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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Thumbs up for this piece on lower paying markets...

It seems like I dedicate quite a few posts to arguing about the nature of the online content marketplace and often find myself defending those who can and will effectively work for "bargain rates." Sometimes, I state my position while recognizing the good intentions of the commentator (like here). Sometimes, I am really turned off by a comment, blog post or article (like here).

Today, I found a gem at Fundsforwriters.com that I really enjoyed. "The Online Sweatshops" was written by Thomas Bosch and, although I disagree with some aspects of his analysis, much of it was really insightful.

Bosch begins his article with a typical horror story. Someone offered him a buck and a quarter to write a 500 word article. He turned down the offer with a snide email. The buyer responded, called him ungrateful, and told him "thousands" had applied for the job.

Bosch goes on to talk about a valuable life lesson he learned in a past career. Skills have value and one should charge what those skills are worth.

I couldn't agree more and I, too, live by that rule. Regardless of the rate you charge, it has to be enough to keep you well-fed, housed, and able to avoid collection agencies.

That rate, however, is going to vary with the writer and the project. I wouldn't write 500 words for $1.25, either. However, depending on the project, you might be able to hook me for a ten-spot. I can already hear the gasps from those who think fifty bucks should be the floor for something of that size, but I digress...

Bosch reminds us not to accept work for rates that don't make sense. I think that is sage advice and that no writer should be bullied into working for peanuts. I just wish everyone would understand that a per word rate that is peanuts for one writer may be a gold mine (or at least a silver mine) for another writer.

So, what did I not like about the Bosch article? Nothing too significant. However, his "zero haggling" rule didn't resonate with me. I know he was arguing that one should not "over compromise" in terms of pricing (and, again, I agree with the sentiment), but I believe there are times when some flexibility is in order. I will work for some clients a bit cheaper than others because they provide consistent work, pay in a timely fashion, etc. I have used a slightly lower introductory rate to hook new clients or to bring former buyers back after an absence. I do believe there are situations that justify some rate compromise.

Oh, and this has nothing to do with the meat of the piece, but I disagree with Bosch on this observation:

"My colleague went on to say 'what about if someone needs a
lawyer? Do they dispute the lawyer’s bill? What about if you
need your washing machine fixed? Do you haggle with the
plumber? No? Then why is a teacher or a writer any different?'"

As a former law clerk and employee of multiple law firms I can tell you that people do, indeed, haggle with attorneys--often to their benefit. I have done it, too. I haven't had occasion to haggle with a plumber, but I have done it with auto mechanics, a cement contractor, cable companies, retailers and an electrician. It tends to work. Skills have value, but that value is determined in large measure by the nature of the market, not merely by one's desired rate. There is a reason price tags are usually printed on cheap little stickers instead of being carved in stone.

By the way, the site that hosts the article is an interesting resource for freelance writers looking for new and different revenue streams. Check it out if you have the chance.