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NUJ Freelance Fees Guide
Online/digital media
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The distinction between online and paper media is, of course, blurring - especially as many newspapers and magazines adopt "online-first" publishing strategies that in effect mean printing a digest of the website. Meanwhile a few online-only publications, such as salon.com, have achieved prominence and some may even be making money.

Regrettably, many online-only publications continue to pay lower rates than their printed equivalents. Some dual-mode publications try to pay less for work that appears online only. In both cases they do this because they can get away with it, not least due to the supply of enthusiasts wanti to see their name on screen.

The position is further confused by the phenomenon of the digital tail wagging the print dog in setting editorial priorities. This happens despite the fact that in almost all cases it is the print edition that pays your fee - and the salary of the person commissioning you. This may be worth noting when you negotiate rates for work that will appear in print.

Production work

For design and advanced production work for online publication, norms from the world of computer programming may still apply - and are often significantly better than those for magazine and newspaper production.

The "editing and production" section covers work for website production, website design and management only.

See also the Illustrations and cartoons section of this guide and the sections for newspapers and magazines. The Society of Authors' Quick Guide to Publishing Contracts covers some aspects of electronic book publishing. Links are below.

Online/digital media contents:

Editing and production

On the one hand, simple sub-editing of copy for a website 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, editing and design work that involves the use of authoring and styling languages (HTML and CSS at a minimum, increasingly often XML and even PHP scripting) can pay on 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 as far back as January 2006 and that's probably not top of the range.

Building websites

Building and maintaining websites for, for example, local small businesses can be a useful source of backup income for a journalist with editing skills who has the skills and inclination.

These days, you will need to learn how to install, configure and maintain a platform such as WordPress or Drupal, or work with someone who does that.

Your Unique Selling Proposition as a journalist is that you can ensure that the content is grammatical and engaging, that it is laid out accessibly and organised in a way that makes it easy for the user to find what they want: that last would be the "information architecture" in the more lucrative jargon.

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

The "think like a librarian" approach is 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 printout, or those that clients think they have produced in Microsoft Word, are often impossible to make accessible.

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, or more often, freelances should agree all-in prices only if there is a clear written description of the work and a contingency price for further work beyond it. See our notes on negotiating rates for editing and production.

If the client does request extra work, make sure that you get clear written agreement before doing it.

A per-day rate is often in fact simpler and fairer for both parties.

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.

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, per dayGBP180.00
Sub-editing with HTML coding: per dayGBP250.00

Notes: online/digital media / editing and production / sub-editing

  • 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 that meet some obscure "Search Engine Optimisation" requirement but are also human-readable, or is 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 fromGBP1500.00
Design and code complex sites: per day fromGBP500.00
Design basic brochure site, corporate: per dayGBP400.00
Design basic brochure site, non-profit: per dayGBP350.00

Notes: online/digital media / / website design and production

  • 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.
  • 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: online/digital media / / all

  • 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.

Writing and research

Rates and terms still vary hugely, 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 web would be "First world-wide web rights".

First publication online

Rates for first publication on the internet ought to be at least as much as the comparable traditional media plus 50 per cent to cover instant global availability. This is an incentive to negotiate more than a statement of what you are likely to achieve.

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.

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. 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. 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 our 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.

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. One of the best ways of tracking re-use remains the use of original phrasing, so that you can use a search engine 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.

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.

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 requiredGBP400.00
1000 wordsGBP300.00
Researching links, per dayGBP250.00
Resarching and compiling a database, per dayGBP180.00
Writing, per dayGBP175.00

§ 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: online/digital media / / all

  • 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.
 

§ See: Illustrations and cartoons

This is updated to 2020-03-08 16:30:00; if you have a printout, check the current version at http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/print.php?section=Online%2Fdigital+media.

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. 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.