gaining traction, why? The answer probably isn’t because you’ve not purchased enough reviews, I don’t think. More than likely, it’s because people aren’t finding ways to engage in the work—and that’s an issue we can always fix so long as we put the art first and work on improving the ways in which we communicate through it.