Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I Was Paid $12.50 An Hour To Write This Story

I didn't know what I would get paid to write this article. I didn't ask. It doesn't matter. It won't make a tangible dent in paying the rent on my apartment in Brooklyn, or, for that matter, rent on an apartment in any other city. By the time I finish the research, the interviews, the writing, and the editing, whatever small sum—$30, $125, $200—this site pays me will pale in comparison to the effort. It's not "worth it" in a traditional monetary sense. I'm doing it for exposure (maybe hire me?), because I'm interested in the topic, and because it's immediately relevant to my so-called career as a freelance writer. With apologies to H.L. Mencken, this really isn't about the money.

It's not news that making a living by writing on the Internet is a tough business. Freelancing for websites is nearly unsustainable, especially in the one-off pitch, write and edit sense. But here's the thing: It rarely makes financial sense for the website, either. This piece alone will almost certainly lose money for The Awl; nearly all the site's pieces do. (Sorry, gang.) That's true across the Internet, as a few big hits, the site as a whole, or big-name writers carry the rest. While Nate Thayer and the Atlantic battled over a piece the publication asked to run for free, chances are good that if the editors paid him, they would have lost money. This doesn't make the request more or less legitimate, but it is relevant in the never-ending calculus of creating a profitable publication.

Nicholas Jackson worked as an editor at and saw the math first-hand. He has moved on, first to Outside's website and now to Pacific Standard (I had or have contracts with him at both outlets). At The Atlantic's website, he had a monthly freelance budget to use at his disposal, but pieces pitched by the random freelancer rarely made a positive impact on the bottom line. "I can look at it and say that the piece wasn't worth the $100 we paid," he said. "These littler freelance pieces are being subsidized by the James Fallows of the world. There's a small handful of people who can make money online. The hope is that you balance all of that out."

Assume an editor pays a writer $100. Taking as a random decent example a $5 CPM, the piece would need 20,000 pageviews to make that $100. That doesn't take into account the editor's salary, the salaries of any developers, or any other costs beyond getting letters into a Word document. (In particular, the people selling the ads tend to get paid more than all the rest of those people.) In any event, a person can't afford to do much reporting or spend too much time writing if he or she is only getting $100 a story and planning to make a living. The likelihood of that story breaking out in any meaningful way is pretty low.

There is a general correlation between good, hard work and success, but it's not one-to-one. When Ann Friedman edited Good, the magazine produced big, ambitious work, some of which found a wider audience and some that did not. Success was unpredictable. "A lot of that really high quality work were the hits. But there were one or two that weren't for every one that 'hit,'" she said.

In that way, making money on the web has much in common with book publishing, just with more cat photos.

The Internet democratized writing. Obviously. Nearly anyone can string together a few sentences and try to find an audience. Writing seems like an easy gig, or at least one for which no additional knowledge base is required. There's a reason Will Hunting's intelligence is shown through his math prowess, not his ability to pen a paragraph. The number of "writers" exploded, even while one estimate for the number of official jobs for full-time journalists decreased from 61,000 in 1997 to 45,500 in 2012.

But the destruction of the job market hurts not only the quantity, but the quality. For one thing, it reduces the number of mentors. "There's a whole generation of kids who are really bright and who are interested in this work. None of them have been trained as reporters and it's disastrous," said David Samuels, who writes frequently for Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic, and the New Yorker. "Reporting is a craft. Like other crafts, you learn it through apprenticeship and by doing the job. You can't substitute blogging on the Huffington Post for writing long reported pieces for magazines or working your way up from the Quad Cities Times to the Chicago Tribune."

Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet and a frequent speaker on panels about the state of the media and longform journalism. She argues that the issue is not the increase in people putting pen to paper or keypad to blog, but the lack of a mechanism for separating those who should remain amateurs from those who should make a living from writing. "I'm less concerned with lots of people trying to be writers than I am about an industry that doesn't know how to distill out who's good and who's bad, in part because there are so many open doors but more because a lot of outlets either closed or lost their moorings," said Newhouse. "I think that's okay for right now. What I'm hoping is that in the next five years you're going to see some of those doors close but, more importantly, others—including some of the more established outlets—turning themselves into, or back into, powerful entities that can actually help writers become writers. That's a challenge for the adults in the room. But that's not a challenge for kids right out of college." (Samuels and Newhouse now live together, which doesn’t really matter but seems weird to not mention. I talked to them separately. Newhouse was at work; Samuels had just made his two children chicken cutlets for dinner.)

