Now it has to be confessed that I have a real ability to somehow get myself tangled up in dying industries. Look at agriculture. I know one year in the 1990s I discovered I’d been working over seventy hours a week at the princely rate of 9p an hour. But thanks to the internet, freelance journalism is going the same way.
When I’m doing proper freelance journalism, serious articles for trade papers, I reckon of getting £200 per thousand words, or 20p per word. For our American cousins that’s about 26 cents a word. For that you get a competent, literate and knowledgeable professional whose article will not merely be a rehash of wiki. As part of gathering the information I’ll probably end up phoning and talking to people just to make sure what I’m saying is absolutely up-to-date and as right as I can make it.
Anyway as a freelance you’re always looking for new work. Editors leave, magazines are sold, bought, disappear owing you serious money. Trust me in this, being a freelance isn’t what I’d call a steady source of money.
So when I saw a website called Custom Content offering freelance work I took a look. Their idea isn’t bad, they act as a clearing house, but unusually they don’t exist to put writer and client in contact, they have writers deliver content to the client via the website. Also the writer has to use a pen name so the client never really knows who it is who has done the work for them, and therefore cannot ‘poach’ them to do more work without paying an intermediary.
So what did this site pay their writers?
Well there are four grades of work.
The idea seems to be you start off on the lowest grade and as you collect more work and your clients seem happy you get promoted to higher grades.
What the writer gets per word
1 Star: 1.2 cents
2 Star: 2.0 cents
3 Star: 4.4 cents
4 Star: 6.6 cents
Tweets and facebook posts are priced differently.
So having looked at what I, as a writer would be paid, I then looked at what I would have to pay if I decided to be a customer. Here they have the same four grades but with somewhat different names
What the client pays
Entry level 2.2 cents
Freelance 3.5 cents
Professional 8 cents
Expert 12 cents
Just out of curiosity, how much was our website making on this? What’s their cut? Simple arithmetic comes to our aid.
Company share per word
1 Star: – 1 cents
2 Star: – 1.5 cents
3 Star: – 3.6 cents
4 Star: – 5.4 cents
So for providing their service they were taking nearly half the money the customer was paying. Good work if you can get it.
So let’s put this is perspective. Firstly I’m looking for 26 cents a word. That obviously puts me well out in front of their expert category.
So what are you getting for your money as a customer?
I mean, for 1 cent a word you can hardly expect somebody to check their spelling after hastily rewording the wiki article for you!
But we can also put things in a historical context. In ‘Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America,’ written by John Cheng he discusses the old pulp magazines. In the 1920s writers were paid between 2 cents and 5 cents a word with one publisher of ‘Westerns’ paying 10 cents a word. Rates dropped a bit during the Great Depression, but still the comparison doesn’t exactly flatter. Custom Content is paying writers less than they would have earned in the 1920s. They are assuming that writers can cope with a rate of pay that hasn’t changed in a century! According to one web page, $100 in 1920 has the spending power of $1,200.04 in 2016.
Apparently the big market for this stuff is blog posts, tweets and facebook posts.
Well you now know how much stuff is worth when you read it on facebook!