Ask Anything – Editorial Late Fees, Mailer Response Rates and Pursuing Animal Photography

- - Ask Anything

Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

Question 1: Editorial Late Fee

Is it possible to add late fee’s to editorial invoices? If so, what is considered standard or even acceptable? Would this even persuade them to pay within 30 days? It seems now, more than ever, that more and more magazines are dragging out payments 60+ days.. a few, even 90+ days. What can change this insane way of doing business?

Answers:

Established Editorial Photography Team:

We’ve had very few problems with our editorial clients. Every once in a while payment gets dragged out, but it’s usually because the editors are so short-handed that they forget to submit something or it bounces back from accounting for some insane reason and they’re not around to deal with it immediately. God forbid anyone from accounts payable email us directly if they need a W9 or something ;)

I guess we’ve been lucky. We have not resorted to forcing our editorial clients to agree to payment terms. We don’t think it would be very enforceable. We already feel like we’re walking a tightrope with these jobs. The photo editors who we are trying to build relationships with have no control over the other parts of their magazine. New clients get assumptions from us that things will go smoothly. If they are slow to pay or drag things out, we won’t accept future assignments from them. Simple as that.

We did an editorial assignment through Aurora back in November. We’re not represented by them, but we covered the job for a friend….kind of a last minute emergency. We just got paid today. We were about to send them to collections….it was getting really ugly.

SVP – Finance Major Editorial/Publishing Company:

Very few large companies will ever pay late fees on anything.

A better approach is to offer a slight discount for fast payment (i.e. – 2% if paid within 20 days). In effect, that becomes a positive incentive.

Amanda and Suzanne:

Read the terms and payment agreement of the company who is hiring you. Ask the questions about payment upfront and know what you are getting involved. Invoice the project immediately. Unfortunately it’s a leap of faith with a new publisher, you do not know what you are getting into until you do the shoot and wait for the check to be cut. But don’t be afraid to call up accounting and find out where your check is after 30 days.

Question 2: Marketing

Next month I’m sending the first in what will be a series of postcard promos, a first for me. I’ve done email promos in the past, and I have a sense for what industry standard open and click through rates are in the email world, but I don’t really have a sense for what response rates postcards generally yield. Clearly it’s easier to track response rates with opens and click through, but my plan is to include a trackable ‘call to action’ on the back of the postcard (visit this URL, give me a call, etc.) that will give me something to track. In Amanda & Suzanne’s experience, what would they recommend in terms of a system for tracking the success of a postcard campaign? Is there an accepted response rate range that would be considered the average for me to measure my success against, assuming that I’ll be sending a postcard every 1-2 months for the next year?

I ask because my photo industry mentors are on one of my shoulders these days, saying What you need is consistency, with postcards and emails and portal presence and portfolio showings; and on the other shoulder are my MBA-type business mentors, questioning my marketing budgets and asking me questions that I can’t answer, like What’s your expected return on investment for your postcard campaign?

Answer:

Amanda and Suzanne:

The first question we want to ask is how fabulous do your mailers look (feel free to send to us)? The mailers have to be dynamic, but of course you know this already. So assuming they are amazing you should see about 1% results of your contacts to your website. If you can send out consistently and continue marketing for a long period of time your mass marketing will deliver results in the long run, but we would recommend expecting no return for over 1 year. Can you risk that investment and understand your return is in educating your market right now? If you get work within the first year – you have won the marketing lotto. Not putting all your eggs in one basket–be sure to do more–you will get your best results from showing your portfolio either in person or electronically and connecting personally. Ps – never ask if you call for a meeting if they remember receiving your mailers, let them tell you.

To answer your question, if you get 1% of the total number of people to your site the day it’s received, you can rate your mailing a success.

We think to reach your audience in a better way you should send personalized e-mails, pick a hand full of people you would love to work with and send them a personalized e-mail with your e-promo. E.g. Cindy Hicks, The Martin Agency- Dear Cindy, I love the work you all have done for Geico, Wal-mart and Seiko. I would love to work with you all one day. Here is a link to my website. It shows you have done your research and is also utilizing your database in the most effective way.

