Amit at India Uncut says “My rule of thumb while doing freelance stuff for Indian publications: don’t write for money; too much of a headache chasing it.” Very true Amit.
The same can be said about photographing for any Indian publication. They will want the work right away but pay you when they see fit, which if my experiences mean anything is either when you become a pain in the ass to them or they choose to designate you as a non-entity and want you to disappear.
The solution isn’t working for free [unless you are independently wealthy or a trust-fund baby] but sticking to your guns BEFORE you commit to the assignment. The way to do that is through a contract signed by both parties. Yes, that’s cumbersome and yes, given that the offending publications are ensconced in India, where these sort of contractual laws fall by the way side, this may all seem moot. But you have gotta start somewhere.
In the contract, insist on a retainer [don’t call it an advance] to cover all your immediate expenses. Payment should be made due upon delivery of said product, be it a paragraph or a photograph. You will likely hear a song and dance about how accounting won’t release the funds until the article is published. This is merely a dog and pony show. If they did not have the funds to pay you, they are unlikely to have the funds to go to print but of course they will go to print because they have the funds. Again, stick to your guns. If you are a photographer, I suggest sending in low-resolution images with the caveat that high resolution versions will be emailed to them the second their payment is received in your bank account. Yes, they are all capable of wiring you money.
All this talk of a contracts and deadlines will make you highly unpopular and will likely get you blackballed. I haven’t heard from several publications in months [you know who you are] because I got sick of their tactics and put the screws on their accounting departments. In my opinion, it’s really their loss.
If their management insists on paying freelancers peanuts to begin with and then adding insult to injury, paying for the assignment only months later, they are undeniably only getting desperate freelancers who are willing to scrape the barrel or, as I have said before, are cash cows who could care less about being stiffed. The publications are also unlikely to sustain, over the long term, a pool of truly professional photographers or writers dedicated to their craft. In the end, professionals loose out and so do the publications as the quality of their output goes down the drain.
It’s a very different world out there. While the Indian economy seems to be competing very well in the global marketplace, the publishing/journalism industry seems to be entrenched in archaic and decrepit ways of doing business. I see the capacity of India Today to not merely compete against Outlook magazine but indeed go head to head with Time, Newsweek or Spiegel.
It’s time for Indian publications to wake up and smell the chai.
UPDATE: I came across this related post on ArZan’s blog.