What's a fair rate?

Updated:September 2013

Pay rates for freelancers can vary considerably, from job to job and country to country. But doing a little research should help you decide what's fair and what's not.

How much you get paid - for an assignment, picture, story or footage - will probably depend on many factors: the market that you work in (e.g. print, photography, broadcast), who you’re working for (e.g.,magazine, newspaper, NGO, web publisher), the country in which you're working, and your expertise and experience.  It will also depend on the deal you're prepared to make. 

Negotiating a fair rate can be hard for freelancers (and sometimes there is very little room for discussion) but doing a little homework can help you in your decision-making. The important thing is to negotiate a rate that you feel is fair - one that reflects your skills, experience, the nature of the assignment, and what you're expected to deliver.  Things to consider:

The going rate for your market / sector / client 

  1. Talking to other freelancers, journalists and friendly editors in your network should give you an idea of what you can expect to charge.  Many organisations will have an sliding scale of pay rates within which they'll negotiate, depending on your experience, skills etc.  Others may set fees that will not be negotiable.  Asking around will give you an idea of what to expect.
  2. Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) have published a statement on their site addressing the issues surrounding fair pay for freelancers which includes a recommended guide for minimum rates. The recommendations include minimum rates for writers, photographers and video journalists. 
  3. Your national journalist union might be able to offer guidance.  The UK's National Union of Journalists (NUJ) publishes a very useful UK Freelance Fees Guide on their website.  Unions and journalist organisations in other countries may do the same. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) publishes a list of member unions on their website.
  4. Websites such as Who Pays Photographers and Who Pays Writers give space for freelancers to anonymously publish up-to-date rates, fees and payment terms for various publications (mainly magazines), and aphotoeditor.com publishes really useful resources on pricing and negotiating for different shoots and assignments using genuine examples of how a deal was negotiated.
  5. Also for photographers, fotoQuote is an industry standard pricing guide with tips and coaching that claims to help photographers 'close the deal'. It's not cheap to buy, but some photographers have recommended it and say its affordable if split between freelancers. 

Your own experience and expertise

In most cases fees and day rates are determined by experience, skills and expertise and the value that you will bring to a project or assignment.  It is important, therefore to be realistic about all of these things when negotiating. Overpricing will most likely backfire, especially if you are unable to deliver what is expected of you. However, most freelancers are not overpaid for what they do and those with skills and experience should charge accordingly.

Similarly, if you are able to offer something exclusive or in demand in terms of access, you may wish to negotiate accordingly.

Fee versus exposure / profile

A hotly-debated topic. You may be willing to take a lower fee in return for other benefits, such as exposure, professional support and experience - especially if you're starting out. Just make sure that you're not under-cutting yourself too much or setting up an unrealistic precedent for the future.  Consulting with freelancers - especially those who have worked with your potential client - could help inform your decision-making.

Photo for this page by Robert Steinhöfel

Next: What can I charge for?

Created: August 2013

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