Another “Pay to be in our book” scam: “International Contemporary Masters”

Not long ago I was “invited” – via email spam, no less – to submit photographs for inclusion in the “International Masters of Photography” book. Even though I didn’t fall for that one and even though I reported it as spam to the spam-friendly host (aitcom.net) I’ve been getting more dubious “offers” from the same IP address range. Today’s is for the “International Contemporary Masters” book, published by the same schemers at World Wide Art Books (wwab.us). I am informed that I can submit up to 5 images and their “jury” will decide if I’m approved within three days. That’s one fast jury for such a “prestigious” publication! For the charity photo book I edit (and which doesn’t charge its participants a penny) our jury takes around three weeks to make its selections.

I have a sneaking suspicion that pretty much anything I send to info@wwab.us will get approved. Just a hunch, you understand… or maybe the $75.78 per month – for 17 months! – they charge. Just for laughs, do a web search for "International Contemporary Masters" and "International Masters of Photography". You’ll find the books listed for sale at legitimate retailers – but the entertainment comes from the 5-star reviews that are obviously – painfully obviously – written by people who have paid to be in the books.

In fact, for the past week or so I’ve been receiving spam from 216.117.137.139 for several different pay-to-play photo-related schemes, including something called the Artavita art contest. The Artavita spam hilariously states that their contest entry period has been extended two weeks "due to artists’ demand" (it couldn’t be because they haven’t lured in enough suckers yet, could it?) and helpfully gives entry instructions which include "Upload as many images as you want and then click on PAY" (yes, the word "pay" was in all caps in the original) – $15.00 per image. The prize? The "winner" (cough) gets to exhibit three works at Artavita’s booth in an L.A. art show. Wow!

Here’s what I wrote about the "International Masters of Photography" book in my original post:

The fact that you have to pay to be included is prima facie evidence that they can’t make enough money from sales of the book to cover the cost of printing. That should tell you everything you need to know about how much of an honor your inclusion in the publication really is. Or, more to the point, isn’t.

On the other hand: Keeping in mind that you’ll be competing with people who were dumb enough to fall for this schtick, if your work is any good at all it may really stand out! If the $880.00(!) price of admission is cheap enough for you to gamble on this possibility, go for it!

There are warnings about this outfit on the web – I just found some good ones on LinkedIn.com – but the publishers themselves have done a very thorough job of seeding the web with referral pages and links from domains they own, so warnings are usually fairly deep in search results. What’s worse, many victims of this kind of scam will insist that it’s a great deal. Never underestimate the tendency of humans to rationalize a mistake, after which they’ll argue to the death that it was a smart move (hence the 5-star reviews from book participants). Luring others in helps them reassure themselves. The new marks often react the same way, so the whole thing grows geometrically like a pyramid scheme. This is the most powerful form of promotion scams like this have going for them.

By the way: All the spam I have received has been addressed to robertstech.com’s postmaster role account. This means the address was probably scraped from whois domain records. That’s illegal in the U.S. under the CAN-SPAM act, which should give you a pretty good idea what kind of people we’re dealing with.

As if you hadn’t worked that out already…

Further Reading:
If you receive one of these spam "invitations" from World Wide Art Books be sure to blog or post warnings on discussion web sites and message boards. Including links to other articles, like the ones above, will help raise their prominence in web search results.

Note: Can it be a "scam" if there’s nothing illegal involved?

The answer is Yes, in my opinion. And in the opinion of the Federal Trade Commission. Here’s a good example of a legal scam:

It’s the “free” home alarm system. Often targeted at the elderly and particularly in neighborhoods where there’s been a break-in, however minor, recently. The target (customer) is first regaled with horror stories from newspapers (all true) of break-ins and “home invasions”. Then they’re offered an alarm system for free, including installation. What’s not free, of course, is the mandatory monthly monitoring fee, which is usually much higher than the going rate. And the term of the agreement is likely to be longer than usual. Often with a heavy penalty for early termination. There may also be a hefty fee for removal of the alarm system upon discontinuing service (part of the reason the system and installation were free in the first place is because the alarm company retains ownership of the hardware). But that’s all in the fine print and if the customer is frightened enough they won’t notice it.

All perfectly legal, but only the most pedantic would not call it a scam. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission explicitly uses the word "scam" to describe the above scenario.
The vanity publisher scams fall into the same category.

Also, the 1st Circuit court has found that the word "scam" does not necessarily imply anything illegal:
From McCabe vs Rattiner: “Beginning with the statement itself, we observe that the word “scam” does not have a precise meaning. As the district judge said in his bench ruling, “it means different things to different people … and there is not a single usage in common phraseology.” While some connotations of the word may encompass criminal behavior, others do not.

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One Response to Another “Pay to be in our book” scam: “International Contemporary Masters”

  1. T Barny says:

    We get a couple of these scam a week. Thanks for the insight
    Sign me up for your blog. Tanks, T..