Are instagram likes worth more than cash? - why you Should think twice before giving your Photographs away to Backpacker Magazine.

A lone hiker on the prairie, Eastern Montana near Ekalaka. Shot on assignment for the Montana Wilderness Association.

A lone hiker on the prairie, Eastern Montana near Ekalaka. Shot on assignment for the Montana Wilderness Association.

I have been on the Backpacker photo list for a decade, maybe more (probably not after this post though). Backpacker Magazine always has amazing photocalls, probably some of the best in the business. The staff makes their photo calls very specific, they provide plenty of notice and even offer to help photographers develop their skills and plan photo shoots - impressive team for sure.

According to Wikipedia, Backpacker Magazine has been published since 1973 and is currently published by Active Interest Media based in Boulder, Colorado.

As far as I know, it was also the first to request GPS locations for all submitted photographs - seems to me that was about 2010 or so don’t quote me - I don’t know if they still are requiring location coordinates, because I stopped submitting to them once they instituted that policy.

The Email that did not shock the industry, but should have

On September 20th, 2018 a Backpacker Magazine email arrived in my inbox. I read it. It was announcing that Backpacker Magazine was going to accept free photos for its Instagram feed! (email pasted below). Yes, this was your opportunity to have your hard earned imagery used at no cost to you - except you already own the gear and went to whatever expense it took to get the photo in the first place, but I digress.

For a long time (by digital photography standards) the photography community has been worried, trembling may be the better word, that the value of their work is diminishing and will likely someday be worth only the applaus someone is willing to give it.

Well, for some, that day has come. If you’re in the adventure, outdoor, hiking photography business - which pretty much everyone below the age of 26 is these days, your time has arrived, your fears have come to fruition - even if you had not realized them yet!

Someday your photos might be worth more in “likes” than in cash. I got news for you, you can’t spend likes and more today then ever, digital marketing is more sophisticated and marketers and brands are on to likes, verse engagement. Even social media experts, the ones who have turned vudu for most of us, into a science, will tell you that likes are not worth much, and are going to continue to be worth less.

Just have a list to my friend Huntz Colburn and Brad Luttrell on the Restless Native Podcast talk about digital marketing. If you want to hear the latest on influencer marketing, listen to Joshua Claflin and Brad talk about the present and the future of influencer marketing here on the restless native podcast.

What has value is engagement, not likes, but real, authentic back and forth engagement. The kind of engagement that you might get if your work is shared and discussed on YOUR own page.

Let’s look at this in more detail. What would you give Backpacker Magazine? Your best work because of its huge audience? What happens when you give your best work away and it gets a few thousands likes and you get one new follower? What did you just earn for your best work? You mean your work is good enough for the backpacker instagram page but not for the cover of its print publication?

Okay, so here’s another option. How about your “B” roll? Most of you don’t create “B” role, at least I hope you don’t call it that, because you’re the “A” shooter, right? So, if you’re the “A” shooter, why would you consider giving away “B” work for free and to be placed on the Backpacker instagram page? See what I mean? Just the fact that you agree to place your “B” work someplace makes you the “B” shooter. The the best marketing strategy I’ve heard in a long time - sarcasm.

You’ve decided to give away your “B” roll, or maybe said a better way, trade it for likes, why do you think Backpacker would choose to use it? Why take the time? Is it to get noticed and maybe sell them a file for their print magazine? If that’s it, you’ve already received their email notice and get their submission requests so they know your work. Why is your work not going in the print publication and why are you not making money selling it to them? Do you think now that you’ve given it to them for free they are now going to start buying your work? Why would they buy the cow when they get the milk for free?

There might be more reason to consider sharing your content with them if they had engagement or if you stood a chance and getting something real, tangible, something that will help you build your brand.

Likes are not real, engagement and building your relationships are.

Maybe more importantly though is back to the idea of engagement. I know some guys on instagram (I said guys becuase I mostly follow guys so that’s what I’m familiar with) that have 3,000 followers and literally get 100’s of comments. Their engagement is huge by comparison.

Take a look at @backpackermag. I just checked this morning. 521,000 followers. The second post on the feed is beautiful, about 4,000 likes, but ONLY 12 comments and two of them are by their social media person. What’s going on? Is that the audience you want?

Think about it. Of the over HALF A MILLION people following backpacker ONLY a dozen comment? Again, I ask you, are the backpacker followers the ones you want THEY DONT EVEN ENGAGE the brand why would they all of sudden follow you after you give your best work away to Backpacker?

Maybe you choose to give over your finest work, your hope is that you’ll become “Instafamous” to the point that you’ll be, “making-it” by selling space on your feed, after all those free backpacker posts drove so much traffic to your page that now you don’t need Backpacker any more - of course I’m being sarcastic. You’d be better off playing the lottery!

Build your own career in your own space, for your own future. I’m not saying don’t share your work, or give some of it away to charity if it fits your brand or social desires. But, for heaven’s sake, if you’re going to work for free, or worse, lose money, give your talent, time, money and your work away to meaningful causes that you’d be involved with no matter what your persuasion, passion, or profession.

Backpacker is a for profit empire, the people looking at your photos are being paid and so are the writers!

Don’t fall for the “we’ll make you famous” pitch!

Let me know what you think, and if you’ve “made-it” by giving away your photographs, tell us what “made-it” means to you and how you did it, we’d all love to hear the story!

Backpacker Magazine Email to it’s contributors

Hey there Contributor Community! 

We are now accepting submissions to be featured on our Instagram. BACKPACKER has over 500,000 followers making this a great opportuntiy to promote your work to our targeted audience who is already hungry for inspirational, outdoor adventure content. Please check out this google form for more information.


Photo Editor + Staff Photographer

BACKPACKER | @backpackerma
— Backpacker email September 20, 2018

This is an unpaid post opportunity, but if you feel like your audience/following/engagement are of value to Backpacker & would like to collaborate, please feel free to send me an email!

We look for all the same elements in a Instagram post as we do for print:

-legit day hikes or multi-day trips.
-no cars (sorry #vanlifers) or roads
-we gravitate away from images that feel commercial in any way
-we mostly share US locations
-legal campsites, legal spots to stand, and legal spots to shoot from only.
-We will not show an image that is in conflict with LNT guidelines (i.e. tents must be 200 feet from a water source).
-we try and show timely, seasonal content
-Backpacker's Instagram is a curated feed, and submitting is not a guarantee for sharing
-We appreciate when you share our post with your audience as well, either through a repost app or stories