As a result of the lack of a good path to actual jobs—and, maybe, the alternately baffled and entitled Generation Millennial—the prevalence of the freelance lifestyle increases. We want a number for that world, something that reflects What Writing Is Worth Now. But that's an impossible task, something that a massive Branch discussion proved. Revenue streams on the Internet are too nascent and too in-flux to provide anything concrete. A growing number of publications are able to pay something, which is an improvement, but the value of the written word cratered simply because most of the Internet's publications, unlike their printed forebears, has no subscriber base.

"You're looking at a business that managed to flush tens of billions of dollars down the toilet. Except it didn't go down the toilet, it went to Google. The reason Google is worth $30 billion is because an entire industry decided to give away its 'content' for free," said Samuels. "As a working writer, I know that my work isn't free. I know that it cost the magazine money because I know what they paid me and I know what I filed in expenses, and that's the lesser part of what it actually costs to publish something."

I went freelance full time in December 2011 and made $17,000 in the first seven months, an average of almost $2500 a month. Making that little was, more or less, the plan. I had savings and I knew I needed to "get my name out there." I wrote for free. I wrote for very little. I wrote pieces I didn't want to write. I said no to almost nothing.

Slowly, it started to pay off. A story I wrote for The Awl prompted an editor at The Verge to contact me. I've written a number of features for them that paid between $750 and $1,500. After flying on Emirates Airlines and enjoying the in-flight magazine, I pitched the editor. He liked them and I continue to write features that pay a little less than a $1/word. I wrote slideshows for for $10/slide (about sports, not hot women). I wrote a feature ($1,000) and blog posts ($250) for's Grantland, and a photo-driven bit for ESPN The Magazine ($800).

I did pieces for BuzzFeed ($300), Penthouse ($750-$1,500), The Wall Street Journal's sports section ($1/word), SBNation's Longform unit ($1,750), Splitsider ($100), ($300/story), Street Fight ($0 but a slice of equity), The New Republic's website ($150), and other outlets. Some paid more than they needed to, some paid less than they should. Deadspin gave me $100 for two pieces I wrote in Kiev, Ukraine. That seemed low, especially when they offered Jay Mariotti $1,000. (I'm 1/20th as valuable as he? Perhaps not untrue, but still, ouch.) At various points, I had contracts with ($900/month), NBC ($350/month), Outside ($433/month), and Pacific Standard ($600/month).

I pitched and wrote constantly. I submitted invoices to between six and 12 outlets a month. But while I found consistent work, there were no massive payoffs. The most I made for a single piece was $2,200, although I did help launch and continue to edit American Soccer Now, a soccer website. I was paid a one-time fee of $10,000 and given a bit of equity. In my accounting, I spread that money over the six months starting in June, 2012 and now spend two hours a day working on the site, essentially for free.

I did less glamorous work, like ghostwriting a self-help guide ($40/hour) and some light editing and web production for a major media company ($50/hour). These weren't my favorite assignments, but they paid well and freed me up to take a flyer on other pieces with low rates but potentially a bigger impact. Plus, while we'd all like to think there's some magical fairytale land where freelancers write what they want when they want, that simply isn't true. I have talked to many, many freelance writers while trying to figure out how to make it as one over the past eight years, and the vast majority take the occasional (or frequent) lucrative gig when it arrives.

I'm lucky. I'm making it work. I learned plenty about the economics of business, the good and the bad, especially that I am a poor negotiator. Still, I made a little more than $50,000 in the last six months of 2012 and around $45,000 during the first half of this year. It's possible to succeed in this gig economy. It's also exhausting. I've grown more ambitious and pitched bigger stories to larger outlets, but nothing has hit yet. Still, I keep trying.

