Any freelancer will tell you times are hard. There’s less money to go around and more of us are carving out ‘portfolio’ careers having been freed - or let go - from the secure but staid shackles of the 9-5.
Last December I responded to an advert for freelance copywriters and, as requested, sent examples of my published work. I heard nothing for five months. Then in May a very nice woman got in touch to say the company was interested in me and asked if I could send my rate.
I don’t have a set rate as I write for newspapers and magazines that commission per piece. I gave her an idea of what I got paid per 1,000 words and she said fine. Would I, she asked, be happy to write two sample articles to deadline? They wouldn’t be for commercial use and so they would be unpaid. I said yes as I saw it as being in lieu of an interview.
So, I put everything aside to write them. They were short (one was 350 words and another 500), but research heavy. One was a travel article and another was about education – both subjects I have considerable experience writing about.
I filed to deadline and heard nothing. Five days later I gave her a prod and she responded quickly (it’s either five months or five seconds with this lot). The company liked them, she said. The company would certainly like to have me onboard. But first, could I clarify my rate? This time per word.
I didn’t have a clue. I canvassed journalists who suggested 50p a word. I thought that might be a little steep so I decided on 30p then settled on 25p. A short article that requires substantial research, done well, could not be dashed off. However, 25p a word is only £250 per 1,000 words which is hardly a grand fee.
Absolutely fine, she said before adding that she wouldn’t be able to offer me much work as the vast majority of her clients pay a “much lower” rate. That rate it emerges is 3-6p a word.
Wow, wow and thrice wow. I’ve been in the business a long time. I’m also a long-standing member of the National Union of Journalists and I was on the NEC for a while. I’ve moaned about wages and pay freezes until I’m blue in the face. But this? This is a whole new level of bad practice.
That was six weeks ago and I heard nothing until a few days ago when I received a round robin email from her. I responded to ask if there was any work in the pipeline and hours later received another round robin email offering me the chance to write “fun” 150-word articles for an app by a “young start-up”. The fee? £5 per article.
Gobsmacked, I contacted an old friend who is a well-respected professional copywriter. He told me this company sounded like a ‘content farm’ that churns out large amounts of ‘click bait’ - online content with keywords that keep them prominent in search engines. It reaps the rewards of ad revenue but pays writers peanuts.
This company would no doubt deny it is a content farm. It's rated as one of the UK’s best start-ups and presently has 12 office-based vacancies advertised (salaries unknown although internships appear to be paid). That’s how quick it's expanding. So why pay so little to freelance writers, many of whom are students I’m told?
I’ve contacted the NUJ and shamed the company here. The next thing I wonder is, do I name it?
SEO: What? This isn't a content farm you know. Oh go on then: journalist, teacher, writer, farmer.