We in Trouble? A Bad Guide to Good and Bad Rates.

On September 18th of this year I wrote: “For me, freelance journalism is tough at the moment. Anecdotally, freelance journalism is tough at the moment. I’ve heard of a handful of people in the last week alone who have either given up or are on the verge of giving up. Rates are low and dropping. Editors make you fuck them in bins and buy them hats before they commission you. Accounts departments spend all their time laughing and masturbating at you. All very grim and seedy, I’m afraid.”

For the record, I have never made love to an editor in a bin. I may, however, buy the next editor who commissions me a really nice hat. Bear that in mind, editors.

Anyway, rates. I’ve been promising to write about rates for some time now and I’m the sort of person who, if they promise to deliver something, they damn well deliver it. Please don’t write in saying this is not true. I know it’s not true.

Until a day or so ago, I thought that if I did write a post about rates, I would illustrate it with graphs. I imagined the graphs would look something like this:

After some digging around, I’m not sure how accurate that graph is, not sure to what extent ‘we in trouble’. Things could be a lot better, granted, but after seeking and receiving the advice from a couple of dozen journalists and editors over the last few days, I’m actually feeling more positive about being a freelance journalist than I have done all year.

In fact, I’m feeling a bit like this:

This man pops up if you type ‘online graphs’ into Google image search. He looks okay, he looks happy enough with things. Who is he? Maybe he’s reading this. If he is reading this, perhaps he could inject his opinion into this borderline laborious post. In the meantime, here are ten (later changed to eleven) things that I’ve found out about current freelance rates for journalists.

(Non-journalists/everyone may want to skip to the end, as I have a feeling I may put up another graph decorated with fuck words and dicks.)

1. Rates may well have stagnated over the last decade or two. According to Mari Molid*: “A friend of mine who’s freelanced forever says that the dirty little secret about freelance journalism is that rates are the same as 20 years ago. But our grocery, fuel and housing costs are sadly not.” Ida Alstad* seems to support this: “Some rates haven’t changed much in 20 years. I used to get £100 a day freelance subbing in 1990/1991. You’d be doing well to get much over £120 at most places today.”

2. It could be that rates, after a fall, are rising again. Gro Hammerseng*: “I found that rates dipped considerably about two years ago when the recession hit, but I’m finding some are getting better again this year. They’re not up to the levels they were in the middle of this decade, but they’re better than rock bottom.”

3. You can sometimes earn a lot of money. Richard Parker**: “The top rate I’ve been paid was £2,000 for selling a few quotes about a celebrity for a tabloid – it was a major exclusive and the quotes were only two hundred words long.” Stephen Fry, apparently, tried to get £3 a word from the Guardian (thanks to Central Park Mugger**). Both Tonje Larsen* and Tine Stange* reported getting £1 a word (for Bella). Both reasonably high and pretty damn low rates were included in an email from Kaari Aalvek Grimsbo*: “Well firstly I’d like to make it clear that I don’t really write on a pound per word basis… I normally get a day rate (between £70 and £250).  However for dramatic effect, I word counted my short story for the illustrious People’s Friend.  It came to 3p per word.  That’s 1450 words at £50.  The more normal amount is around 50p per word.  The most is £1.”

4. It’s probably time for another graph, summing up what we’ve learnt so far:

5. The highest word rate received among those I spoke to falls between 50p and £1 a word, with the Daily Mail coming out as one of the highest payers.

6. Bernie Lomax** from a leading men’s magazine has this to say: “Rateswise, at our mag we generally do about 15-20-25p/word, depending on who’s doing it and how much research/organisation it requires. Generally we work with round figures, using the same several people most of the time, so it’s more casual like “Hey Pitching the World, can you do this, about twelve hundred words, call it three hundred quid?” If it’s an interview where we’ve arranged it and it’s using our questions so they’re literally just ringing up and reading them we’ll sometimes just do a token fee. It varies to be honest. It’s kind of based on whether we’re using someone because they’re the fucking tits as a writer or whether it’s because there’s something any dork could do, but none of us is about.”

