WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age

By Michelle Vranizan Rafter

Writing for free is not a business model

with 9 comments

You see them every week on Craigslist, help wanted ads from publishers or Websites that need writers but can’t afford to pay – but you’ll get clips and the exposure will be great!

And yet – I’ve never met a grocery store, credit card company or mortgage company that accepted “exposure” as payment.

More information is moving to the Web, where the technological barriers to getting into the publishing business are a lot lower than in print – anybody can put up a blog and call themselves a news organization. The result has exacerbated the write-for-free phenomena.

Little start ups and no-name publishers aren’t the only ones trying to get something for nothing. Some of the biggest sites in the blogosphere don’t pay bloggers – The Huffington Post, for example.

There are a few instances where it might make sense to write for free – if you’re switching to freelancing from a different profession and need to show the world you can do it. But even then, after a clip or two or a summer internship, that time should be over.

I’m not the only one harping on this. Michelle Goodman, the Seattle-based freelance writer who maintains The Anti 9-to-5 Guide blog and just came out with a new book on freelancing, gives her 2 cents on the subject in this week’s Shifting Careers column in the New York Times.

Harlan Ellison has a wonderfuly blunt, albeit foul-mouthed, take on the phenomena:

9 Responses

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  1. You tell ’em, Michelle!


    November 13, 2008 at 9:45 am

  2. Why, thank you!


    Michelle Rafter

    November 13, 2008 at 10:07 am

  3. Right on! Love the Harlan clip.

    As a writer and publicist, I often donate my services to a local nonprofit literacy organization. I’m happy to occassionally “give it away,’ because I like to support and strengthen my community. But I’m always more than miffed when for-profit clients expect the same.

    And, it’s true — too many writers give it away or cut their fees, which devalues the work of all writers.

    This is such a big, and heated, topic. Thanks for bringing it up.


    November 13, 2008 at 10:43 am

  4. I couldn’t agree more. I too am not opposed to working for no charge for charitable causes that I support. In fact, for the years that I wasn’t writing professionally while I raised my kids, I wrote all kinds of things, including auction catalogs, newsletters, etc., for schools and non-profit groups. I was contributing to my community in a way that benefited both of us – it helped me keep my skills up and the organizations got the use of a professional writer. In the end, I started to send an itemized bill to the groups I worked with so they could see how much they would have spent hiring someone, which helped show them how valuable the work was – and I advocate that other writers who work for non-profits do the same.

    Now that I’m writing full time again I still do some work for the non-profits I support but I’ve scaled it back substantially.

    Michelle Rafter

    Michelle Rafter

    November 13, 2008 at 10:53 am

  5. This post, in addition to the the NYT piece have been an excellent “pep talk.” When you are just starting out it feels like you have to give some away to build a foundation, experience. Like doing an internship, which in my case was “in the field” since I did not set out to be a freelancer and have learned through the “Univ. Of Hard Knocks.”

    Thank you for posting and hope to do right by fellow freelancers and be very mindful of what is “given” away. In addition, more respectful of asking for something for nothing. I think I would rather pay or be paid a dollar on principle than nothing at all.

    Thank you.

    Jennifer Langille

    November 19, 2008 at 3:14 pm

  6. […] a subject you’re interested in and pitch a few blog posts. I don’t ordinarily advocate writing for free, but if you’re just starting out, you’ve gotta prove to somebody you can do the work – […]

  7. […] Writing for free is not a business model – Giving it away ain’t gonna get you anything but poor. […]

  8. […] spend so much time writing for free, something that I counsel other writers […]

  9. […] spend so much time writing for free, something that I counsel other writers […]

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