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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.



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



Find out who has the authority to commission you, and talk to them briefly on the phone.


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.



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 license. For a newspaper or magazine, that'd be a license to use your work in one edition, on paper. For a website, it might be a license 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;
  • Produce a CD-ROM edition;
  • Sell it to further readers and researchers through a database service like FT Profile, Lexis/Nexis, Northern Light, Electric Library...
  • ...or, in general, do anything beyond the basic license?

Does an online client want to:

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

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

Many editors' minds glaze over when words like "license" 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 wide open on how much should be paid for these extra licenses. Try for at least 50% extra for Web use. Some publications happily pay 100% extra for Web and CD-ROM editions.

  • The NUJ strongly recommends that you negotiate and invoice for a separate, named fee for extra licenses.


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% 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. Many more will follow as the effects of "Fairness at Work" legislation kick in.

House Agreements can, by their nature, only define minimum rates. 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. You can download it from the link below, or NUJ members can get a handy wodge of 50 for £6 incl p&p from Head Office.

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.

Links for freelances:

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Updated: 26 Jun 2005; texts & collection © NUJ; disclaimer.