7. Some US magazines pay very well. According to the NUJ guide, US Vogue and Vanity Fair pay up to £2,746 per thousand words and US Esquire offers £2,060 per thousand words. These figures, however, do look to be out of date. Apparently, Good Housekeeping used to pay a dollar a word in 1966 and still paid the same in 1998.

8. Some publications pay very poorly. Again, according to figures posted on the NUJ website, one journalist was paid £625 for a 4,200 word feature for High Life, the New Statesman pays £187.50 per thousand words and the NME £140 per thousand. Recently, I was offered £100 for 1,800 words.

9. Some publications don’t pay at all. Please try not to write for these publications.

10. Fucking hell, this post has taken about a hundred thousand hours to do. Has it been helpful? Hope so.

11. At the time of going to press (how grand am I?), this just dropped into my inbox (how casual am I?). Seems to sum up everything rather well. Larry Wilson**:

“When I was working for travel mags in 2003-5, I wouldn’t go under 35p/word. Today, the standard rates I get from almost all the papers are lower or about the same. Guardian/Obs c.30p, Telegraph 30-35p, Indie even less.

– At the time I joined the Telegraph, our desk had been paying the same standard rate since its inception 10 years before (50p). That stagnation was bad enough, but no one ever thought that rates would actually go down. Then the management consultants came in, and they did.

– Best gig I’ve had was travel writing for a corporate – just shy of nine grand for seven days skiing and getting drunk in Italy, and producing 3,000 words of copy.”

In graph form, that is represented like this:

Jesus, that looks terrible, and is not at all representative of what he said. If you really try though, it does look a bit like someone skiing.

Thank you very much to everyone who contributed. Apologies if I’ve mangled your fine words.

* To preserve anonymity, all females have been named after members of Norway women’s national handball team.

** To preserve anonymity, all  males have been named after characters in Weekend at Bernie’s.


20 responses to “We in Trouble? A Bad Guide to Good and Bad Rates.

  1. This just in, from a source. Apparently, a weekly magazine paid a high-profile, award-winning columnist £1 a word for a 2,000 word piece. What did they get for that? Well, according to my source: “A good third of that piece was shamelessly plagiarised. When we put this info to him, he didn’t even deny it and demanded the money anyway.”
    Anyone else? I’m all ears. Well, all ears and beard.

  2. Bloody ‘ell Pitch that Thing, complicated stuff, thank fuck I do carpentry.
    Just started refurb of a house in Chiswick . . . . . ha’penny a nail, tuppence a yard of skirting, shilling a floorboard, half crown a door. . . . . . and they pay!
    Get a bag o’ tools mate, do some honest work, get money for it.

    A recent survey found that chippies are outnumbered, ermm lots to one, by tossers who are incapable of doing anything that involves a hammer, a sharp blade or a measuring device. Therefore it follows that . . . . .well, you know I’m gonna prattle on about trades an’ such.
    Who said “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword” ?
    That’s bollocks, the 18v cordless drill/driver (spare battery included) is mightier than them both

  3. Dear rantingoldblokeOldbloke,
    I was a carpenter once. In fact, in a way, I was a carpenter three times. The last time I was a carpenter (in Waterloo, Canada) I got sacked because I kept laughing at my boss’s face when he hammered in nails. Some life, eh? I don’t really have the skills to be a carpenter. I’m at my happiest mixing cement. I’m serious. Perhaps you can teach me how to be a carpenter. Words suck. Wood rules. Thank you.

  4. hey again,
    Interesting pitch about finance, uplifting, demystifying and depressing at same time.
    Just wanted you to know I am still reading, not commenting due to circumstances beyond my control. Normal service should be resumed as soon as life becomes fairer.

