In the age of the internet social media is king. We all seek out various platforms to express ourselves, boost our ego and connect with fellow egoists. This is also true in the art world.
Our constant need for praise from our peers in our respective fields(mine being photography) is always there, and we search for various ways to validate ourselves even further by way of contests.
There are a multitude of art/photography contest websites circulating the internet. Two big ones as of late are 'viewbug.com' and 'gurushots.com'. They purport that they offer something 'new' and 'different' from the other contest websites out there. They don't.
There's the awe and excitement when you first sign up, and your first submission is uploaded. The thrill of notifications you get from people 'liking' or 'favoriting' your work ...much like shooting up heroin;it's a rush and drug for our self-centered minds. Viewbug and Gurushots are the type of drug photographers crave.
Recently there's been buzz about a few contest websites hosting FAKE 'famous' judges among their panel...ones who never agreed to it. So I felt the need to go over my experiences with two very well known contest websites.
Is it worth it to join? You decide. This is going to be a loooooong winded rant.
Membership is entirely free to join,however, you're left with limited usage on both websites unless you upgrade or buy packs for their service. This creates a cycle that is hard to get out of when you start it. You're given access to stats, and various reward systems on both websites that 'up' your chances of gaining views, likes, favorites etc... that make you think that you have a far better chance of winning one of their many contests. If you don't buy into their service, you feel like you're being left out.
With Viewbug there are a few tiers of contests held, and each level has it's own prizes and themes. When you look over the prizes based on level, the top tier (pro level) offers the best prizes. Granted, this is expected given the prize and 'reward' of paying for a monthly(or annually) service. However, what a lot of members fail to realize is that these prizes are hardly ever new, if at all. They list on the contest page the prize options are 'gently used' and are 'loved with care' while spinning the idea that this is Eco-friendly.
While this might be an awesome option for a lot of newer photographers, it is always not the case for others. With used equipment you risk (much like buying used on gear websites) malfunctions, lack of warranty, high shutter count or a whole set of different problems that might arise from used gear. You have the option to inspect, and return gear that is used when you buy it...winning it not so much. So if you get a lens caked in dust, or a camera body that's shutter is on it's last leg, well, sucks for you!
Gurushots, for the most part, does a better job with their prizes by offering cash prizes, software or other new gear.With that said, it is not a badge to be worn proudly.I'll go over that in a bit.
Continuing with Viewbug...
If you were to purchase a membership (just $6.99 a month for premium and $13.99 for pro), you'd unlock those top two tiers of contests that *might* land you a bigger valued prize. Seems like a small price to pay for the chance to win a Canon 5D Mark III right? Wrong. Well, only wrong if you decide after a month to cancel your membership.Not only that, their ads are insane, and their constant 'UPGRADE NOW!' pop-ups. Anyway...
With membership comes the ability to see stats, and join top tier contests. If you decide that the membership is not what you expect, or not worth it, well... say goodbye to your top tier entry! This may stop some members from exploiting the top tiers by joining to gain entry, and then cancel. But what most members do not realize is that contests, more specifically top tier ones, last 6+ MONTHS for those that want to enter. I've entered an assortment of contests, and not a one...even Nat-Geo... has a contest run that long.
These long time frames for entries, to voting, ensure that paid members stay on board, paying their monthly fees to keep their entry in the contest. Sure, $14/7 a month is not much to some, but to others it can add up and is not an expense they can take. One of their most recent contests started at 20 weeks left for entries which would cost a member $35 or $70 just to potentially stay entered in the contest. Remember, entry is not a guarantee of winning. So if you cancel your membership, no matter how long you've been one, you lose that entry. Not so worth it is it? I don't think so.
Aside from the major issues with their memberships, entries within these contests are heavily mismanaged. You're able to view new entries, and 'popular' entries in each and every contest. Entries in contests seem to be run based on prior likes/views outside of said contests. Top entries, even ones that have no business in specific themed contests, manage to make top ranks.Does this have an impact of winners picked? Who knows. Just from looking over a few contests, and seeing animals in a 'lingerie' photo contest...and popular spot no less, makes you question how things are run and votes are tallied.
When contests end, you're sent a notice to see how you ranked. Usually is says a percentage above others(ranked above 50% of photos), or what percent you were ranked(or top 10% of photos). It also lists total entries received which seem to change if you refresh the page. Are they fluffing the numbers? Probably.
Viewbug also offers 'rewards' for being a member. This comes in the form of 'points'. Points are based on likes, views, followers etc.. that will add up and increase your 'reward'. These rewards range from more entries in a contest, to you becoming a moderator that can do something about photos(work for free, or feel entitled doing it!). Points do not matter once you hit 500k, and frankly do not matter in general. It's fluff for the masses to feel special, to feel like their money is going to something worth it. It's not worth it.
I won't get into their customer service, or the massive amount of former members. Just know there is A LOT of us out there.
Now Gurushots is similar, but a very different beast. Gurushots offers quicker contests with smaller cash related prizes. Seems awesome! What's the catch? Well, the catch is in order to gain views/vote you need to vote on other photos within the contest you've entered. This fills up a meter that says you'll have higher exposure, which gets you more votes, which raises your rank in the contest. Pretty easy right? Yep! HOWEVER, your meter depletes minute by minute until you yet again have to fill it back up. If you do not have the time, well then, you can just buy auto boosts for a fee!
Don't like your entry? You can swap it out for a fee. Maybe you want to unlock a bigger boost for exposure... what do you have to do? You guessed it! Pay a fee for boosts.
Now these auto fills are not cheap when you think about it. They are $2 for ONE boost, or you could buy 50 for $57. What a deal! Keys to unlock their booster are $3 per key, and swaps are $1. Or you could spend a few hours every day clicking on someone elses photo..which might get boosted over yours(neat trick huh?) to get to the 'All Star' level. These add up day after day if you do decide to buy them.
With levels comes rewards that give you a key or swap or two. They also give you points that unlock your overall rank from newbie to Guru(which can run contests). Top ranked members will have amassed a following, that will lead to more votes, and more chances to win. I guess it's a good MLM system in a way.
Gurushots also offers EVERY member the chance to be exhibited in one of their many exhibitions. This often costs you money for them to print out your work, and showcase it along a row of hundreds of other photos. It might seem nice, but they are not only making money off of you, getting free content, but also money from those that wish to attend these exhibitions. There's no real reward for the photographer as their photo is quickly forgotten as the entrant moves on to the next one.
I could go on, and on about these types of websites out there. But I won't. I won't even get into how these sites encourage copyright theft, and how their winners are infringing the rights of artists. You can just Google that for yourself.
Sure, there should be a fee for bigger prized contests. This weeds out those that not so serious about entering, and also funds said bigger prizes. Most of the time, bigger contests are sponsored. But these websites, Viewbug and Gurushots are heavily misleading with how they run contests, and what they offer their members. Nothing is free, and I am not suggesting that. Offering them lackluster rewards, USED GEAR or empty rewards with no real value but to entice, is not something they should do. It borderlines on being a scam. A scam that many photographers fall victim to.
I guess at the end of it all, be careful what you choose to do with your work and your money. Research the contests BEFORE you decide to enter your work in. Look in to their judges, prizes and practices. Make sure they are upfront with everything, and are transparent with how the contest is run.