Young writers are being exploited and forced to flatten their labour value

Freelancers earn their spurs by valuing their talents. The best freelancers are not always the most talented, most efficient or most visionary. Those who can bend themselves to a budget or cut their earnings in half to satisfy a customer skip on down the road, ahead of those who can’t afford such flexibility. In fact, few spines can take a bending so backwards. In a recession, price is absolutely everything. Costing a job is a race to the bottom, an humiliating prostration, a tale akin to the authorial voice of a Steinbeck novel.

Hubris, sure. I’m a (freelance) writer. It’s my licence. Admittedly, I’m no Tom Joad. But writing jobs are sparse for students and graduates looking for experience (and money). Some websites offer students the opportunity to gain paid work experience doing one-off jobs, websites such as StudentGems. Prima facie, everything looks swell. Companies get cheap rates from young people eager to develop portfolios, desperate for cash and clamouring for CV toppings. These one-off, project-based jobs seem a perfect match for all parties. That is, until we writers have the cheek to value our talents at a fair wage. Suddenly, the grapes are bruised, battered. No deal.

On StudentGems, companies post jobs needed and students and graduates get in touch with a price, and pitch themselves in order to get the work. (Set your own price. Very clever, see? Who can work for the least?) Some posts offer students as little as £6 for a 400-word article. I’ve seen an article of 1000 words costed at £10. StudentGems are not the only facilitators of this rip-off culture. But theirs is a particularly easy brand of nefarious degeneracy.

In a recent exchange on StudentGems, I costed a 450-word blog article – based on the level of research required, time-scale, etc. – at £48. The response was this: ‘You rather value your talents highly… Good-day.’ I pressed the user on what price they would deem sufficient for this work, offering to lower my fee if a compromise could be reached. I received only this: ‘Sorry Josh, you are competing with freelancers from India who will produce a perfectly written article for $10.’

So I messaged back.

‘Dear F.* Thank you for your response. I’m sorry that we could not agree on a price for this work and that I value my time at a little more than $2 per hour. As a young writer, I suppose I ought to be far more grateful for considerate amounts, like yours. After all, I’m in a labour market. It’s my responsibility, is it not, to drive a competitive price for my labour? How else am I to attract individuals such as yourself who, in the mobile phone unlocking industry, no doubt have the highest possible standards for great copy. Indeed, I see, now, that it is my responsibility to set a fair price for you. And we obviously had very different standards of ‘fair’. A price is entirely independent of causation, obviously! There is no question of moral liability on your part! If you can pay less, do. Why wouldn’t you? The Indians probably asked for it, I’d say. Ha! That you should absorb culpability for the wretched exploitation of the vulnerable and the desperate! What foolishness. What intoxicating and sickening stupidity that you might offer a fair price for a day’s work. That we may value good writing and value the role it may play in helping your business, in making you – my new moral bastion – money. With the sincerest apologies, Josh.’

*I didn’t really message back. Sorry. It’s my licence as a (freelance, unpaid) writer.

Kenny is unsackable

A short point, but one that needs making. John Henry and the Liverpool board were right to move and sack Roy Hodgson in January of last year, but the decision to appoint Kenny Dalglish is looking perilously stupid. The problem was always going to be if it started going badly. After a decent back half of last season, Dalglish rightly took plaudits for turning Liverpool’s season from dreadful to respectable. But since taking over, he’s wasted millions on mediocre players like Carroll, Henderson and Downing. The owners will be unlikely to want to shell out again in the summer, but the squad needs a huge overhaul. There is an enormous lack of quality. After Suarez and an already-peaked Gerrard, there’s not much to be positive about.

The biggest problem for the owners, though, is that the man they turned to in desperation in January 2011 is the best player ever to have played for the club, a man whose status at Liverpool is utterly unrivalled, playing over 500 games and scoring a shed load of goals. After his resignation in the early 90s, there was a tragedy to be romanticised for Liverpool fans. For two decades he was linked to the club’s management post and was a perpetual shadow on the Anfield hotseat, especially when Rafa Benitez appointed him to the youth academy in 2009. Dalglish was asked to do a bit of a fix job in January 2011 and was awarded with a 3-year contract. But the decision to appoint him has proven to be extremely short-sighted. Now, FSG are left with a man who is unsackable. The club are performing poorly, but would have to collapse to astronomically awful depths for Liverpool fans to turn against him. Moreover, sacking him will look like a direct attack on the history and icons of the club – something the last American owners found all too easily. For now, there’s an impasse. A weak squad and the likelihood of very little transfer activity – not to mention speculation about the futures of Suarez, Kuyt and Reina – will mean another long summer for Liverpool fans.

