Make more money - from picture research

WRITERS can make more money on the picture research side of the features they write - if they ask for it.

Recently an LFB member rang me for advice on a writing gig for a fashion web site. The rate offered was reasonable but nothing special, and the job involved a lot of tracking down copyright holders for specific images, which the freelance in question had already done. Looking at the Rate for the Job for magazine features, I noticed that several freelances had managed to get add-ons for picture research. £100 in one case, or $200 Australian in another. And I met a contributor who writes features for the same magazine as me, a non-member who gets a higher rate purely on the basis that "it'll involve a lot of picture research."

I did several work placements straight after my journalism course, and there was  one element common to all of them. At each workplace, the art editor would - unasked - seek me out and tell me what they required from authors - images of 360 dots per inch (dpi) resolution, scanned in at A4 - and they all told me their biggest last-minute hair-tearing-out nightmare was getting images to go with last-minute copy the authors had sent in.

Being able to talk the talk on the picture desk side of things often helped to clinch the deal when I pitched my first features.

Since then, many art editors jobs have been cut altogether, leaving subs or commissioning editors to improvise their way through picture research, and they'll keep returning to you if they know you'll save them work on this front.

When I now negotiate a deal, there's often around £100 written into the contract as an extra for "picture research". Think of it in terms of the amount of - scarce - picture editor's time you're saving, by presenting an editor with sample images and contact details for the copyright holders, and an indication of how much the images would cost to use. I've used this argument to put up my rates on several occasions. It's not nearly as difficult as putting up actual word rates. I find it's easier for editors to get an extra "picture research" item on an invoice past the bean-counters than it is to hit them with a straight higher rate for the piece.

I now go into libraries and archives with an eye to images as well as words - getting photocopies of suitable images I come across and recording details of how to get them from the copyright holder if needed later, and at what cost.

If I'm researching words already, the extra work of tracking down pics turns out to be very little compared to the value it can add to your total fee for the article. Remember always to ask for a copyright declaration to sign when making your single copy at the library or archive, and stick to it. And always warn your editor in writing that you're only showing them images for which copyright has not been cleared.

[Site map] Last modified: 10 Dec 2009 - © 2009 contributors
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