Question 3: Animal Shooter

I am a recent graduate, and halfway into my college career, I discovered my passion for photography through shooting animals. I’ve won a few awards for my work, and have been given very positive feedback from my peers and teachers. I feel so strong about my work with animals, that I have decided to focus solely on this very narrow niche. Now I’m done with school, and I don’t know what to do with my work, or if my work is going to pay the bills! (right now, its not!) Currently, I am trying to get work through private clients photographing their pets. I’d eventually like to work for commercial clients, but don’t know how to go about getting those clients. I’d love to work with an agent, but know this isn’t the right time in my career for one- or is it? I’ve researched photographers who also shoot animals, and it seems they also cover other genres like kids and weddings. I’d like to focus on just my animals because this is my true passion, but am afraid of having all my eggs in one basket. Also, what city might I be most successful with this?

Answer:

Amanda and Suzanne:

Are you willing to do consumer? The Consumer will balance your waiting period to make it and help you build your portfolio. We would also shoot the consumer clients and produce them as you would for an advertising client – so you can build up your portfolio. Example: Milk Bone- Have the box and give it to your dog subject and see what they do. Have them in a fabulous kitchen with a doggie door (of course location scouting is crucial). Also find some animal trainers and wranglers and get them to shoot with. From checking our your site – you have something very cool going on with creature compositions. If you look at Amanda Jones who is strictly dogs and a few cats, Jeff Moore- dogs and kids- they have done a lot of consumer portraits but have been asked to shoot advertising assignments because they are specialist in their field. And then there are photographers like Steve Grubman, Nick Vedros, Karen Morgan and Craig Perman who have diversified to other genres so they are more likely to get advertising assignments since they don’t do consumer. Also, you may want to create a “buzz” with your work like doggie Gaga (www.jessefreidlin.com) he was mentioned on so many shows like The Today Show and Live with Regis and Kelly.

Call To Action: Health insurance for freelance photographers is killing us! We have been asked to do an article on the insurance business not only for health but business insurance as well. Please send us your struggles with insurance and any advice/remedies you have found that might help others out until 2014 switchover. Send to: amanda@sosastone.com

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

There Are 20 Comments On This Article.

  1. I’ve had three recent (Jan and Feb of this year) editorial shoots, all repeat clients, from whom I’ve had trouble getting paid. One claims that they now have a 3 month payment policy, which is ridiculous to me for any magazine much less a major mag. Another major magazine now has a 60 day payment policy and the third is 45 days. All are past due. Maybe it’s just me but it seems worse than in the past.

    • @Jared Leeds, I guess if we photographer really want to get published in these magazines we are submitting to they we have to go by there rules (60, 90 days out etc.). If you have something the mag wants tell them to pay up front and then you will release the image.

      Also, I highly suggest when you send an invoice and a w9 (when its your first time doing business with this client) ALWAYS send the invoice as a pdf and cc the accounts payable and the person you were dealing with.

  2. Re: Health + Disability Insurance

    Hi Rob, Amanda, Suzanne and all Freelancers….

    Check out this organization….

    http://workingtoday.org/

    This is essentially a freelancers union. Membership is free, and they have been able to amass a ton of us, and so, can offer competitive rates for insurance.

    I am not sure that they offer coverage for every state yet, but definitely all up and down the east coast…

    I have been with them for a couple of years…

    Allegra

  3. I’ve had two editorial magazines go bankrupt on me and was unable to collect my money from both of them…Also hardly any publication I work for has ever paid on time and in 30 days.

  4. We shot 2 great assignments for a national magazine – award winning work. It took over 6 months to get paid. We were getting concerned that they might be going belly up. After some time, our inquiries started going unanswered. We finally resorted to contacting the editor to get payment resolved. We never asked for late fees or penalties.

    We’d like to continue to work with them, and would like to assume the late payment was some glitch on their end that has been rectified. But now it feels like we’ve been taken off their dance card permanently.

    How to avoid such a scenario?

    • Amanda and Suzanne

      @Therese, How long ago did this happen and how did you address the late issue? It sounds like you were pretty calm (considering the tone – so I would assume you were this calm and forgiving dealing with them). I would address the payment issue following the 30 notice of late payment, but def go to accounting first and if 1 week goes by with no resolution go back to the person who hired you and ask who might be the right person to rectify this with.

      • @Amanda and Suzanne, this was last year, the shoots were in May and June, and we received payment mid December. We were very gentle, and the person who hired us would not give us accounting. I prefer to do that, rather than risk my relationship with the creative. We felt that contacting the editor was our only option, I did not want this overdue invoice to go into the new year.

        I’m not upset about how long it took, honestly. These things happen, like it or not. I’m upset that they’ve wronged us, and are now punishing us by not hiring us…for getting firm and going up the food chain. At least this is how I’m perceiving it.

