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Online/digital media
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Uploaded 2006-03-08 00:00:00; for current version see http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/print.php?§ion=Online%2Fdigital+media

Whether freelances are writing original copy for the web or for DVDs, creating websites, or licensing a publisher to re-use work digitally, it is essential that they put a realistic value on their work. For contributed "content" (sorry), rates vary very widely. For design and production work, norms from the world of computer programming are different - and very often significantly better - than those for magazine and newspaper production.

This section covers words for websites, website design and management only. See also the Photography / online and Illustrations and cartoons sections of this guide. The Society of Authors' Quick Guide to Electronic Publishing Contracts covers the electronic aspects of book publishing.

Online/digital media contents:

Editing and production

On the one hand, simple sub-editing of copy for a website on a stable production system (or for Teletext) may pay little more than magazine sub-editing, even though more technical knowledge is required and mathematically rigid style constraints may be essential to the production working at all.

In the middle, editing and design work that involves the use of authoring and styling languages (HTML and CSS at a minimum, increasingly often XML and Flash scripting and so forth) can pay in the scale of computer programming work rather than sub-editing.

On the far other hand, some jobs are in effect business consultancy - what the client needs to know is how a website can change the way they make their living. Rates of £425 per hour were on offer for this in January 2006 and that's probably not top of the range.

Building websites

Some clients want a "static" site - one which presents the public with a few pages of information that rarely change. They are called "static" because those pages sit there on the "server" computer waiting to be called up by the public.

Some need one of these, even though they think they want a fully-bell-and-whistled database-driven site - that's one where the web pages that the public sees are created on demand from bits and pieces stored in, er, a database.

Others really do need a database-driven site - especially if it needs to be updated by non-technical workers. In this case... Firstly, building a bullet-proof interface for those workers is often seen as an afterthought but actually takes two or three times as much programming work as getting the stuff out to the public, and is at least that much more important. Secondly, the fee for the job must include full training for all those workers. It's not going to work if they do not understand why postcodes must be entered in the field labelled "postcode" and so on.

Any rigorous and precise sub-editor can learn to build the first kind of "static" site. The markup language involved (HTML) comes from the same family as the old ATEX production system. The principle of the language that defines how the words are presented to the public (CSS) is the same as a good style sheet in Quark or InDesign. As with magazine work, a designer who thinks like a watercolourist - "let's just splash some Cheltenham italics over here, and paint that bit in dark blue" is storing up massive trouble for later. One who thinks like a librarian - "this paragraph is a list of actors, so I'll mark it up as one and use CSS to work out what they look like later" will be able to change the design of the entire site with a few keystrokes when, as is inevitable, the client changes their mind.

Producing database-driven sites, those with online shops, and so on, involves learning radically different programming languages. This may not look like part of journalism at the moment. But journalists who work on websites or DVDs will increasingly find that clients expect them to have the ability to learn new computer languages - and suggesting that the client might like to learn Mandarin and Finnish next week does not pay the bills. And with the much-touted "convergence" of media actually happening, the ability to work with scripting languages is going to be as basic, for some, as the ability to work with InDesign.

Standards

However the pages that the public see are generated, the "think like a librarian" approach is also a selling-point when it comes to reassuring clients that their sites will conform with disability legislation. Sites that stick to the Web standards are easy to make accessible to people with visual or other disabilities. Those produced by designers who are thinking of the screen as a rather small Chromalith™ printout, or those that clients think they have produced in Microsoft Word™, are often impossible to make accessible. And sites that work with antique computers in Africa and with text-to-speech programs also work on the latest yuppie status-symbol mobile phones.

Managing websites

Some clients may want to outsource the management of a website to a freelance or a group of freelances. A TV channel, for example, may want someone to commission and edit articles as back-up to a programme, update the home page and these new pages weekly, write copy "wrapping" older sites and generally keep things tidy. Many clients will pay over £800 a day to website design companies, for perhaps two days a week. Individuals, without managers to feed, may feel they can charge less, but should keep the going rate in mind.

All-in prices

Clients may want the apparent simplicity of an all-in price. Since requirements so often change half-way through the project, freelances should agree these only if there is a clear written description of the work and a contingency price for further work beyond it. See Notes on negotiating rates for Editing and production. A per-day rate is often in fact simpler and fairer for both parties.

Other digital media

Many of the same observations apply directly to negotiations over production of, for example, an interactive DVD or CD-Rom. In fact, the website-on-a-disk is an inexplicably under-used technology. That apart, the main difference is in the skills that editors and designers are expected to have: Macromedia Flash and Director and so forth. Freelances bidding for such projects are probably even more likely to need to factor in time for meetings.

