This course looks at the basics of selling the four traditional media types: text, audio, photographs and video. It then outlines how best to combine your sales by selling multimedia content to websites and other digital platforms.
Being able to work across several media platforms on a story will greatly increase your income for that project without a proportional increase in time. For example, if you have spent several weeks working on a photo feature, writing text to go with it, producing a short audio story or even making a video should not take much extra effort and will increase your income from the story enormously. This course outlines some of the key points to bear in mind when trying to sell stories in different formats, but first note these points which apply to all media types:
- When pitching a story, whatever the format, to a media organisation always tailor it to their specific needs. Just sending a general pitch to many different outlets will rarely lead to anything.
- Know the best time to send or call. Most editorial meetings for daily news happen in the morning and the newsrooms are busiest in the evenings. For weekly and monthly shows/publications they will get busier as their deadline approaches. Timing your pitch to coincide with quieter times will give you a much better chance of explaining your ideas. If you get the timing wrong and the editor hangs up on you, do not take offence; try to call back when it is quieter
- Most editors know within the first 10 seconds of a verbal pitch or first paragraph of text whether the idea is good or not. Make sure you sound professional and get to the point straight away when making a pitch.
- Follow up a phone call with an e-mail, or an e-mail with a phone call. Be persistent. Where possible try to make a personal visit so the editor can put a face to your name.
- Try to develop good relationships with editors. Make sure you deliver on time. Editors like to work with people that they can rely on as well as those who produce good quality work. Once a relationship is made do not abuse it by bombarding them with ideas.
When selling text, or 'copy' as it is often referred to, you should bear in mind the following points:
- Always try to sell text along with photographs, and possibly video and audio as well. This will make the whole package more appealing to media companies, most of whom now have websites that deal with all four medias. In particular, if you are a photographer, your photography features will be much more marketable if you can supply text as well.
- Remember that in most cases your text will be edited and therefore getting it perfectly written is not as important as making sure you have all the necessary content. Look at the writing course to find out how to ensure you have gathered all the necessary facts and quotes.
- If you already have a relationship with a news agency or a publication as a photographer, this would be the obvious place to start. Ask your contact on the picture desk to put you in touch with a copy editor to whom you can talk about text.
- Spend time reading the publication you are submitting your idea to and try to write in a similar way. It is a good idea to identify the section of the newspaper, magazine or website you have written the piece for, making sure it fits in terms of article length and style.
- Check the publication's website or call the editor and ask how they want you to submit stories. You would normally be required to write a short covering letter with a brief synopsis of the story and short professional biography.
- Submit the story in different forms to as many publications you feel might be interested. Be prepared for many rejections and do not give up if your target publications turn it down. There may be other companies interested in printing it.
- If it is accepted, ask before it is published what rates they are prepared to pay for the text as well as other media (photography, video and audio). Most publications work off a word rate depending on the section it is published in. If you are unsure, find other freelance contributors and send them a friendly email asking what their rates are.
Creating an audio package to go along with your pictures not only gives you the opportunity to create an audio slideshow, it also gives you the chance to sell the audio package to a radio station. Bear in mind the points above in the writing section, as many apply to selling audio, video and pictures too, but also think about the following:
- There are two types of audio that can be sold to broadcasters. First, unedited sound, or 'cuts' as they are referred to in radio. These are live recordings and interviews that can be cut into a package by the broadcaster without a voiceover. Second, a full package that includes a voiceover and sound already mixed. Cuts are the easiest to sell, particularly when there is a breaking news story, but they are also less valuable. Full packages require much more time, thought and editing skills.
- For selling live recordings and interviews, go through the audio course of the Shutha website to find out how to get good sound and interviews, bearing in mind the same structures employed in the writing course. If you have sold pictures to an agency, start with them first as many traditional news agencies now have audio sections as well. If the story is only of interest to local news outlets then try local radio stations.
