You should never Pay to join a modeling agency

Recently on Lights. Camera. Action. Miranda and Chris talked about red flags for models. One focus of the topic was pay to play sites. This refers to modeling agencies that requests you to pay an up front fee to join. While you will pay an agency fees – AFTER they have delivered agreed on services and proven themselves, there are many reasons you wouldn’t pay a website up-front go join. This article breaks that down for you. 

Reasons you should never pay to join a modeling agency:

  1. Agencies should be offering you services for free
  2. They’re making a lot of money off you for no  guarantees
  3. They may not be using your money to benefit you
  4. They could have huge rosters meaning you won’t be getting the exposure you want. 


Because the internet and social media have become one of the main ways that modeling agencies find models and introduce models to their clients, modeling agencies often display their roster online. Some modeling agencies focus most of their efforts to strong online presence and online marketing strategies. 

This has resulted in a huge amount of web-based agencies that act So as a “booking” or “networking” site for models. They offer you a small one-time payment or low monthly payment to join their agency and get booked, introduced to clients, be listed online, etc.  

These sites have elaborate sales pitches that make it seem like your modeling career will take off by paying to join their site. It is too good to be true. 

"If something is pay to play, it’s too good to be true a lot of the time."

Miranda Quote about pay to play - Lights Camera Action

1) Agencies should be offering you services for free

One thing you may see some of these online agencies promote is they will offering you unique access to online booking tools, model pages, digital call cards, and even services to get headshots and boost your portfolio. 

Plot twist – your agency should be offering these services free. It benefits your agency for you to be easily found/booked and for your portfolio to be on point. A good agency will do their best to promote you as much as they can. Often what they are doing is just hoping to get unknowing models to whip out their cards and pay them. Joe Edelman at joeedelman.com compares it to the “Don’t kiss on the first date” rule. 

You should always apply the “Don’t kiss on the first date” rule. If a modeling agency asks you to spend money on the first visit – I don’t care what their pitch is – I am confident that they are not worried about getting you work. What they want is for you to break out that credit card and pay them.

Here at SDS, we offer free portfolio building, access to special projects, and online booking pages free of charge to models. A lot of theses pay to play sites are just a glorified booking page, that you can get free with MANY agencies. 

2) They’re making a lot of money off models, with no guarantee. 

A lot of these agencies have a sales pitch that make them appear fairly affordable. Almost like a “What does it hurt to pay and see mindset”. However many models will find that they will pay a small one-time fee or a low monthly payment and don’t get any extra promo, no clients booking them, or access to extra tools. They’ve essentially paid money into something that gave no benefit. 

Let’s breakdown why an online agency or website might benefit from this. Let’s say one of these sites has 100 models and they charge a rate of $10/month ($120 a year). They are making a whopping $12,000/year to just host a page with a picture and some info on it. Yet, models have no guarantee to see any of their investment back. YIKES! Imagine if they have hundreds of models on their site? 

Not only are they making a lot of money, the money may not being goin to benefit you. 

3) They may not be using your money to benefit you

Just as discussed above, models on these sites would be paying a fee to be apart of their service. While everyone may be paying the same fee, not everyone will see the same benefits. Some of these sites will have a few known names, or models who have landed awesome gigs. They use these individuals to promote you to sign up, yet use your fee to continue to grow their brand and the other models.

Shouldn’t your investment go to promote you? That’s not the case sometimes with these sites. They use the money from fees to promote their site name to get more registers, not necessarily promote you. This is a big red flag and why you should never pay to join a modeling agency.

As they grow their “roster” or registrations, things may mean you won’t get exposure you want. 

4) They could have huge rosters meaning you won’t be getting the exposure you want. 

While this may be true for any major or extremely large agency, it’s especially worse for pay to play agencies. 

As they get more registers, their marketing and advertising budgets go to promoting the brand as a whole and less about you. This is really important as many of these websites don’t have actual reps to connect and work with you directly. 

This is the difference between these pay-to-play and an agency. Even large agencies will have reps who can help represent and work with you. 

Bottom line is you should never pay to join a modeling agency. 

While you shouldn’t pay up front to join an agency, there are legitimate reasons you might pay an agency. Want to learn more, find out when you would pay an agent, or tips for picking out agencies, check out the full conversation online at youtube, on IGTV, or Podcast platforms. You can wait for future posts on why you might have to pay an agency. 

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