Two years ago I basically stopped shooting editorial assignment photography. One reason I discontinued this kind of work was the way I was compensated. I was always paid after the job was done and the images were delivered. Many times, payment was late by several months; in some cases, I never received it at all.
I don’t have this problem as a wedding photographer. We’re either smart, lucky or both. Service providers for weddings, including photographers, DJs and florists, generally receive at least partial payment in advance. We are paid for making the sale and then — down the road — we are paid again for doing the job.
Our business accepts a 50 percent, non-refundable retainer along with a signed contract to accept any commission for wedding photography. The balance is due a month before the couple’s wedding. Only after working in the business of wedding photography did I really understand the value of getting paid in advance.
Here are just a few of the reasons:
1. We are able to generate income immediately, not after the fact.
2. We are able to forecast (quite accurately) what we will earn for the upcoming wedding season. Our receivables are a key indicator of the health of our business.
3. We can analyze our earnings and, based on our costs, adjust them in real time to improve our bottom line.
4. We can schedule our year (including vacations) well in advance.
5. It’s the way attorneys are paid:)
And it sure beats the alternative: Calling an assignment editor in search of a lost pay check.
Shouldn’t everyone be looking to the possibility of payment in advance? I don’t know whether this is feasible in other forms of assignment photography. But there’s always a first time.
In this era of financial losses for magazines and newspapers, it’s certainly something to think about. The accounting departments of media companies don’t necessarily prioritize paying freelance assignment photographers, especially if they have other, more pressing bills to pay. Read A Photo Editor’s comments on magazines behaving badly  for more.
So why let yourself get stuck with the bill in the first place? Do you think it’s realistic to ask assignment editors for payment in advance of any completed and delivered work? Let me know your thoughts.