February 16th, 2012
I recently was interviewed for the freelance journalism site Ebyline by Susan Johnston of the The Urban Muse. Here’s my favorite question from the bunch. (You can read the interview in its entirety here.)
What changes have you observed in the freelance landscape over the past several years?
Online assignments have gotten shorter. Many national media outlets that once asked writers for 800-1500 word web stories are now asking for 300-600 word blog posts. This has decimated pay rates for freelancers writing for these sites. Online aggregation has become the norm, too, with many leading sites heavily relying on partner content (for example, msnbc.com routinely using stories from sites like Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com). This also means fewer opportunities for freelancers.
But not all hope is lost. Freelancers who want to write for mainstream web outlets just need to fold in more lucrative assignments to supplement their income. Consumer magazines, trade and custom publications and copywriting remain a good bet, as do editing, teaching and coaching. And diversification, staying on top of publishing trends and following the money is perhaps more important than ever before.
A few other changes that seem to be the norm now thanks to web and mobile publishing:
- More freelancers are expected to provide links, photos, videos, audio and/or HTML tags when filing their stories, as well as promotion via social media outlets when the story runs. Depending on how well you negotiate with editors, this will either mean a bit of extra work per assignment or a bit extra of pay.
- Given all the aggregation that’s happened in recent years, all-rights and work-for-hire contracts are fairly standard for online writing these days. That’s not to say you can’t negotiate or can’t find an outlet that will let the rights to your work revert back to you at some future date. It just seems that these deals are more scarce.
- Many online startups have no qualms asking freelancers to write for free or close to it. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of new, hobbyist or exposure-hungry writers willing to take the bait. For this reason, I advise inquiring about the rate in the first conversation you have with a new-to-you outlet.