Ken Doctor says that this "gig" model is actually a throwback to the past. "The journalism that developed post-World War II and lasted for so long was able to generate lots of middle-class jobs at middle-class wages. You would work for one employer and make enough money to live a middle-class life. Those jobs have mostly gone away, and the idea of doing two or three things at least for different people and cobbling together enough money to make a desent income is where a lot of this has gone," the founder says. "That's what a lot of journalists did pre-World War II. They worked two or three different jobs. They were contractors of one kind or another. Clearly, it's going in that direction." Tina Brown knows we’ve forgotten that history.

New entrants to the freelance world don't expect to land huge contracts, which are even rarer today than they were in the past when media thrived. Instead, they fit the puzzle pieces together. After Ann Friedman was laid off from Good, she started writing weekly columns for CJR and, brilliant charts for The Hairpin, and other posts for various other outlets. "Reoccurring web columns are the backbone of my income," she said.

Print isn't the rule; it's the exception, which Friedman learned (or perhaps already knew in her capacity as an editor). "My plan that I'm going to supplement my weekly web income with a few big print stories might not be feasible even two years down the road. I'm aware of that," she said. "But for me, it's a race against time. How can I build a personal brand as a journalist, not to Andrew Sullivan levels or anything, but the recognition that I have job security before the parachute of print assignments goes away? That's how I see my personal calculus."

"I'm personally very optimistic that I'm going to get there, but I think that there are other ways to do it, too. If the industry stabilizes at 30,000 jobs, which is something like half of the historical number, I plan to be one of those 30,000, because people will know me as a journalist already—not because I have a contract at a magazine."

The plan is working. She called me while on a reporting trip for a major magazine, and AFAR recently sent her to Osaka, Japan to do a feature called "Spin the Globe" that caters to well-known writers.

The digital-first publications, even those with massive amounts of venture capital, have decent rationale for their pay rates. The print outfits, however…. "I actually think it would be possible for old-school print outlets to pay better if they wouldn't over-assign or if they didn't have super-fancy real estate in Midtown," Friedman said. "The notion that media is both a struggling industry and a glamour profession is totally ridiculous. If you're a struggling industry that's worried about declining advertising revenues, fucking pack up, move to Brooklyn, and stop triple-assigning every issue."

Condé Nast's upcoming move to the World Trade Center was not actually a great deal; their base rent is something like $60 million a year, on average, escalating over time. That doesn't count any costs like electricity or sales tax on rent, and their much-vaunted rent rebate of $46 million averages out at less than $3 million a year over 17 years. The World Trade Center hasn't signed another commercial tenant since, in the last two years, which means offering rents are dropping. Media companies in general are terribly advised regarding real estate: while Time Inc. was being told by one consultant to take on an additional 300,000 square feet, in actuality, they already had 200,000 square feet they didn't even need. (Time Inc.'s lease is up in 2017.)

Here's a math problem: Condé Nast's New Yorker, a publication with whom any freelance journalist would love to be associated, pays $250 for all online pieces. On one hand, that's not much, particularly in contrast to their print rates. Yet it's about what The New York Times pays for op-eds. And consider the economics: If publishes eight pieces a day—not unreasonable at all—they pay out $2,000 a day. That's half a million a year, just in freelance, and also not an insignificant amount of money.

There's a vital distinction to be made between artistic value and monetary value. All writing (at least in theory) has the former, little of it has the latter, at least in any real magazine-world sense. "If my mom is going to blog, it doesn't mean she should make a living off it," Jackson said. "It seems like no one is saying that you can't live on it because there's too much supply and you're not great at it. You're not meant for it."

Of course, there are benefits to this new world, like the opportunity to build something great. "Living in bombed-out Hamburg really sucks if you had a nice house, because you're probably never going to see that house again," Samuels said. "But it's really not so bad if you're 19-years-old and selling black market stockings in an alley somewhere. That wasn't going to lead much of anything in pre-war Hamburg, but in the new post-war Hamburg you could end up as the Black Market Stocking King and before you know it, be the mayor of the city, because everybody else had their house leveled and is paralyzed by fear and loss. It's a level playing field again. That's exciting."

