The debate on whether and how much content creators should be paid for their work continues without anything resembling a resolution. The Sacramento Bee recently picked up an LA Times article by James Rainey that summarizes the current situation: Publishers like Patch.com trying to lengthen its profit margin by persuading several thousand bloggers to write for it free of charge while journalists urge them not to write without compensation. It’s a good description of the current situation:
But the financial disparity continues to cause friction in the world of content creators, the people we once knew as writers, photographers and editors.
“There has to be a concern if free journalistic labor becomes normal and normative in the profession,” Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large of the American Prospect and a columnist for the Washington Post said when I called him. “Eventually that would subvert newsgathering as we know it, and journalism itself.”
Paul Tullis writes about how the rates for freelance writing have varied over the past few years — and his experience seems to mirror that of many writers I know. He begins by describing his earnings history as looking “like a bell curve,” peaking at about $2/word in the late 1990s, and now down to an occasional 3 cents/word.
However, he reports, things aren’t all bad:
Although some freelancers report receiving five percent of the print edition???s fee for a piece under the same title that would appear only online, over at the Yahoo newsgroup Upod (an acronym for ???under promise, over deliver???) they have better news: a recent poll of the 1000 mostly-freelancer members found several websites offering a dollar-a-word and up.
It’s an interesting piece, and includes a rundown of how much some popular publications pay these days (and a recommendation to go to become an AvantGuild member at mediabistro.com to find more specific information, an organization which I found very useful when I was freelancing).
An article in USA Today's "Ask an Expert" column attracted my attention because of its bouncy optimism when answering a reader's question: "What can you tell me about freelancing?"??The writer gets almost all his information from Elance, a company that he says is "reinventing freelancing." I really can't say either way — I have heard of Elance, and should look into it more fully; it may be an excellent resource. And of course, I know many people who have been highly successful freelancers.
But I can't help wishing that somebody also told the reader that it isn't as easy as all that, and that you have to watch for the content mills that pay $5 for 500 words.
The upside of freelancing is that you become your own boss ??? you set your hours and fees. That independence is great. It is also an affordable way to start a business and in fact can usually be done out of a spare bedroom. Freelancing can also be done full or part time; it's flexible. It's also creative, exciting, and fun. The major downside is that you will need to find consistent work and clients ??? your boss won't just hand you assignments. As such, you have to be proficient at both that thing you do (whether it be web design, writing, consulting, or what have you) and at business.??
But even finding clients and doing the work is easier than ever, and that's another reason freelancing should be on your radar. Simply put, there are a lot more options out there than ever when it comes to finding gigs and doing the work.
Ask an Expert: Freelancing is easier than ever because of technology, attitudes