The real minimum wage

by Jake Poinier

I was talking with a longtime freelance associate yesterday about two pricing issues she’s having. First, she’s trying to find a way to charge a premium for her services when the client wants to buy extensive rights vs. one-time, one-purpose rights. Second, she’s got a potential ghostwriting job and is attempting to calculate an appropriate rate that won’t price her out of the market.

Jokingly, I mentioned how most pricing matrices, even the ones in The Writer’s Market, aren’t particularly helpful — telling me that writers charge between $0.02 to $2.50 per word isn’t much of a guide when it comes down to formulating an estimate.

Well, lo and behold, while surfing around last night, I stumbled across the above chart and accompanying article in Newsweek: “The Real Minimum Wage.”

Consider me unsurprised that some U.S. freelancers are willing to work for a quarter an hour. (Paging Arianna Huffington!) What I can’t quite figure out is how they’re paying the bills.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie June 21, 2011 at 9:38 am


And then, when a real writer shows up wanting a livable wage for contract work, clients are shocked — shocked! — that you won’t work for pennies.

The more freelancers demand their worth, the better off our professions will be.

Dr. Freelance June 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm

@Stephanie, hear, hear. The Darwinian side of me assumes the chronic lowballers would eventually go extinct, but it sure seems like there are even more of them than when I made the leap into freelancing way back when.

Wendy June 22, 2011 at 8:11 am

So, it would only take four hours to earn a buck! Impressive- NOT! I don’t think that would even pay for my aspirin, let alone my bills.

Lori June 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

This is flipping nuts. Just. Nuts.

These aren’t professional writers. They aren’t professional anything. Any person who would devalue himself to that level has no business sense and no sense of self.


Anne Wayman June 22, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Here’s the first thought that occurred to me after reading here and on Newsweek… could hate-filled talk radio, infotainment instead of news with an if it bleeds it leads mentality have anything to do with the apparent lack of self-esteem? Could the fear that’s pushed at us all the time be at least part of the driver?

That really was my first thought and I don’t even have a radio on at the moment.

Dr. Freelance June 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm

@Wendy, I hadn’t calculated the math that way. Makes it even more nausea-inducing, doesn’t it?! But I don’t think you’ll be able to afford Dramamine at that rate, either.

@Lori, exactly. Clearly, there’s a ready supply of cannon fodder. On the other hand, in their defense (*snicker*)…they’re actually making more than the damn-fool Huffposters did. Heh.

(By the way, check out Lori’s riff on this topic and some good comments at Worthy Tip: Use Your Head.)

@Anne, thanks for commenting. (Sorry you went to spam, but I rescued you as soon as I saw you’d landed there.) I wish I had an answer for the cause, though I imagine it varies by person. No question our entertainment-obsessed society doesn’t help our work ethic or collective intelligence. I just re-read Fahrenheit 451, and it’s painful how well Bradbury had us pegged.

My assessment of the Newsweek data is that it’s a cocktail of desperation, too much blind hope, and too little business acumen/common sense. I think that’s something individuals need to own up to, or choose a different line of work. At the risk of sounding overly strident, it seems to me that Americans have plenty of self-esteem, but often for all the wrong reasons.

Anne Wayman June 30, 2011 at 9:50 am

Jake, yes, same Anne with more than one website… thanks for getting me out of spam.

Interesting observation re self-esteem and US – my take is that there’s a lot of false self-esteem, which is really fear masked by arrogance. We’ve also trashed our education system and the kids reaping those rewards are coming on stream now. It’s tragic actually.

Cori September 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm

These people that work for that little are not writing, they are just collecting keywords.

I’m always happy to hear people complaining about the new Google search update that’s ruining their websites because it tells me that users/Google/readers are beginning to demand high(er) quality writing.

While I am biased, I really believe this keyword bubble will burst soon enough.

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