"The problem now is," he said, "who are you going to learn your craft from? What structures are going to support you in doing work that's any good? And how are you going to know if it's any good? Because what's out there now is a bunch of shattered buildings and scared people—and that's not a set of structures that allows for depth of knowledge and craft. Nobody looks at you now when you're 27 and you write the kind of stuff that everyone who is 27 writes and says 'hey, man, I know you think this is smart but there's this, this, and that, and you need to have an aesthetic that governs what you do and isn't dumb, and you need to actually spend time with the people you write about, and if you just join the herd of smart-asses on Twitter you will end up looking like a tool.' That's embarrassing, but you learn that way, or at least I did. Right now, those structures that I had, as limited as they were, don't really exist at all. When all the older people are begging for spare change by the side of the highway, you don't have a lot of incentive to listen to their wisdom."

I’m not complaining. I make more money than my dumb-ass 21-year-old self ever thought I would when I decided to "move to New York and become a writer" my senior year of college. The lack of long-term stability can be troubling, especially on those frustrating days when editors aren’t returning my emails, but that’s a conscious trade-off I made for being able to go running in the middle of the day. I work hard, really hard, but not appreciably more or less so than my friends who are teachers, television producers, operations managers, and lawyers. Most of the time, I very much like what I do. This plan might not work forever, but in a world that’s less about traditional, one-company one-job careers and more about bouncing around and trying to find a way, it works for now.

When I was nearly done with this piece, I got curious and asked what I was getting paid. The answer is $250. Honestly, that seemed fair. Still, I think it's worth more, and I would have done it for less.

Noah Davis (@noahedavis) should have been a rock star. Photo by "ishawalia."

48 Comments / Post A Comment

jfruh (#713)

I still don't know what I'm getting paid for the Awl stories I wrote so far this year! #doxxing #loveutheawl #butitseemedinthespiritofthething #dox-dox-dox

jfruh (#713)

@jfruh i mean, I guess I could've ASKED like mr. assertive here

jfruh (#713)

@jfruh these comments make me more "mr. passive aggressive"

Annie K. (#3,563)

@jfruh In my vast experience with the Awl, it does happen but long after you've given up hope.

jfruh (#713)

@Annie K. haaaa, I know they're good for it! It's the "how much" rather than "when" I'm suddenly curious about. WILL IT BE MORE THAN LAST TIME, MAYBE???

So the moral here is people who have full-time jobs and freelance "for fun" (because we are cowards) are monsters, right?

TheZulkey (#244,948)

@antarctica starts here yeah but that insurance sure tastes sweet.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@antarctica starts here the moral is: Cost-benefit analysis, do it always

foxbat91 (#9,832)

95k in a 12-month span is pretty good for anything not involving wearing a suit or doing math. Maybe I should have been a freelance writer.

ragazza (#241,456)

@foxbat91 Keep in mind freelancers have to set aside about 30 percent for taxes, since you don't have an employer contributing to Social Security, etc. (And you have to pay them quarterly.) Plus you have to buy your own office supplies, computer equipment/software, health insurance, etc. And it's not guaranteed he'll make that much every year.

jfruh (#713)

@ragazza speaking as a freelancer who has to do all that, $95K is still a really good amount of money to make in America in 2013! I mean, a freelancer has to set aside 30% for taxes, but … so do people who aren't freelancers? They just have their employer's payroll dept. set it aside for them. It's not like someone who makes $95K at a bank takes home checks that they can cash for $95K a year.

I'm not denying that freelancers don't have to pay higher taxes on the same income, though not radically higher; like on the order of 6-7%, which is something that full-time employee has paid for by his/her employer behind the scenes and would be taken into the calculation of what his/her "total compensation" is by said employer's bean counters. Yes, you have to buy your own health insurance, though most full-time employees are now paying substiantial portions of their insurance premiums themselves. And yeah you have to buy your own stuff, though for a freelance writer that 's mostly computers, which, how many freelance writers wouldn't already own a computer if they had a full-time job? If anything it's an opportuntiy to write off something you would've bought anyway.

