The Copy Conundrum

A Thing Of Mystery.

I want to write a little about copies today. In New York City, they are especially valuable. So valuable, in fact, that companies would not want us to know their worth. “How could that be? My company doesn’t pay copies!” “My company only pays 15 cents!” “Mine only pays 25 cents!” “Mine only pays 50 cents!” Perhaps we should all be sitting down for the information that follows.

Free Market Rules.

In New York, we might be shocked to learn that, for better or worse, there are no rules. Private companies may charge whatever they wish for the record. This is not an inherently bad thing. It allows them to compete and profit. However, what is a bad thing, is that many reporters graduate school without ever really knowing about copies. The cycle is to get out of school, be offered a low copy rate, and assume that copies are not worth very much because everyone offers low copy rates.

Time for a truth bomb. Companies can charge as much as or more than the original transcript for a copy sale. If you are on a job for a company’s client, and they’re charging $4.00 per page on that original and giving it all to you, that might seem like a pretty sweet deal. Now imagine there is a copy, and they are charging $4.00 per page for that copy. You have done literally all of the transcript work, and you get none of the tax write-offs of printing or binding the transcript, and they are making about an equal share. Add one more copy, and they’re making double what you are.

But They Need Money, Too!

Over the years, I’ve made this argument that people need to start asking for more for those copies, and it’s often met with “well, companies need money to stay in business and get us the jobs.” I hear you, and to some extent I’ll agree with you, but let me counter that by saying they’re not hurting. Do a little critical thinking: If our agency has a satellite office in every borough and and army of proofreaders, they’re doing pretty good. They are profiting off of our unwillingness to ask for more. We are doing our fair share by putting out excellent work every time we go out there, and it is entirely fair for us to have a larger slice of each individual pie, and for them to benefit from their bulk work. Think of how many hours it takes us to take down and perfect a 300-page transcript. It’ll take maybe an hour to print and bind. Add a single copy, and they’re making in one hour what took us all day.

But Let’s Be Fair.

There are, of course, costs to running an agency that we don’t have to deal with. Generally, we don’t deal with clients that don’t pay. Generally, we don’t deal with haggling over a bill. The truth is a lawyer may call up on that $4.00 per page copy bill, and they might negotiate themselves down to half of that bill or less, if the agency would rather have the money now than fight it out in Commercial Claims Court. So do agencies always make bank off the copies? Nope. That said, we have a duty to ourselves to always push for more, because we are freelancers, we are receiving no guarantees, and so it is incumbent on us to make the most we can out of each individual job.

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