Common Cents
April 2003

by Mark Loundy

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

— Matthew 7:15

It looks like editorial — but it's not.

Magazines sell it at premium rates — but it doesn't look like advertising.

Did you ever shoot an editorial assignment and then see it published in a "Special Advertising Section" or alongside an article with an "Advertisement" bug over the top of it?

Ad salespeople call it "advertorial." Advertorial is advertising that is laid-out and formatted to look like editorial content. Despite the "Special Advertising Section" disclaimers and different typefaces, the intent is to deceive readers into thinking that it's a regular part of the publication. It's that potential for deception that makes it so valuable to advertisers. Readers simply don't trust what they perceive as advertising.

Publications like Sports Illustrated run hundreds of pages of such sections every year. Newspapers produce special-interest sections (like the Annual Brides tab) that feature positive "stories" about companies that pay to be in the section. Advertorial is highly profitable.

Major companies like IBM commission slick publications devoted to their products. Although they might resemble editorial magazines, they are just big ads.

Guess what? For freelancers, there ain't no such thing as "advertorial." When you're negotiating or billing a job, make sure your "editorial" assignment is really that. Otherwise, it's plain-old advertising usage and should be billed at the higher ad rate.

Ethics writer Paul Lester could devote a couple of his wonderful columns to discussing the editorial acceptability of advertorial, but I'm all about the biz side here. Les, the ethical ball is in your court.

The Good: Fast Company, for negotiating in good faith from their otherwise icky boilerplate contract.
The Bad: Newsday, for eliminating the $40 transmission fee. They cited the economy and the precedent set by the New York Times last year. Thanks a whole bunch New York Times!

Market dominating North Jersey Media Group for its all-rights, non-negotiable contract which they top-off by selling freelancer's photos for personal use — and keeping all of the proceeds.
The Ugly:

  •  Book publisher Penguin Putnam, Inc. for a North American all-rights contract that offers the princely sum of... a credit line. Gee, don't spend it all in one place.

    Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

    Peter Krogh chairs the ASMP's Digital Standards and Practices Project. This is your chance to bring standard business practices into the digital age. Check out the draft proposal on his Web site and let him know what you think. I love his comment about the folly of charging by the hour. Get a faster computer and lower your fees? I think not.

    While you're there, take a look at Peter's excellent analysis of the digital business model. Another great analysis is up on Photographer John Harrington's site.


    John Harrington's Digital Workflow Business Analysis

    Peter Krogh's Digital Standards and Practices draft

    Peter Krogh's Digital Workflow Business Analysis

    Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

    Small Business Administration

    Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

    Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

    NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

    © Mark Loundy

    Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.

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