Basically what I'm saying is: It's absolutely true that someone with a salary of $95K a year is doing better than someone with $95K a year of freelance income. But someone making $95K a year in freelance income is doing a better financially than most Americans, including most Americans who are on salary.

As for the wide swings in income: yeah, that's a big problem, obviously. But guess what, full-time employees get fired or laid off sometimes! At least when you're a freelancer you generally don't lose *all* your clients at once.

Sorry for this long diatribe. I appreciate the author's candor about the process a lot. But, I have to say, never stop reaching for the stars and all that, but I think $9%K is a pretty good income and doesn't really need a lot of "oh but it's not a really $95K" hedging.

foxbat91 (#9,832)

yup. The difference with freelance income would be that the payroll tax isn't automatically withheld, but that is paid by everyone on a salary too. You also don't get the tax break for employer-provided health insurance, which is a substantial but not huge amount of money. If you buy your equipment (and make enough to be paying income tax) then you can deduct it as business expenses.

So you do end up having to pay like 30% in taxes… because you're making almost $100k in a year. If the modern freelance economy involves a non-brand-name (no offense!) independent journalist/writer pulling down twice the median annual income with less than a decade of experience in the job and having time to go for a run in the middle of the day then I don't think that is something worth lamenting.

jfruh (#713)

@foxbat91 You also don't get the tax break for employer-provided health insurance, which is a substantial but not huge amount of money.

Actually, if you're a freelancer and you buy your own health insurance it's tax deductable. Irritatingly, that's only if you don't have access to a spouse's employer-sponsored plan, although such plans are usually better deals anyway.

ACam (#244,944)

This piece is both eye-opening and problematic for many reasons. Eye-opening for exploring how the page-views business model can work and problematic because it works to reinforce the false yet popular belief that art and business can't exist in harmony. I think Samuels comments on the "ground zero" of journalism are somewhat elitist. Not everyone will have the chance to cut their writing chops at newspapers because so many newspapers are dying. The new career path may be from personal blog, to small-time website contributor to staff writer at big-name web publication and there is nothing wrong with that.

Gunther Ham (#244,946)

I think this is a well-written piece and I'm sure it'll get page views because it's a hot topic and the kind of thing (other than kitten and hot-girl pics) that people link to through social media, etc. etc. but to whom, other than the author, is it worth $250? In the sense that I'm sure they could have gotten someone else to write it, perhaps less well, for $200 or $150 or free? Again, the actual quality of writing and the author's background and experience (which, let's be honest, is also the main bulk of the content for this particular piece) help make the piece and thoughtful, interesting, thought-provoking (to some extent) article, but NONE of that is what is going to take it from a few hundred page views to several thousand. In order for this to be worth $250 to anyone other than the writer, we'll have to sit through at least three or four more slide shows of hot tech workers or "50 Cute Animal Pictures You NEED to see before you die." And I get that that's kind of the point, I do, but still…

"Samuels and Newhouse now live together, which doesn’t really matter but seems weird to not mention."

Disagree, given that a lot of getting ahead in media is about forging relationships (as one of your sources says in her own meta-piece on the writing world that got published today), and this speaks to a certain amount of clubbiness being in place.

I also think it's worth picking apart the subjects that are worthy of being paid for. Your specialties seem to be sports and tech (but not women, this time), which are sort of, pardon the expression, dude-centric verticals. What are the pay rates like for subjects that fall outside of those purviews? The discussion about women's media not being taken seriously would probably be further illuminated by putting rates for pieces about "women's subjects" (GIANT COUGH) side by side with what you've earned.