Notes on negotiating rates for Editing and production

These are some things to remember when negotiating rates for editing and production of online and digital media. And please send us your accounts of successful negotiations.

Web-hosting, domain name registration charges, and particularly charges for volume of "traffic" should be borne directly by the client. Any freelance tempted to make an all-in offer is entitled to add a mark-up for administration of these and to put a cap on "traffic" - the number of gigabytes of data that the site serves to users.

The suggested rates: Editing and production (Know a better rate? tell us!)

Rates vary enormously. On the one hand, simple sub-editing on a stable production system may pay little more than magazine sub-editing, even though more technical knowledge is required and mathematically rigid style constraints may be essential to the production working at all.

In the middle, design work that involves the use of authoring and styling languages (HTML and CSS at a minimum, increasingly often XML and Flash scripting and so forth) can pay in the scale of computer programming work rather than sub-editing.

On the far other hand, some jobs are in effect business consultancy - what the client needs to know is how a website can change the way they make their living. Rates of £425 per hour were on offer for this in January 2006.

Sub-editing - Editing and production -
Sub-editing with HTML coding: per dayGBP240.00
Sub-editing/dayGBP160.00

Notes:

  • Allegedly simple sub-editing for the web and other database-like media is almost always more demanding than for print media. Whether the freelance is striving to write headlines of precisely 48 characters for old-skool Teletext, or is dealing with tagging articles with keywords selected from a "controlled vocabulary", they're doing things that sub-editors of normal language do not have to do.
  • If the work involves markup - whether the <em>simple codes</em> that determine the appearance of the run of text or <div class="abstract">structural markup</div> - it should attract a higher fee.
Website design and production - Editing and production -
Consultancy and information architecture for complex corporate sites: per day fromGBP1200.00
Design basic 5-page brochure site, corporate: say two daysGBP700.00
Design basic 5-page brochure site, non-profit: say two daysGBP600.00
Design and code complex sites: per day fromGBP400.00
Design basic brochure site, corporate: per dayGBP350.00
Design basic brochure site, non-profit: per dayGBP300.00

Notes:

  • The fees quoted for design of small sites - such as local businesses' brochure sites - assume the freelance is starting from scratch and will take around a day to produce a basic original home page and a template for further pages. Working from an existing template, it may be possible to do four or five pages a day - or more. The more complex the site, the more the freelance should charge.
  • The fees assume the freelance is working with supplied content. Creating words, and finding pictures and sounds will add to the amount charged - as will any necessary copyright clearance.
  • The work to be done on larger sites varies enormously. Some clients may already have templates. Others may want something which looks original but in some way fits within a house style - for example a "micro-site" for one of a broadcaster's programmes. Or they may have a blank screen and a need for what is in effect business consultancy... in which case they should be prepared to pay business consultancy rates
  • If the client wants a site whose words and images are stored in a custom database, the job becomes a database analyst's and appropriate rates apply. Many "content management systems" are available but none actually work "out of the box" in the real world: in order to tailor them to any sane client's requirements, they require almost enough understanding of the programming to be able to write them from scratch.
  • Doing database coding and writing user content at the same time is not a good idea - as with any conversation held in three languages at once, the quality of all will suffer. As, you may conclude, you see here.

Notes:

  • Fees for specialist copy written by an expert should include a premium of at least 10 per cent extra.
  • The freelance may wish to throw in a little very basic markup - some of us use HTMLin letters to friends - but the above rates do not include design, detailed markup or structuring a database - see Online and digital media - Editing+Production.
  • Photographic rates in this sector are covered in Photography - Online.

Writing and research

There are an increasing number of outlets for journalistic work whose first publication will be online (or in other digital media). Rates and terms vary, however, often depending on whether the client originated in book or magazine or newspaper publishing, broadcasting, public relations, or as a new media start-up.

The instant worldwide availability of the web means that traditional "territorial" licences - such as "First British Serial" rights - make no sense. The practical equivalent for original material commissioned for the we would be "First World-wide web rights". It remains the case, however, that republication of a web article in a newspaper or magazine is a new edition requiring a new licence - "Second British Serial" rights for example - and a new fee, just as republication of a newspaper or magazine article on the web is a separate use.

First publication online

Rates for first publication on the internet should be at least as much as the comparable traditional media plus 50 per cent to cover instant global availability. (See the separate section for Public Relations.)

The work may also be more complex than straight copy, with a hierarchy of information and links to be researched, written and marked up. For all work in the digital media relevant specialist areas of knowledge, such as science or medicine, attract premium charges.

