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.