        • Amanda & Suzanne

          @Therese, “I’m upset that they’ve wronged us, and are now punishing us by not hiring us…for getting firm and going up the food chain. At least this is how I’m perceiving it.” You nailed it on the head. Because you went above them is most likely the reason you are no longer being hired by them. Research through someone like Agency Access and confirm that PE is still at the magazine and if not – make connections with the new PE. Make a fresh start.

  5. Re: Animal Shooter

    I agree w/ Amanda and Suzanne wholeheartedly.

    Animals are a niche market. It’s very tough even if you are really good. Most of my clients are personal commissions and come from word of mouth. I am expanding to the commercial market but the client pool is small & very coveted.

    Establish a style that you love and stick with it. There is a lot of work that looks similar and forgettable. Then market yourself like crazy and be patient when things don’t happen right away.

    People are nuts about their pets (like me) and will spend the money if they like what you do and see that it is unique.

  6. I have found if I offer a discount to my client for early payment that many of their accounts payables departments will take the discount and still make the payment after the discount deadline.

  7. Every time I’ve re-invoiced with a late fee the late fee was ignored… However, the payment did come right away after the invoice with a late fee was received.

    So, the day they are late, send them a new invoice with a late fee and you may just get your payment sooner than if you didn’t.

    Jeff

  8. Every time payments have come late from magazines I can usually trace it back to my lack of follow-up or the art director (or editor) being overwhelmed or slack. I’ve tried discount incentives but – believe it or not – there have been a couple times when they’ve taken the discount and still paid late.

    Stay on top of it.

  9. tomas francis

    It seems to me now photographers and artists in general are the market
    and not so much what they do. Ive no interest any more in earning a living as a photographer but back in my day – the eighties – I would just show my work to a marketing manager or send work off. No rep, no nothing – still made a living. Were on the cusp of another financial problem – Goldman Sachs and a load more big boys are being squared up to (or not) for malfeasance via derivatives. Janet Tavakoli – “printing money to save banks – a galactically bad idea” Silver trader Andrew Maguire whistle-blower on precious metals market manipulation (see interview on kindworldnews) also gold and silver leveraged – 100 to 1 at the London Bullion Market. Sovereign debt – all major currencies. All of this = maybe were going back to an earlier time.

    How is this going to pan out for photographers and artists, I wonder?

  10. It is not acceptable for editors to claim they have no connection to the accounts payable department. We’re all busy – they have just as much time as the photographer, manager, or agent to pick up the phone and let someone know that a payment is late. I do think the situation with late – and they are late, no matter what the excuse – payments is getting worse and needs to be addressed by calling on Day 30 and re-submitting an invoice with a late fee, and making a quick call every 15 days. So no one is likely to pay a late fee, but at least you’ll get paid. You have to decide if you really want to work with them again. Are you still friends with the guy who used to drop by, drink your beer, borrow $100 and never pay it back? Not so much huh? We all love our friends in the editorial office – but if they want to pay in 60 – 90 days they are using you for a bank. Your call if you want to start giving out free lollipops.
    And I totally agree with @Cameron about discounts – that’s really something to offer clients who have proven themselves.
    That said, for the couple of clients who pay in 15 days: I love you man!

    • @AA,
      Yes magazines use their contributors as a bank. Look you are paying what 17, 20% on your credit card so any expenses you front are a high interest loan to the magazine. The photographer is fronting his photo editor buddy’s salary. Sadly most major media companies work this way.

  11. Regarding the mentioned – 2% if paid within 20 days approach to invoicing, there was a time when I offered this (not to editorial clients), and quite a few companies would still take 60 days or longer to pay, AND take the discount.

  12. @AA,
    Yes magazines use their contributors as a bank. Look you are paying what 17, 20% on your credit card so any expenses you front are a high interest loan to the magazine. The photographer is fronting his photo editor buddy’s salary. Sadly most major media companies work this way.

  13. I think it is appalling how photographers are paid 90 in arrears in not only later. I simply do not understand how ‘photographers’ tolerate this situation.
    If they should ask for their overdue payment, which includes their fees and their expenses they will be punished even though it is their right.

    Frankly, how would a photo editor or accounts manager like it, if they went to work, did their job well and then were paid 90 days later …or even later?

    It’s shocking.

    The reason why this happens?

    Who needs another photographer anyway? That is why.