  5. Hola Pitchy. Is paying by word the gold standard? As one of your sources mentioned, they have a day rate. What do most writers prefer? Seems time is more important, as short research based pieces can take longer to write than long rambly prose….


  6. p.s. as a depressing side note I’m currently working 90 hours a week and not getting paid a dime to do it. Oh the joys of never-ending education! I’m paying them………….. Carpentry sounds attractive.

  7. Camera Bird, can you saw in a straight line? I need a sidekick

  8. …..I can learn Oldbloke!

  9. Oldbloke/Camera Bird, I love how my asking for a job as a carpenter with Oldbloke has led to Camera Bird being offered a job as a carpenter with Oldbloke.

  10. My Dad’s a carpenter. Maybe Pitch could pitch a mag about carpentry. Lot’s of sources

  11. Hey, just stumbled across this blog. The rates for freelancers are shocking! Isn’t there a trade union that can campaign for better pay!? It’s practically slave labour. I’m a freelance journalist, and one of my editors at a financial website has just told me my rate of pay will go done from 40p per word to 25p…! This website isn’t exactly in the doldrums either – it recently sold its database to a huge financial data company. I cannot believe that rates have stagnated for decades, especially when full-time staff are increasingly being let go & work is being outsourced to freelancers. Thankfully the FT pays a decent rate of 40p per word (although I think they could stretch to 50!), I think more newspapers need to start charging for content. It takes skill and time to write a proper news story that is accurate, esp for financial journalists. I’m literally feeling disgusted at how little we are paid, especially considering we don’t get employee benefits like a pension, season tickets, stock options etc…

  12. Hi Sierra. Yes, rates are indeed pretty low and in my experience too have either remained stagnant or have dropped over the last decade or so. For four or five years now I’ve written almost weekly in my notebook “Buy Weekend FT, read it, and pitch.” Your comment has prompted me into doing so this weekend so, you know, thanks.

    • As we speak, I’m battling it out with my editor. I have reminded her that I get no company benefits and also have to pay tax/NI. I think the problem is that the person above her is a new guy from America, who seems to think it’s okay to set a really tight budget and make it work by paying writers little to nothing. He has recently moved to London, so in time I hope he sees how expensive it is to live in this city! The editor he replaced was British, who at least treated me with dignity and paid a reasonable rate. It’s not like I can get tips on top of this, 25p amounts to just 25p!!

      Btw I stumbled across a PressGazette article about how The Independent pays a really shocking rate to freelancers (http://bit.ly/1UWM6bq). Some of the commentators actually wrote that freelancers should be happy to work for virtually nothing, because they get to work with an “intelligent, fun bunch” who “respect them”!! How is paying someone a pittance a sign of respect?! Who ARE these fools? Do they live with Mummy and Daddy in leafy Richmond and have absolutely no bills to pay?! Anyway, best of luck pitching to the FT – they’re a nice lot and treat journalists with respect. I also hear it’s a lovely place to work, if you’re ever looking to move into permanent work, and for some reason they have the most ridiculously attractive men in their London office (seriously).

  13. Yeah, those comments are bonkers (“There’s more to freelancing than payment…”) and perhaps part of the reason it’s quite a battle for a lot of freelancers these days. I don’t know, I’ve more or less stopped writing for money for the last couple of years, bar corporate work. Going to summon up the energy for one last push though so will keep you (and others) posted on here over the following weeks and months.
    Good to have you around and good luck getting your rate bumped back up.

    • Hey there! Did you have any luck pitching to the FT? I just wanted to give an update on my situ. I properly had it out with my editor (some serious mud-slinging, she even tried questioning my abilities as a writer despite always wanting to commission me. Funny that!). In the end, we agreed on 30p per word. I get paid the next day (that’s worth a lot in itself) and I now write more words per article than before, so I’m still earning an okay amount. But man oh man I had to put up a fight. Conclusion: Fight for your pay!

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