On negotiating

Negotiating with clients is an art, not a science. You can learn what works for you only through trial and error. We hope these general pointers help.

Making the pitch

Your confidence in the value of your work to the publication you approach is your biggest asset in getting paid properly. It should go without saying that you've studied that publication and worked out what it covers and how it treats stories.

1 Your article or photo-project is not ready to pitch until you can describe what it's about, grippingly, in 25 words or fewer.

2 Find out who has the authority to commission you, and talk to them briefly. This often works better on the phone - but do use the commissioner's preferred mode of communication as soon as you find out what it is.

3 Once they've agreed, get them to name a price. This, of course, may lead on to a little dance in which they try to get you to name your price... so, dance. If you give in, say "OK, £400", and they agree within 10 seconds, you know you've under-sold yourself. Ouch.

If they name a price that's less than one-and-a-third times a current price for comparable work in the Rate for the Job... snort derisively, tut-tut, whimper ironically, whatever fits your personal style - and start haggling. See also the Freelance Fees Guide, and its advice section.

4 Negotiate a separate price for each piece - don't get stuck in a "band". Pieces should attract, in particular, significantly higher prices for:

  • Commercial value - anything that might get press-released or increase a print-run, as in: "Diana Windsor found alive in Rajasthan"; and/or
  • Specialist knowledge or skills, as in: "and who else is going to be able to deal with Indian privacy law, in Hindi?"

The basic licence

OK, you've fixed a price for the basic licence. For a newspaper or magazine, that'd be a licence to use your work in one edition, on paper. For a website, it might be a licence to post your work for one "editorial cycle". So now it's time to negotiate...

The extra licences

Does the newspaper or magazine want to do any of the following:

  • Post your work on its own website;
  • Distribute your work to other websites;
  • Syndicate it - sell it on to other print media;
  • Sell it to further readers and researchers through a database service like Lexis/Nexis...
  • ...or, in general, do anything beyond the basic licence?

Does an online client want to:

  • Sell your work on to other websites, or to print publications; or
  • Offer a permanent archive, accessible for cash or for free;
  • ...or, in general, do anything beyond the basic licence?

Ask. Gently. For example, if a mag names a nearly-reasonable price, come back with "and for the Web licence... ?"

Many editors' minds glaze over when words like "licence" loom. Treat responses like "the Men in Suits say we have to get All Rights" as meaning "I want not to think about that." So you do the thinking, for the both of you. Often, asking in words of one syllable what the client actually wants and needs to do with your work can lead to a satisfactory agreement on extra rights.

At the time of writing the field is still wide open on how much should be paid for these extra licences. We have to say that by the 2020s some publications were assuming that their own web edition was always included in the price for the print edition.

Syndication

The long-standing and time-honoured practice is that when a publication sells your work on to another publication, doing all the work, you get 50 per cent of the price they got. If you re-sell it on your own account, you should keep the fee. It's courteous to let them know you've done so.

The ‘Going Rate’

The "Going Rate" is necessarily an imprecise concept. You could define it as the price below which a particular editor feels they've "got away with it". Or as the price below which you're under-selling yourself. Or as the price which a particular editor regards as standard at the moment - so you have to make an effort to point out the Unique Selling Proposition for your (proposed) work to get above it. But get above it you will...

House Agreements

The NUJ is currently negotiating House Agreements with several publishers.

House Agreements can, by their nature, only define minimum rates for freelances. These will not and cannot take account of the special value of and skills involved in your (proposed) work.

...and finally

Agree who will confirm the details of the comission. Agree that you will, that is. You may find the Confirmation of Commission form useful.

But if they won’t play fair...

Turning work down when the terms aren't right is essential to getting decent rates. Don't accept bad terms because you "need the money" - if you need money, you need proper money. So all the above was a practice run, and now you're fired up about the work. Think of another outlet, adjust your pitch to its needs, and go for it.

  • The Union produces a briefing sheet specifically for photographer members to explain to potential clients why they have to charge what they do and why it's worth engaging a proper photographer with proper (and expensive) equipment. Members should contact the Freelance Office to get a copy.

Types of work covered by the Rate for the Job

The Rate for the Job has to divide work up somehow to be able to sort it. The classification that has evolved over time is:

  • Words, per 1000 In the UK and Ireland it is traditional for textual journalists to be paid by the 1000 words. So as to be able to compare rates over time and by gender, ethnicity and disability, we often convert reported rates thus: 600 words @ £330 = £550.
  • Words, other Sometimes, though, it's not possible to convert - for example for very tightly-written short contributions that are significantly more work than a longer piece, or when reporting the regrettable practice of asking writers to supply photos with the words for one all-in price.
  • Shifts Here we gather all work paid by the hour or by the day - except photography and broadcasting. Particuarly in the Books sector you'll find a few all-in rates for editing here.
  • Photography Photographers want information just for and about photographers. So here we lump together payments for a day's shoot and those for use of a single picture from stock.
  • Broadcasting Similarly, all rates for broadcasting are gathered here.
  • Cartoons Yes, editorial cartoonists are journalists...
  • Crosswords ...and even crossword compilers, particularly those doing themed or topical work.
  • Illustrations For historical reasons, rates for illustration other than cartoons are gathered separately.
  • Punditry We added this work-type when London Freelance Branch members wanted to know what colleagues were getting for giving their views as an expert in their field. Again for historical reasons, going into a radio or TV studio and doing the same is included in Broadcasting.
  • Retainers Sometimes journalists are paid to be available to dash off a quick report or to give an expert view on a feature. These are the few reports we have of rates for this. Journalists paid retainers should be paid on top, for example, for actual feature writing or reporing.
  • Teaching Journalists teach, usually would-be journalists.
  • Tip-offs Newspapers and news-magazines pay for information that leads to a story - when the person giving the tip-off isn't in a position to write it up themselves.
  • Translation Some translation is journalistic.

Sector

Equally, we have to divide work up into "sectors" and the classification that has evolved over time is:

  • News National daily newspapers. Since this is all about rates paid, the Evening Standard is included.
  • Regional All other daily and weekly newspapers - local, regional and some poorly-paying small-nation-al.
  • Mags All other print periodicals.
  • Online Now that all newspapers and magazines are online, and some are online-only, and some online publications pay decent rates, this sector may become an historical record of the days when it was useful to compare rates between paper and screen. May.
  • PR All public relations work.
  • Books Everything to do with writing, editing and producing books.
  • Other Everything else.

The rates:

Type of work: In the "sector": (click or tap below!)
Words, per 1000 News Local Mag online Book PR Other
Words, other News Local Mag online Book PR Other
Photography News Local Mag online Book PR Other
Broadcasting News Local Other including podcasting
Shifts News Local Mag online Book PR Other
Other: Cartoons | Crosswords | Illustration | Punditry | Retainer | Teaching | Tip-off | Translation
Recently reported rates all from the past few months