The Freelancers Dilemma: A Modern Take On Old Professions

Journalism is one of the oldest freelance occupations. Long before web design and even the internet itself, writers have pitched story ideas to editors in the hope of being published.

There are plenty sources of stress in this lifestyle. Competition is fierce and demand is limited; newspapers can only run so many stories, whereas every small business needs a cheap freelance web designer these days. As a result, the pay sometimes doesn’t cut it. It’s easy for a freelance writer to struggle to pay the bills, especially when the research required for a good, thorough story doesn’t pay off. It’s tempting for writers to churn out low-quality content in exchange for whatever cash they can get.

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Two new startups are hoping to change this dynamic. The first is WordRates, a self-proclaimed “Yelp for journalists” founded by investigative journalist Scott Carney. The second is Pressland, which is billed as a “Yelp for media”. Both products offer similar value: they aim to hook up writers with editors and outlets by providing up-to-date contact info and transparent payment details. Writers will know what they’re getting into before they pitch, and editors will be able to browse a writer’s work samples with ease.

WordRates also offers a service called PitchLab, in which writers can hand over their big stories to the company and have them act as publishers, searching for the right outlet and the right price. Due to the service’s popularity, writers must still pitch to PitchLab, and there’s a commission on the whole process—but WordRates claims that the rates they negotiate are higher than what any writer would get alone.

A service like PitchLab is especially useful in empowering the average writer. Negotiating is hard when you’re an independent writer trying to pay the bills, and it’s easy to wind up selling the rights to your story. Having a company handle the pitching and negotiating for you is great because it lets you focus more on your writing.

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But for writers, power is still difficult to grasp. There’s no doubt that the increased transparency offered by startups like WordRates and Pressland will help writers make better decisions about who to get involved with, but this is only a small piece of the puzzle.

The economics of the situation are still not in writers’ favor. It’s a cutthroat business, and it’ll require more organization and cooperation in order to obtain real negotiating power against the major outlets. Companies like WordRates and Pressland are a crucial step in the right direction, but they won’t change the lives of freelance writers overnight.