Forgive me while I talk shop for a few minutes ...
A fellow freelance writer e-mailed me this week to say, "Hey, did you see this???" She had received notice about a publication (one among many) that is temporarily cutting its freelance rates. Others have cut assignments and contracts. In the worst scenarios, some are ceasing publication altogether.
My response to her e-mail:
Sure am glad I'm not a freelance writer dependent on advertising receipts that keep these publications profitable. Oh, wait. I am.
When the economy suffers, companies tend to cut advertising, marketing and PR dollars first. And if you're a company that advertises in magazines, you might find yourself reconsidering whether those dollars are well spent. (Hint: THEY ARE. That money keeps publications in business, and when magazines prosper, more assignments and contracts are offered, translating to a trickle-down effect to nice people like me, and I, in turn, share that money with the people I live with, and they go on to pump some of that money back into the economy, perhaps in your place of business, and there you have what we call a win/win.)
If you sat through even the most basic of marketing classes, you would know that in tough times (and in theory), advertising, marketing and PR strategies should really be cranked up a notch. When advertising dollars dwindle, so do page counts. And when page counts diminish, so does editorial. And when editorial is decreased, well, then, freelance writers have a problem. The gigs become more sporadic. Or poorly compensated. Or both.
The rate cut practice really isn't all THAT bad, when you look at it from a glass-half-full perspective. Hey, a contract is a contract. A paycheck is a paycheck. But if you look at it from a salaried person's perspective, this is the financial equivalent of walking into your office or cubicle one day and having your boss tell you, "You know, we're going to slice your paycheck by, maybe, a third. By the way, how are the wife and kids?" But still, it's better than walking into your office or cubicle and having your boss hand you a cardboard box and show you the door. Right?
And that's really the coolest thing about being a freelance writer. You're technically always unemployed, so the threat of being fired or kicked out of the corner office doesn't really exist. Instead, you see each month as the end of a job (or jobs) and the beginning of the next month as a job search. Like a politician who is always running for office (because they're ALWAYS running for office), freelancers are always looking for work. We are a hungry crowd. And hungry isn't a bad place to be, if you're willing to act like a gnat buzzing around editors' heads, nagging them for work.
Maybe I should write an article on "The Care and Feeding of a Freelance Writer." In fact, just know that I will. Consider today, Dec. 3, 2008, the copyright date on that little piece of proprietary thought. HANDS. OFF.
"So, Amy, what is your point?" you may be asking.
My point is, I'm certain Adam Smith and Milton Friedman themselves would agree with my very viable economic theory: "This economy sucks eggs." And that somebody had jolly well do something about it. Like buy some advertising. Save some jobs. Save an industry. Save our dignity.
A footnote: We watched the Best G-Rated Movie of 2008, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, 153 times over Thanksgiving weekend. When Kit learns that she can earn a penny per word for her articles, one of my kids asked me, "Hey, do you earn more than a penny per word?"
"For the moment, I do."