Online only - for now

Making money from a move online

HOW CAN you make money from journalism (including photojournalism)? London Freelance Branch's June meeting heard from Martin Cloake and Julio Etchart - two journalists who moved from earning a living entirely from print (and print photography) to earning the majority of their income on the interwebs.

Money from words online

Martin Cloake, a former LFB Branch Secretary, is a commissioning editor for mostly online material for magazines, and recently wrote "the definitive book on Spurs." (See his advice to sub-editors from his predominantly subbing days.)

Martin Cloake; © Tony Rizzo
Martin Cloake

Says Martin, "I don't want to be set up as online guru, there are too many gurus online and not enough people actually getting on with things." Describing "what happened to me," Martin says he was a "freelance for about two years, and made a reasonable amount of money online". Now, staff again, he works mostly online," or "platform neutral."

Although Martin feels "there is a difference between blogging and journalism," he blogs as well: "if you work in communications, not having a blog is a bit like refusing to use electricity." When he was a staffer, he "worked out how to build a blog, how to get people to read stuff - not many people read it, but it's a useful professional tool. You should have a blog, have a website, get on LinkedIn - these are Martin's "three most important things."

The bulk of Martin's income for two and a half years was from AOL. He learned through one of their forums that they needed stock market reports "at 6am every morning," and although he came from a women's magazines background, Martin went on a week's trial of getting up at six, earning about £35 for about an hour's work. Two years later, I'm a financial journalist!"

Various "piece work at AOL... for around £35 for 200-word stories" came Martin's way, and he found "if I got my head down... 5 or 6 stories" between 6am and 12 noon provided "enough to live on." He would pitch stories to the commissioning desk at AOL, most of the time they'd say yes, and he'd "get the stuff up"

He passed up other offers of, for example, a story on the battle of the sportswear brands in the Africa Cup as "too big a story for this money". And when AOL asked, can you write this up, it' a Daily Mail story, he'd say, well, the Daily Mail, like him, does "journalism not churnalism".

Through writing a bit about "arts and creative", on AOL, on blogs and in published e-books, work came Martin's way including £250 for a thousand words with stylus.com, the website covering fashion (among other subjects) founded by ex-Indy journalist Marc Worth. Martin "didn't do tremendous amount of pitching."

While the internet seems to favour specialists above generalists, Martin says he was able to earn a living writing for AOL, despite it being a "shambling mess. It doesn't know what its purpose is. What is it that we're supposed to do, what's our connection with our readers?" Martin and a group of former NUJ reps writing for AOL money were able to benefit from AOL's vagueness by bringing a bit of what they wanted to the site - getting commissions to cover the TUC pensions demo and the St Pauls Occupy protests and "at Fortnums when Occupy went in", with Martin and friends sending text and photos via their i-Phones.

There are of course limits to what "citizen journalist" writers taking photos can achieve, Martin compares this to "like when I do DIY at home and my wife goes 'naah, get someone in'."

And he advises, "get a proportion of the value that you create". There are "very few times I've worked unpaid", says Martin. He tells outlets soliciting free work: if you can't afford to pay me, you, can I stop you now, because I can't afford to work for you, Come back when you 've got a business plan for making money.

One unpaid gig Martin does do is The Blizzard, a footy website launched by the Guardian's John Wilson. If they do make any money from ads or syndication, they split the proceeds between contributors to that issue. This arrangement is "good for my profile... it gets my name out. Then I publish it as a short e-book with an ad for Blizzard in the back - I agreed this with them - and I will get other work on the back of it."

There's a lot of evidence now that people are reading long-form journalism online (especially through i-Pads and readers like Kindle). There are more anthologies of articles as cheap e-books. Rather than spending potentially limitless amounts of time tracking all these articles down to read for free, people are apparently happy to pay something via an app for "the curation - they pay to download at one click all the stuff that's relevant.

Be mindful of the fiddly formats for publishing your works as e-books. Martin says that you can only publish works for i-Pad via the Apple software, and you need the Kindle software to publish for Kindle readers and so on. There is as yet no "open source" standard. You get more of a cut by publishing e-books yourself rather than through "the big boys - Amazon and Kindle".

A final warning: pay "attention to liability" and the legal side of things. None of Martin's clients will take on that legal responsibility, so he "set up as limited company, so if I do get sued my wife and kids keep their house. " Also consuder insurance!

Money from images online

Julio Etchart is a very successful photojournalist and one of LFB's training officers. He has published books but now earns about half his income from online work.

Julio Etchart; © Tony Rizzo
Julio Etchart

Julio says visual journalists are expected to do everything. Last week a client asked him, can you shoot a bit of video as well? Yes, says Julio, as long as the rate is reasonable.

Picture editors see pictures from "lots of different sources, like consumers we are inundated by cheap stuff at the big supermarkets, picture editors are lured by yearly flat rates from agencies" such as Corbis and Getty. A good picture editor will go to a specialist agency. Says Julio, "if you a farmer selling eggs, you put them in lots of different baskets, that's what I do.'

One of Julio's clients, on a non-exclusive agreement, is conservation, environment and social issues specialist agency Panos, who sell stories too. Julio says he "keeps uploading and pressing the refresh button" and sends a constant output of photos to Panos and others.

While Martin "never warmed to Facebook," Julio uses it "to advertise what I'm doing, I'm on a trip, here are some pictures, hi guys that's where I am, it's free advertising... Facebook you cannot ignore"

It pays "to have more and more images at the supermarket,", according to Julio. "Alamy , the biggest UK picture agency, has 32 million images, it's the largest in the world, it's a huge hypermarket but they're very transparent. They give you a regular search report" and you earn half of the sales they make. In Julio' case, half his fees from Alamy come from educational e-books.

And "you have to embrace new technology" and new tech-driven business models. Trvl.com (see the report on the recent LFB meeting on travel writing) were very honest - they said, we can't pay initially; now they can afford to pay. That's the future... I hope that's still going to be my pension plan.

Is pressure from Corbis and Getty driving down prices paid by well-intentioned agencies like Alamy? Julio says that Getty already has its "élite photographers" and isn't taking any more: they don't want new kids on the block." But meanwhile there's been such a growth in NGOs, there are 150 more charities that are UK-based than there were about 20 years ago," and these "tend not to use élite agencies".

Julio says you get 12.5 per cent in royalties from a print photo book, compared to possibly up to 70 per cent for a self-published e-book, "but am I going to sell any of these? It's "easy to publish, not quite so easy to get noticed. You can publish easily now, but like in the old days there's the distribution and marketing," which you have to do yourself if you self-publish.

Last modified: 26 Jun 2012 - © 2012 contributors
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