ASK US WEDNESDAY: “Should I ask for a syndication fee?”

by Rachel Smith
16 October 2019

An editor for a camping publication I have written for a few times has asked me whether it would be ok for one of their partners to republish a story I wrote for the magazine about six months ago. It will go across multi-platforms. I believe I still own the copyright.

I’m happy for them to go ahead however in this case should I charge an additional syndication fee for republishing my content? I was reluctant to ask the editor for anything additional as they pay well ($1/word) and it’s a semi-regular freelancing gig. Johan

That’s a pretty good rate for mags in this day and age, so I understand your reticence to say anything – but I guess it’s about the principle and not setting a precedent for them to start republishing other features of yours, while you quietly seethe and say nothing.

So I don’t think it hurts to ask how syndication works at that publisher. I get a syndication fee with a big publishing house I write for if my work pops up in another magazine or in one of their overseas titles, but it is a structured syndication contract they made me sign (and I think I make around 10-20 percent of the original fee, which isn’t great but it’s better than nothing).

I also know anecdotally there are re-use fees at other big publishers – but some publishers won’t automatically offer it to you; you have to ask if there’s some sort of syndication fee structure in place.

Here’s a script you could use:

Dear Editor,
Thank you for your query. As a reader of [insert partner title], I’m very pleased to hear they wish to re-publish my feature. As this is the first time my work’s been syndicated at [publishing house], I just wanted to ask if I should invoice for X cents per word for this second Australian run, or if there is a syndication fee in place for this sort of thing?
Cheers, Johan

Of course, this email only works if you have not signed away your rights in the small print, so if you have a contract it’s worth checking that first. It’s also worth having a contract so you’re aware of where your work might turn up – small publishers may have titles you wouldn’t want your work in, or they may sell it or repurpose it for clients. Also, if you’ve got sources who’ve given you an interview based on where the article is going and then it turns up somewhere random, they might be cranky, so it’s always worth finding this out during the commissioning process.

If you don’t have a contract, the MEAA’s standard freelance commissioning contract has a section where you outline any syndication fees upfront and this could be a good thing to consider using in the future.

Listers, please weigh in: do you get syndication fees when your work is re-published by a partner title or online? What kind of fees do you get? Full fees or a small cut?

Rachel Smith

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