Who Pays Writers?

Manjula Martin has invited writers to anonymously share which websites and magazines pay and she is sharing the responses on a Tumblr. This is not a new idea (see Ed2010’s salary reports), but it’s interesting and welcome and totally up our alley.

We don’t have submission guidelines for The Billfold yet (people who want to write for us just contact us when they have an idea for something), but if there were, they would say something along the lines of, “At this time, we’re unable to pay you, but getting to a point where all our writers are paid is a priority for us.” We do pay our writers who work on sponsored stories (like this one). Sponsored posts, as a reminder, “are purely editorial content that we are pleased to have presented by a participating sponsor, advertisers do not produce the content”—we do.

Since these posts are very explicitly bringing in money, we pay the writers for their work, which has been averaging about $100 per post. So far, we’ve chosen people to do sponsored posts based on how much they’ve written for us (and in some cases, how available they were for quick turnarounds or their familiarity with a topic).

How to pay, who to pay, and how much to pay is an evolving discussion, and something we’ve thought a lot about over the course of our eight months of existence so far. As with any new venture, it takes time for the money to appear. People write on the web for a lot of reasons—only one of them is money—and for that reason we feel okay about where we’re at now. We have both written for no pay before, and we will write for no pay again. But for many people, including some people we’d really like to have on this site, money is a big reason they write on the Internet—maybe it’s the reason, and it’s a valid reason. Writers need to make a living, so we understand when people decide not to write for us until we can build up a budget. Sometimes, writers offer to travel and do reporting—going above and beyond a typical essay. So we talk about those people. What can we do to get these great stories on our site? We have these conversations very often, and we’ll continue to have them as we begin to grow.

One final note: Each of the sites in our family operate as individual entities, so although this is how we operate, it’s not necessarily how the others operate.


15 Comments / Post A Comment

This is so informative and helpful! THANK YOU.

I wrote for free at The Awl and now I have a paid position at Gizmodo. I don’t think the latter would have happened without the former.

blair (#1,962)

@Sam Biddle@twitter Yup. I’ve gotten interviews (plural) (though no job yet) from Billfold/Hairpin clips. Plus I really like writing here! I think that makes the “free” in “freelance” worth it.

…at least until I’m off my parents’ insurance and then ANYTHING GOES

melis (#42)

Same here.

Mike Dang (#2)

@melis (And Sam, Blair, Jia, Jon) You guys are kind, and I am very thankful, and hopefully one day soon I can thank you guys with actual $$$ for your stories.

Megano! (#124)

@blair Freelance USED to just mean you were a knight beholden to no house though…

j-i-a (#746)

I love this new tumblr. As someone with no experience in the pre-HuffPo world of freelancing, in a lot of ways I see writing as a negotiation between money and creative freedom, with perhaps a Z-axis of hassle and a few exceptional spots or temporary workarounds (staff jobs, fellowships, etc). The only way to make good money in writing is to do boring stuff! I used to get paid $450 for a day’s work of corporate copywriting and I’d much rather write a dozen Billfold pieces for free (get to watch the OC, send Logan emails with profuse xoxxes, experience zero hassle and a lot of freedom to not alter my voice into a house style). That being said, thanks for letting me write about solar grasshoppers for cash, xoxoxooxx

Yay! The long-awaited Billfold finances post! Exactly as I expected, but nice to see it out there publicly.

(If I still wanted to be A Writer, I’d be pitching mad articles y’alls way.)

This is all very interesting in comparison to the photography industry. A few years back I was trying to get going with freelance photography work and what I found was pretty bleak.

Without fail, established photographers took the no pay, no work attitude. Almost every professional association also stressed the same no pay, no work line. You got the feeling they were a pretty embattled group, having almost all paying work shrivel up.

Embattled to the point that they were sometimes pretty hostile to newcomers, lest you be a scab working for free to build a portfolio or just to get access to shoot. The worst I got was a guy saying I was taking food of another photgrapher’s mouth by working for free.

Anyway I have no real point except that I see a lot of similarites between writing and photography, the primary one being lots of people think they can do it and that by itself has created a race to the bottom.

@forget it i quit I wish writers had that kind of professional solidarity.

Then again, pro photography is a job with a pretty high barrier to entry, compared to writing, so it’s hard for *as many* people to flood in and do it for free, though I guess the falling cost of professional cameras and equipment is making this easier and easier.

I recall back in the waning days of print journalism, circa early 2000s, freelance photogs could still sell a single photo to a newspaper for about 75% the price of a short article that might have required hours or days of original reporting and writing.

I have done quite a bit of writing for free, including for an Awl site, and it’s been really rewarding on a personal level. I got paid for writing for the first time this year – $US50 for a book chapter, and $US10 for a short magazine article. There are other rewards – for me the biggest ones are being part of a creative community, and proving a point to myself. I’ve only written for fellow poors, so it’s not like I’ve ever felt exploited.

selenana (#673)

I like this tumblr. I made a submission just now and will do more once I get a chance to sort out who else paid me what.

That Tumblr is a great idea. I’m astonished by how well some print pubs still pay (rates are much lower in NZ).

Also, I sympathise with you guys (esp. re Logan’s post about her convo with Matt) – as writers yourselves, of course you want to pay your contributors, but sometimes reality bites.

EM (#1,012)

I work on a little local arts magazine and we can’t pay anyone (or ourselves!)– it’s a volunteer non-profit adventure for a bunch of people who have day jobs and grad school the rest of the time. The upshot is we have fun parties, people learn about running a magazine, they get photo or writing credits, and they get to hopefully write about things or people that they’re interested in, and then use that experience to go get paid elsewhere!

LifeIvy@twitter (#3,317)

We’re always looking for writers at our new digital magazine. Stop by and say hello!

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