When I first started working as a freelance writer, it wasn’t hard to find places that paid writers. Finding places that paid writers a real, “market value” wage (typically, 3 cents per word*) as a little harder and making enough to eat was iffy, but they were still paying.
The first place I wrote for paid $10-12 per 1000 word article. They were basically a middle-man. Website owners and other various places put in a request for whatever they needed in word form and then those requests went up on the site. Writers claimed the pieces they could write about and then had like three days to complete the piece.
Or something like that. It was easy cash that paid for luxuries like new music or movie tickets. I never made enough off of it to call it a “living” or a “job.” And I saw a couple of my pieces online in different places – a travel website, a bridal website, a college website – so that was kind of cool.
From there I moved on to Associated Content. Their pay scale was either really similar or exactly the same – $10-12 per piece, depending on popularity of the subject matter, read also: how much ad revenue they were going to get off of it – and later they implemented a performance bonus, which was something like $1 per 1000 page views. So, if you wrote about the really good topics (I didn’t) and had a lot of followers (I didn’t), you could pull in some pretty decent money. I didn’t. But I was okay with what I did get because I was still being paid for it.
Later, Yahoo! took over Associated Content and changed things around. Instead of paying up front for articles, they cut it to only performance payments (same model as before). Before long, everyone who had been writing for Associated Content from the beginning (8 years at that time) had to re-apply and be approved before they could continue writing for Yahoo! and had to commit to a certain number of articles per week. But still only get paid $1 per 1000 page views. More work, more restrictions, probably higher quality of work produced, but for less pay. From a major corporation.
Fast forward to 2016 and I am writing kind of haphazardly for an entertainment blog, Blogcritics.org. Blogcritics doesn’t pay their writers. You can attach your Google AdSense account to your Blogcritics account and get paid that way but now instead of $1 per 1000 page views it’s more like $1 per 1000 ad clicks (I totally made that number up; I’m too lazy to dig in for the real number) and no one ever clicks on ads. They might click on Amazon links but Amazon links don’t go into the Google bank (for obvious reasons)
But writing for them is my choice. I feel like they’ve built a decent reputation in the whatever 10-13 years they’ve been around and I get to write about anything I want. Pretty much. I mean, they don’t really have an audience for “10 things no one ever told you you would need to live in college” but mostly I can write about anything I want. Which is mostly music, something even Associated Content wouldn’t pay me for, when they were paying for articles (not enough traffic blah blah blah). But I don’t have to be like, “hey, I usually write music reviews but my friend just published her fourth novel and I’d like to interview her….can I?” I just do it and submit it and it lands in the book editor’s email. Plus, every now and then stuff gets republished – mostly in the Seattle PI, but I’ve found other things other places – and I always get credit and a link back to my profile when it does.
But what’s worse is no one else pays either.
There was a lot of stir about Huffington Post not paying freelance writers (because Wil Wheaton made a lot of stir about Huffington Post not paying) but it is my understanding that a few major magazines (Alternative Press – AP – leaps to mind) also don’t pay freelancers.** It is getting to the point where if you want to write and you want people to read what you write, you either get it published somewhere that doesn’t pay, somewhere that pays peanuts, or figure out how to become the next Tavi Gevinson. There are still a few content libraries (like the one I mentioned in the first round) but the requested articles you get to choose from are largely tech articles (because – typically, not always but typically – people who run tech companies are terrible writers). So if you can write tech articles, get on that. If you don’t, join the struggle or write the Great American Novel and make your millions that way (HA).
I wish I knew where this idea came from that artists (be it writers or photographers or musicians, because it‘s not just writers, that‘s just the perspective I have on the situation) don’t deserve to be paid for their work. Because you know damned well the editors offering these “free”lance writing and photog positions, or offering to print your work “for the byline,” are getting paid to do their jobs. The manager at the bar who wants bands to play for “exposure” or a “free tab” is getting paid to do his job. But they sure as hell don’t want to pay us to do ours. And it’s a fairly recent epidemic. And I can’t even say, “Don’t do it!” because I did it. I do it. And I know what starting out was like. I got paid in peanuts but I got paid. Kids who are now the age I was then, just starting out, are struggling to even find someone to pay them in peanuts.
* This piece should be worth $30. Just to put it into perspective.
** To be fair, I don’t know about AP’s policies on freelance writers. I have heard, however, from a couple friends who tried to sell them photographs, that they don’t buy photos. They’ll print them with proper credit but won’t pay for them.