[Freelance]

EMAP pays up, oddly

Another of those informal not-quite-negotiations with freelances has happened at EMAP, again not entirely to the chagrin of either side. That is to say, lessons of both a positive and negative nature emerged.

EMAP Performance, the newish music division which now operates Q, Mojo, Mixmag, Kerrang! and such, is starting website versions of the mags and, apart from commissioning direct-to-electronic new material, they wanted to put both past and future reviews up on the sites as archives.

Happily - following the successful freelance fightback against a draconian all-rights grab attempt five years ago - this time the offer was for a non-exclusive licence. And it had money attached.

On the back numbers, arcane arithmetic produced offers calculated according to the number of reviews any individual reviewer had contributed. These ranged from £5 to over £1000. One or two freelances asked for more and got it. The general feeling seemed to be that at the top end the figures were arguably fair, at the bottom end much less so - and that this arose from a unilateral company decision to pay £15,000 in total and then work out exactly how many reviews and related pieces they were buying.

The offer for future reviews was £5 or 10 per cent, whichever was the greater. The percentage was obviously lowish compared to some figures now being achieved. On the other hand, single arts reviews have limited onsale value compared to features.

A problem raised by many freelances individually and through the freelance network which developed during the previous dust-up was a clause saying that the whole database could be "sold on" - which seemed to mean made accessible - to other operators without further payment to the freelances. The company said they were not unwilling to pay the freelances but couldn't see how it could be done practically.

Freelances harumphed. But the various discussions (in the context that EMAP hasn't recognised the NUJ for 10 years or so) did result in a letter promising further negotiations on all issues including the latter point in a year, by which time the "practicalities" may have sorted themselves out as one and all learn, as Ian Dury used to say, the ins and outs of the nag's arse (that is, in this zoo, the web).

On this basis, some freelances signed the contracts and some didn't, but all were assured that there would be no discrimination against non-signers in the print magazines' commissioning policies - early experience confirms this assurance as genuine.

A significant issue came up which has ramifications for the whole "critical community". At the moment, with most British web publishers (foolishly?) feeling they can't charge their readers - behaving like a free sheet rather than a news-stand publication - income is dominated by advertising.

But in some areas, such as music, books, theatre, movies, the sites can link their reviews to direct sales of the product and take a small percentage on each purchase arising from their site.

Obviously, this implies a cash incentive to move reviews over into advertorial and a whole new pressure on journalistic integrity for one and all (staff as much as freelance of course) - an issue this union should get stuck into.

Meanwhile, a contractual assertion of moral rights by freelance critics on the web looks more important than ever.

Nov 2000
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Last modified: 22 October 2000
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