The initial fee should be for a licence restricting usage to specific digital media. Clients may need to be introduced gently to the idea that re-use on a different website, even one of theirs, requires a new licence and a new fee. If the agreement includes exclusivity, this should be for a set, short period, and should attract a premium - especially if the article will remain online after that, depressing the market for secondary sales. If the client wants to put the article into a charged-for archive, the freelance should negotiate for a share of revenue or a hefty additional fee as a buy-out - at least as much again as the original fee.

Licensing re-use online

Publishers regularly demand all rights from freelance journalists, often because they want to be free to use the material on their websites as well as selling it - often for high prices - through databases. The Lexis AlaCarte database, for example, charges each reader US$3 and upward for each newspaper article. This is equivalent to syndication - to individuals.

One US database paid freelances 30 per cent of each $2.99 download, but such agreements are still rare, no "standard practice" has been established, and the NUJ recommends aiming for 50 per cent. Some sites pay small advances against revenue from these sources, in the manner of book or record contracts.

Clients are often reluctant to pay freelances for this extra usage, saying there is little money to be made from digital re-use. It is not the freelance's fault, however, if they have signed a dodgy deal with a database provider. And the web is increasingly a source of income as well as a driver for paid circulation. In December 2004, Business Week predicted that web advertising would be a US$9 billion business in the coming year. New Scientist magazine was able to increase its classified advertising rates - the mainstay of an extremely profitable operation - by ten per cent directly because of its extensive web operation. We suspect, however, that a major reason for clients wanting assignment of all rights is to avoid thinking - so it is often the freelance's responsibility to think about exactly what is actually needed. See Notes on negotiating for online use.

Freelances should secure the best possible payment for licensing their work for web use - especially as the web version is, unlike a paper version, instantly available all over the world. On the "syndication" model, go for a percentage of advertisement revenue (which depends on careful records of how often the article is hit or "eye-balled") or for a percentage of fees charged for downloading an article. Some freelances have achieved a premium of as much as the original print fee again. Twenty per cent is not difficult to achieve.

Freelances should ensure that the amount paid for purchase of any specified right is listed separately from the basic fee on any commissioning form or contract where the publisher wants to re-use the material in electronic or digital form.

Keeping track of the work

Journalists frequently discover their work being used on websites without their knowledge or permission. Schemes for "tagging" articles (also known as "fingerprinting" or "watermarking") will possibly allow journalistic work to be identified and tracked on databases or on the internet, making it possible to know when work has been re-used - and to claim any payment due. But these remain under development, and are more advanced for photography than for texts. NUJ members tempted to sign up for a system should seek advice from the Freelance Office. One of the best ways of tracking re-use remains the use of original phrasing, so that you can use a search engine such as Google or AltaVista to find all instances and only instances of your article online. It is not necessary to go as far as the member who endeavoured to get a different newly-coined word into print in every article.

Copyright on the web

Copyright applies to the web just as much as it does anywhere else: under the Berne Convention, each signatory country agrees to provide the same protection to nationals of other countries as it does to its own citizens. NUJ members whose copyright has been infringed overseas should contact the NUJ Freelance Office for advice.

DVD and CD-Rom

For first publication on a DVD or CD-Rom, freelances should charge at least as much as they do for comparable print media. For non-exclusive re-use of previously published material on CD-Rom, freelances should charge an extra 100 per cent of the original fee.

Notes on negotiating rates for Writing and research

These are some things to remember when negotiating rates for writing for publication online and in digital media. And please send us your accounts of successful negotiations.

For tips on negotiating digital re-use of material originally commissioned to appear on paper, see the Print media advice index.

The suggested rates: Writing and research (Know a better rate? tell us!)

The following are rough guide rates for work commissioned for first publication online. Rates and terms vary widely, however, often depending on whether the client originated in book or magazine or newspaper publishing, broadcasting, public relations, or as a new media start-up.

Writing and research -
1000 words - intense research or background requiredGBP350.00
1000 wordsGBP275.00
Researching links/dayGBP220.00
Resarching and compiling a database, per dayGBP160.00
Writing/dayGBP160.00

§ See: Photography / online

§ See: Illustrations and cartoons

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

§ See: Broadcasting / Programme support to compare

§ See: Public Relations / Writing to compare

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

Notes:

  • Fees for specialist copy written by an expert should include a premium of at least 10 per cent extra.
  • The freelance may wish to throw in a little very basic markup - some of us use HTMLin letters to friends - but the above rates do not include design, detailed markup or structuring a database - see Online and digital media - Editing+Production.
  • Photographic rates in this sector are covered in Photography - Online.

§ See: Photography / online

§ See: Illustrations and cartoons

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. Comments to ffg@londonfreelance.org please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.