Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is Freelancing Worth It Right Now?

Companies are outsourcing more projects to freelancers.

That's the good news.

The bad news? Many of these projects aren't worth doing.

Case in point: The other day, I heard about a publication looking for freelancers to write 1,000 word articles (2-3 pages) on health care topics for $25 an article. Hell, I'd shell out more than that just to buy the coffee necessary to power me through such demanding subject matter, never mind the phone and babysitting overhead costs such a project would incur.

In other words, it's not worth doing. Too bad.

I got a kick out of this freelance job listing that touts itself as a "fun job for out of work journalists" and pays 0.00175/per word once training is over (it pays even less during training). Yes, 0.00175 per word. In total, it would amount to a paycheck of around $210 to edit a 120,000-word manuscript.

I wish I could say that such projects are the exception instead of the rule. The prospect of actually losing money on projects, however, is the dirty little underbelly of freelancing right now as both laid-off journalists and unemployed "I've always wanted to be a writer!" types flood the freelance marketplace. A buyer's market means skyrocketing competition and decelerating pay scales.

I know freelancers with a decade or more of experience, myself included, who are waiting patiently on the sidelines for projects that seem worth pursuing. By that, I mean projects that pay a fair wage and offer us a chance to work with fun, creative, smart people over the long term. Sure, we could pull our hair out working into the wee hours for a $15 paycheck here and a $10 paycheck there, but why bother? At those rates, I'd rather watch The Daily Show and get a good night's sleep.

I don't know if I'm making the right short-term decision to lay low for a few months until the market settles down, but it feels right. I'll put my energies in to blogging and other things. Besides, a little self worth still goes a long way, even in the Great Recession.


  1. It's a dismal marketplace, indeed. I do hope that it begins to pick up again... along with the pay. The scary thing is that it seems like the whole journalism industry is undergoing such a transformation - it's hard to imagine what it will look like on the other end. Scary times but perhaps it leaves room for opportunity as well. In any case, you're an excellent writer, Chris. So at least you're well-positioned with the right talent to maximize any opportunity.

  2. Thanks so much, Sara! It makes me feel so much better coming from an excellent writer such as yourself. It is crazy out there. I'm sure the market will settle down at some point. I just hope I can last that long...

    Thanks for posting!