Writers spend hours, often days, working on a story. It makes sense to want to make as much money as possible from that work.
While many writers say there’s potential profit to be made in selling article reprints to noncompeting publications, others say it's become more difficult over the past decade.
So, is there still a market for article reprints?
The answer is a resounding...maybe.
Sharon Hudgins, a cookbook author, food journalist and culinary historian, once attended a conference workshop in which a freelance food writer claimed to make more than $100,000 a year selling his previously written work.
“He said that if he didn’t sell a food story at least three times, it wasn’t worth his time writing it in the first place,” says Hudgins. “That was good advice at the time, but re-selling food articles has become increasingly difficult as editors become more savvy about wanting original works not published elsewhere.”
Anti-plagiarism tools have also made reprints more difficult, according to freelance journalist Sharon Geltner. “Publishers are applying the same anti-plagiarism standards used to police students to journalists who are trying to make a living by selling articles to more than one media outlet after they've already conducted original research and interviews.”
While Geltner says it’s understandable that some overburdened editors may find it easier to hire contract workers and hunt for plagiarism violations rather than hiring a trustworthy stable of writers, it hurts honest reporters who are offering quality pieces that are well-researched and reported.
How difficult is it to resell articles?
Hudgins says that some of the outlets that she writes for do still accept her “one-time rights only” terms, so she can re-write or re-purpose her materials for other outlets, especially websites hungry for content.
“It's always best to be honest with an editor about whether your article, or the main body of the research, has been published elsewhere,” says Hudgins. “And if the publication issues contracts for article assignments, read carefully to make sure that you're not selling them your rights to that material in perpetuity.”
Hudgins says that in the 1980s and early 1990s, she self-syndicated her European newspaper columns (written in English) by sending query letters and sample columns to the food editors of all newspapers in the US that had circulations of 50,000 or more.
“The strategy worked, and during that time, I sold my food columns to many newspapers across the US, from coast to coast,” says Hudgins. “I re-wrote the introductory and concluding paragraphs, to focus the article for that particular publication. By re-selling an especially popular story about a type of German Christmas cookie, over several years, I've made at least $2,500 by re-purposing that article, which originally paid less than $100.” While some articles may not need to be changed at all in order to resell them, Geltner says that some articles can be customized for different publications by altering a few details, such as geography, type of industry and profession.
Tish Davidson, a former parenting writer who now covers health, has had success reselling articles to various regional parenting publications such as Indy's Child, Bay Area Parent, and MetroKids.
“I sold one article called "To Grandmother's House We Go: How to Negotiate a Stress-Free Intergenerational Holiday" 23 times at between $40 and $50 per outlet,” she says. “Not bad for an 800-word story that was previously turned down by two national parenting magazines.”
For Davidson, reselling has only worked in limited-circulation outlets and with fairly generic topics, such as “Seven Reason Why Your Kid Should Go to Camp” or “Getting Kids Ready for Kindergarten.”
On average, she says she resold most stories seven or eight times. She generally would sell to advertising-supported print publications that are distributed free, but also have a website component.
“Know your market well, offer geographic exclusivity in the paper's circulation area, and scrupulously keep your promise,” says Davidson. “You sometimes need to find a local source for a quote to replace a non-local one, but not always.”
Planning to Resell Articles
If attempting to sell article reprints sounds interesting to you, you'll want to start by compiling a list of all of your recent (past year) articles that you own the rights to.
“Once a year, I would compile a list of all the parenting stories I had written that were suitable for reprints (not out of date or too specific to a particular area) and send it to all the editors of the publications I frequently worked with,” says Davidson.
During the year, Davidson would keep track of where each article was sold so that she didn’t sell the same story to two publications in the same geographic area. “Apparently, editors kept these lists, because I would often get a frantic email asking for a reprint story from the list "right away" because the editor had assigned a story to a writer who did not come through with the assignment,” she says.
Davidson’s method is very similar to one outlined in an article presented in Writer’s Digest where the author instructs writers to consider things such as, which markets can be approached for reprints, how the story can be applied to different seasons or holidays, and what special features the story may offer, such as sidebars, expert quotes, surveys, quizzes and more.
Reading the Fine Print
Reading contracts is never fun, but if you want to be able to use your article for anything again, including posting it on your own website, you absolutely must read the fine print.
Some publishers are now asking freelancers to sign “work-for-hire” agreements, meaning, they own everything you write. This makes sense in some cases, but not all, so be careful. A more in-depth discussion about contracts is found in an article by Mandy Ellis over at The Write Life.
Sometimes, you’ll come across a publication that doesn’t have a formal contract. That doesn’t automatically mean you own all of the rights to your material. Never assume anything. “I usually email a memorandum of understanding when I send the article,” says Davidson. “It gives the title of the article, the price we have agreed on, that I'm selling ‘one-time reprint rights in [name of publication's] circulation area,’ and that the article has not appeared in any other publication in their circulation area.”
Once you own the rights to your story, you can approach additional publications, consider working with a syndication service, or even sell reprints overseas, according to Writing World. The options are truly endless.
Have you had success selling article reprints? Share your story in the comments!