Valerie Brown (#244,951)

@Maura Johnston Clubbiness is right. And if you live on the Left Coast the picture is considerably worse, clubbiness-wise, because it's hard to be clubby if you're not in physical proximity. I have to say, I read this piece because I'm desperately seeking some way to stabilize and increase my entirely freelance income. If I'm going to end up selling pencils by the side of the road because I'm old relative to the Black Market Stocking King, my goal seems unattainable. Am I supposed to buy pencils instead of pitching stories? The playing field may be level, but it doesn't reward merit. It rewards page views. It also doesn't reward credentials and experience outside of the little tiny slice of the journalism world consisting of the NYT, the New Yorker, and The Atlantic. It is clear that my "business model" is dead and I need a new one. But this piece, just like all the other pieces on how to survive in the new digital marketplace, fails to offer any real workable approach. Maybe you can work 60 hours a week but I can't, so I guess I can't survive on the new playing field. In Darwinian terms, fine. Adapt or die. In my own personal terms, however, it's a deep disappointment that earning an advanced degree and spending 20 years writing really good stuff about really complicated ideas means nothing. I met a woman in Odessa selling nested Russian dolls about 10 years after the Soviet Union collapsed. Somebody told me she was a psychiatrist. I wonder if I can find some Russian dolls on EBay to re-sell….

Glynnis (#4,917)

@Maura Johnston In terms of picking apart the subjects that are worthy of being paid for, in my experience writing for women's magazines (whether the so-called powers that be in the media world take them seriously or not) is currently one of the better paying writing gigs out there. If you can get into the women's mag business (and here, as with nearly everything in media, the clubbiness comes in) the payout is bigger than anything Noah mentions in this piece. Who's to say, as Ann notes, whether it will be sustainable in the longrun — Noah and I were covering this very question way back when we worked at FBNY six years ago. But currently "women's subjects" as determined by the women's mag world are a pretty enviable gig income-wise.

Drawn7979 (#242,134)

definitely women's magazines!

@Glynnis That is good to know. I have not broken into the glossies, although I have written for women's sites (and been paid not-great-to-okay). As a music writer I see a lot of overlap with men's mags as far as the big names—Complex, Vice, etc—hence my skepticism.

Joel Keller (#244,980)

@Glynnis But aren't many of the women's glossies a big fat hassle? I've only gotten one piece in them myself — an essay at the now-defunct Jane — but every story I've heard about them says that the editing/rewrite process is a nightmare, and makes the per-hour rate for that story pretty low, despite $2 and $3/word rates.

Valerie Brown (#244,951)

@Joel Keller This has been my experience too. One article solicited by a women's glossy after I'd won an award for an article on the same subject in a different publication; my draft shredded into little more than a sidebar, and months of phone calls to get my check; foreign payment(s) still outstanding. If I am uncomfortable with the editing process I can't work for a publication no matter how much they pay me.

ACam (#244,944)

I also didn't appreciate the dig on young/new writers who embrace the social web. We are compared to victims of war hawking bootleg pantyhose in a razed city. This is a strange way to characterize new writers and it feels somewhat condescending.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@ACam "Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those accounts stopped tweeting forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every tweet that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many tweets you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays."

ACam (#244,944)

@stuffisthings I don't quite understand what you are saying here and it is clear that you didn't take the time to understand what I was saying. I don't much feel like reiterating myself.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

I don't know how to explain this without being condescending myself.
Maybe start here?

libmas (#231)

@stuffisthings Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@libmas tbf at least the Borgias paid their artists.

TheZulkey (#244,948)

This piece is making me wonder how much money the Awl hypothetically owes me which I don't particularly want to think about but I also know I should so, argh.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

My total freelance writing income for 2012-2013 is considerably lower than what Davis made for this one post, BUT my hourly rate still comes out much higher, so I consider it a win.

daysgoby (#244,950)

So what I'm getting from the comments section of this particular post is that … The Awl owes a lot of people some amounts of money, haha.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@daysgoby Better than owing some people a lot of amounts of money.

neuroautomaton (#244,949)

A great article on your experiences—thanks very much for this.

It also sounds as though if you're pulling down close to six figures then you really aren't doing so bad in this modern world.

(Note: the following is a bit of a rant, so careful…)

I would also just like to note that you appear to give short discussion of the actual economics of freelance writing for a publication.

“Freelancing for websites is nearly unsustainable… It rarely makes financial sense for the website…as a few big hits, the site as a whole, or big-name writers carry the rest”.

Just because we know that article X cost more than it earned (directly), doesn’t mean that the purchase of that article will come out to a financial loss.

