Thursday, August 12, 2004

Fee or Free?

Fee or Free?
There are many people who are willing to write for free, especially when they have a full time job of their own. They do not mind contributing to publications so long as they get to see their articles published in magazines or books. Few however actually realise that in so doing they are jeopardising the survival of people who write for a fee.

I used to write for many publications at no cost in the past when I was an employee earning a regular income. Occasionally, I get paid writing for a supplement of the main newspaper only because of the publisher's required ownership and rights to the article, and that works fine for me. All these happened about ten years ago.

Today, as a freelance journalist and writer, my livelihood depends on being paid to write. As a gesture of goodwill, I usually provide one free sample of my unpublished works to editors in the hope of them hiring me to write for other articles. Many editors welcomed the gesture and some even assured me that my sample articles will be published. Often these turned out to be empty promises and when the next issues of their publication were released, the content of their topics seemed to be not much dissimilar from my ideas, except that it is written by someone else. This is how it is these days, possibly because there is no black and white to intellectual property rights as far as non-contractual freelancing is concerned.

Writing freelance is not a monetary rewarding job. Usually a writer gets paid about 20 to 30 cents per published word, and this payment do not usually gets received until a month after the article is published. If I write an article in August this year for a November or December issue of a magazine, I will usually only be paid around January next year. If the article is about 1000 words and the fee is 30 cents per word, it means I will be paid $300 after three months from now. In the real world, most editors for magazines only require freelancers to write articles of about one page or up to four pages. Each page is about 500 words and this means a writer must write a substantial amount of articles before he or she can survive.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. The fee paid to the writer includes expenses incurred during the course of writing the article, such as the use of Internet, phone calls and transportation to conduct interviews on phone or meeting interviewees in person.

These are the things being faced by journalists and writers constantly. Print media editors usually get lots of articles free of charge from contributors and from full-time hired staff writers. Freelancers are often only hired for their skills in areas that normal writers do not possess, for example, technical knowledge required for articles of technological content. If you are aspiring to be a freelance writer, your first step is therefore to craft out an area of writing that requires your unique skills or expertise, according to the demand of publishers.


Anti said...

...very interesting.
You hear freelance writer and you think of a guy bleeding the system. I did not know it was such a difficult situation, financially.
At that rate you'd need to publish 10-12 articles a month of decent length.

zhi yang said...

Hey, saw your blog on bloggerforum.

Useful information for freelance.

My Dad's also working in this industry. But he doesn't know how to blog =/

PS: I'm also from Singapore! XD

Gob said...

Now that I see it from your perspective, freelancing does look very bleak indeed. :( It is a painful fact that plagiarism, whether blatant or covert, is very much existent. It, no doubt, feels great to harbour utopistic ideals and regard all writing as an extension of human thought, and hence free. However, bitter experiences such as yours, bring us to the realization that copyright laws and other legal fine print were made to tackle a very real menace. For this reason, I believe you should atleast have a Creative Commons license on your sample works, so that, from a legal angle you are in a much more secure position than just handing them over to likely plagiarists. What do you think ?

Gob said...

Its available worldwide at:

There are no geographical restrictions. It is free for
all artists, writers, poets, musicians and everyone else who ever cared to express their inspirations
and interests.

graceshu said...

wow... eye opening...

Kahani said...

I'm a student of Journalism at a Malaysian university. I recently contributed a short 'test' article to a local magazine targeted at students. It was accepted, and I was paid RM150 with the offer of another, longer piece for about RM300.

I researched the piece copiously with numerous interviews and articles located via online research. Half-way through writing the feature, the magazine was closed down by its publishing house.

*sighs* Ah well, just thought I'd share.

Thesis Writing said...

I Think there is no free profession....but if it comes about soul satisfaction than no fee would matter.

Thesis Writing said...

I Think there is no free profession....but if it comes about soul satisfaction than no fee would matter.