- For selling full packages you need to know the particular radio programme you want to pitch to and be sure that they accept freelance material. Most radio stations like to use their own employees to voice packages or will commission a series rather than a one-off package. However, if you feel confident in your audio skills and you have a strong story or a breaking news report that the radio station has no access to, then it is worth pitching the idea.
- Radio stations normally have a fixed rate for freelance audio, based on the length of the clip used and the time of broadcast. A 30-second segment going out on the morning or drive-time show will have a greater price than the same segment that goes out in the middle of the night. If you are lucky, your audio will be repeated throughout the day on different bulletins.
For media professionals who are not photographers and are selling pictures for the first time, the most important factors to consider are the following:
- Deliver a good mix of horizontal and vertical images to give designers choice.
- Make a tight edit before you send the images so the editor is not overloaded with all the pictures you took on a shoot.
- If you are selling the pictures with a text, audio or video story, make sure you have pictures of the key characters in your story and images that give a sense of the place where the story happens. There should be a good mix of wide, mid and tight shots as well as portraits of key characters.
- If you have supplied audio as well, try to select images that go with the story so an audio slideshow can be created. Here it is important to select the most relevant images to send, not the best photographically.
- Photography is normally sold on a space rate, ie how big the picture is used on a particular page (the cover being the most expensive).
Video is the most complex of the medias to sell, but potentially the most lucrative. In most media economies, television commands the highest price, has the highest-paid freelancers and has the biggest audience. Like audio, there are two types of editorial content that can be sold: general footage, or 'B-roll', and fully edited packages. The following points highlight the most important things to consider when selling video:
- Most network TV news programmes subscribe to news video wires for footage so, as in photography, you need to decide whether to approach a news agency or a media company. If you already have a good relationship with a news agency it is probably better to start selling video to them as well as pictures, text and audio.
- If you sell to a TV station, be sure to make sure they know the footage belongs to you and they only have rights to broadcast on their station as many TV stations sell footage on to their affiliates and news agencies. Also be sure they understand you are a professional journalist and you are offering the footage for sale and not for free as many citizen journalists now do.
- TV stations are limited geographically by the strength of their transmitters so it is possible to sell footage to a number of TV stations that do not compete. This will be different if they want to use the footage online and may limit your sales potential, so be careful with any online sales.
- Most western TV stations now edit in HD 16:9 but many African stations still use 4:3 and either PAL or NTSC. It is now easy to transcode from one format to another, but different aspect ratios will look strange if shot for the wrong format. Try to think through who you want to sell to first and find out in what format they want to receive the footage. For NTSC, shoot 30 frames per second; for PAL shoot 25 frames per second. If you have a 16:9 camera and you are shooting for 4:3 try to frame the main action in the centre.
- Generally speaking, TV stations prefer unedited footage and websites prefer edited packages.
- Sales in TV are normally based on the length of time broadcast, what station and on what show.
Selling multimedia to websites
Multimedia is often divided into two different genres: linear and interactive. Linear tends to be a video in format, but consists of video, audio and still images. Interactives are multichapter features that invite the audience to click/swipe/tap around to discover different sections. They can include text, video, images, audio and interactive graphics.
Selling linear stories is much easier than interactives, as most editorial websites use content management systems that allow editors to upload videos, but not create new pages that can embed HTML5 or Flash projects (these are the formats used to deliver interactives). The multimedia market is still developing and getting a price that reflects the work put into any form of multimedia is very difficult. However, many media professionals find it much easier to sell picture and text packages if they can also offer linear multimedia stories as well. Therefore, multimedia effectively acts as a loss leader to ensure more and better paid assignments.
With multimedia currently not commanding realistic prices for the work involved, it is important that you create efficient workflows that allow you to be able to produce additional content to text and images that does not use up too much of your time.
It is also now possible to sell multimedia content to mobile and tablet applications. These generally require a lot more programming skills and are best offered to media organisations that have already established platforms.