For example, where do the big hits come from? In some cases these may be the work of big-name writers, but often they will be due to originally low-profile pieces that by chance happen to take off. Thus, when an editor purchases a freelance article, he is not just buying the page-views of that one article but the aggregate page-views he gets for all of the freelance articles that he publishes.

This also discounts a broader question: does the presence of new content increase revenues play an important role in the performance of the site as a whole, regardless of how many page-views the specific article garners? There is obvious a value for a site in having new content, even if that content only keeps viewers on the site. They may not click on the specific article, but it almost certainly affects the probability that a reader will read something.

Further, there is a possibility that big-name writers will be more likely to write for a publication which produces quality content, even if that content is not widely read.

Of course, all of these cases require the assumption that employing freelancers actually does improve bottom-line performance in these various ways. But regardless of whether or not these assumptions are correct, I’ll bet that editors have similar reasons in mind when they so willingly “lose money” on employing freelance authors to write their articles.

(Sorry if this sounds like a rant—I just don’t think we should ignore the possibility of intangible value in freelance writing… That said, it’s definitely not the industry for me, so best of luck in the future!)

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@neuroautomaton If I were managing a freelance budget, I would definitely look at how many pageviews were generated by all my freelancers vs. the money spent on all of them as my main metric — perhaps over a longer period, like 3 months at a time.

Eddy (#244,959)

In a couple of years you will be able to write this story in one hour. Then you will be paid $250 an hour. Join the club.

Smiler29 (#244,964)

The problem lies with the failed online media business model that offers free quality content, while living off the scraps of CPM ad rates. We will look back at this period as the high water mark of gloriously free long-form journalism.
"What? You used to read Vanity Fair online for free?? Really?"
The writing industry deserves better. The answer lies in some kind of global media passport where I make frictionless micro-payments to read quality articles such as this one, by-passing Google in the process.
50% of 10,000 page views @ 20 cents = $1k to you my friend

ianmac47 (#218,037)

@Smiler29 @Smiler29 Media companies have done a poor job of monetizing their content. Few outlets have changed the way advertisers purchase ads. Its a complex system that technology should have streamlined for both efficiency and higher values. There are still ad agencies today that don't take online ads seriously. The best components of online ads are only more recently becoming common place. Plus, people are still willing to overpay for print and broadcast or cable television ads. Even though every single ad displayed online can be linked to a specific set of eyeballs with specific demographic information, that view is still less valuable than a printed ad in a newspaper buried in the back of section B.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

@Smiler29 — The fact that there is no micropayment system after all these years is interesting. It doesn't seem like a technologically insuperable problem. It would certainly change the game for writers, publishers, and others involved in arts and entertainment.

lizard (#240,819)

that girl needs a manicure.

carissa006 (#245,001)

she really does

Chrigid (#245,213)

Thumbs up to micropayments!

Freddie DeBoer (#4,188)

The fundamental problem is that every writer I know thinks of him- or herself as the exception to every rule.

tsarevnahd (#245,419)

Thumbs up to micropayments!

tweetbit (#245,703)

Thumbs up to micropayments! (#246,868)

I love this article, there's no holding back in terms of disclosing your salary haha.

FinalCutPro (#274,598)

The writer seems like a nice guy, and clearly bright enough to be a writer, as are many of the people who left replies, but I am really surprised at how naive so many of you are. Honestly, do you really think he revealed how much he earned this year? No one does that. Either he made a lot more and said he made less so he does not get more comments about how great he is doing n this economy, or he is making less so his "financially successful" friends don't think he is a loser. I liked the article. I am glad he wrote it. But when was the last time any of you wrote an article, or went on tv, or did an interview and revealed exactly how much you earn. No one does that. Even Howard Stern continues to deny how much he earns and tries to convince his readers that he, with his hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank, is just a regular guy eating tuna fish sandwiches. Give me a break. Don't be so naive. There is plenty to discuss about this article, but concentrating on his supposed income is not worth the time since it is the only thing that is not verifiable. For the record, I hope he earns a heck of a lot more than that!

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