Album review: Evokateur, ‘Crows’ Wedding’ (2012)

This is a review for the New Reviews, also available here.

It’s right to be a little doubtful about a band who describe themselves thus: “Evokateur exists in a dark world of ashes but rises with a brave and beautiful proposal, like a mechanoid orchid, a flower living in a post apocalyptic era.” Hopes are not held high. Such self-hyperbolic detritus usually deserves the most aggressive of reviewer punishments. Moreover, lofty PR spiel is so often grossly pernicious to the DIY musician. And yet, Crows’ Wedding is an adept piece of work which deftly splices crunchy synths and the softest of vocal melodies.

As a four-track EP, this is perfectly weighted. ‘Same As You’ is perambulating pop, gently, sweetly unraveling, with Sarah Villaraus’s smoothly hewn vocals. The haunting sweep of ‘Misery’, like an odour, is beautifully rendered. Here, Hector Villaraus shrewdly grounds his synth work in a dusty walk. His static fuzzes and clicks underpin the sliding, striding warmth of the vocal melody. And it’s menacing, too. “You are tied to the bed, I can keep you fed,” Villaraus sings.

The undoubted highlight is ‘Wildflowers’. Its vocal hook is majesty, holding hands with potent, poking keys. At its most soulful, it is here the EP most heartily fills its boots. There is a turn towards the darkly melodic. ‘Undone’, the final track, is the epitome of this. Industrial, like an 80s Trent Reznor, the record leaves with a drop, a dipping fade out like the knell of a storm. This is clinical, intelligent and terrific.

Evokateur’s Crows’ Wedding is out now.

The human touch: why studying history will make you more enterprising

Here’s an article for the lovely folks at Telescope, a blog for graduate start-ups and entrepreneurs. This is one of a series on graduate skills and enterprise.

For the recent graduate and young entrepreneur, approximately 65702% of your time will be spent repeatedly smashing your laptop closed on your face like a crocodile’s jaw, searching endlessly, applying endlessly for jobs, funding, internships, contacts, interviews – anything. It has never been harder for young people to find work. (Hemingway wrote about the ‘Lost Generation’ and, while they had two World Wars, the Great Depression, housing crises, and the flagrant animal horror that is jazz, I can assure you that our plight is worse.) Having a good degree will definitely help. And the best degree for this is History. Here’s why.

When you first set up a business, so much of your early work will be figuring out what you’re good at. Why are you different? What skills do you have that set you apart? And this is why History is the ubermensch of all subjects. Aside from all the shiny prospectus stuff about reasoning skills, analysing factors, communication, arguing from evidence, writing persuasively, yada yada, zzzzz, you’ll also pick up one really amazing skill that no other subject can hope to give you: understanding of human experience.

Sure, that sounds lofty and weird, but let me explain. Almost all of the collective and individual experience of all human beings, societies and civilisations that have ever existed is stored in the past. In history. What your degree in History allows you to do is engage with this experience, to really understand and relate to figures from Napoleon to Seti to Churchill, and to grasp the desires, beliefs, wishes, hopes and worries of the millions of people affected in the histories you have read. You think Lenin’s New Economic Policy isn’t applicable to your business? What you have learnt from that is like an iceberg: the information, the facts, the plot – this sticks out above the surface. But what is submerged, what you don’t often realise you’ve learned, is the ability to rationalise the human as an agent, as a magnificent dynamo of feelings, actions, resentments, joys and aspirations. This unique understanding of the human makes historians brilliant, attractive graduates.

The next time your client sends you a difficult e-mail or a strange request, I’d bet that you’re empathetic, that you’re better than most at pulling out what they want, quicker than most at meeting their expectations. And when you’re filling out your next job application or funding request, when you’re asked to describe your skills and experiences, don’t just put ‘meeting deadlines’, or ‘working under pressure’. Think about what studying History has meant for the way you communicate and relate. Selling experience is the meat and drink of smart enterprise. Selling yourself well is just as important.

Voltaire, ‘Candide’, (1759)

A biting, snarling, hilarious deconstruction of vain, lofty philosophising and the lunatic extremes of clumsy a priori reasoning. It predates attacks on the Whig theory of history by over a century, but acutely destroys ahistorical fetishisms of the present. Like Bradbury, Voltaire is concerned with the rollicking argument, with discord and the progress of civilisation through disagreement, discussion, resolution and, most profoundly for Voltaire’s times, with the coming of European revolutions – through democracy.