Keeping Tabs on Who Pays Writers

If you’re a freelance journalist, particularly one who writes for the web a lot, then chances are you’ve heard of Who Pays Writers? If you haven’t, let me catch you up. 

Who Pays Writers? was started in 2012 as a Tumblr blog, where writers were invited to anonymously post rates they were paid by various publications—information that anyone could freely access. The project quickly caught on, and soon there were thousands of entries on the site. The results were eye-popping, and yet confirmed what many freelance journalists already suspected:

Who Pays Writers?

Not many places at all.

Most reports showed that larger publications and websites—the kind owned by such media conglomerates as Conde Nast—offered flat rates of $100 to $250, while the majority of publications paid less than $100 or asked writers to write for the free. 

Who Pays Writers? hopes to help end all that hopes to put an end to the free-fall of freelance rates. The site’s founder, Manjula Martin, is a freelance writer and NorCal National Writers Union member. In an interview with The Nation in 2014 she said: “We don’t even have a basic sort of understanding of what standards would be like for a freelance workforce, let alone what pay rates would be like. I think we need that base first.”  

The initial idea behind Who Pays Writers? was that by sharing this information, writers would be in a better position to negotiate fair rates and avoid getting low balled by prospective employers. The result has been that Who Pays Writers? does much more than that. Writers use the reports not just to find out what places pay that they and others have pitched in the past, but also use to proactively find better-playing outlets that they might pitch going forward. Writer’s additional notations on publications also indicates how willing they might be to accept cold pitches. It’s a versatile tool in the freelancer’s kit.

However the popularity of the site created more work than Martin could handle on her own, particularly as a labor of love and solidarity. So when she needed to spend more time working on a book-length project, Scratch: Writers, Money and the Art of Making a Living, she temporarily shut it down. 

Recently, however, Who Pays Writers? has been relaunched with a complete redesign. You can easily search and/or browse pay rates by publication title. Each listing displays much more information, such as the difficulty or ease in receiving payment, and contract info. They now collect voluntary demographic data (gender and race) that’s optimized for viewing on a mobile browser. 

The NWU was part of helping get Who Pays Writers? back online with a recent grant to Martin that helped her pay developers and designers for their work on the site. Who Pays Writers? has never charged anyone any money for the information it provides, and all of the work in keeping it going has been volunteered or paid for by donations from writers and organizations such as the NWU, the funding model that Martin prefers. “We do things this way because we believe that solidarity on the Web should be separate from profit motives.” 

The site currently has about a thousand listings; but she’d like it to have many, many more. “For it to be truly useful, transparent salary information needs to represent journalists who are working at a wide range of career levels, formats, and pay rates,” she says. “By collecting more entries, I hope together we can create a realistic snapshot of just who does pay writers, and how much.”

There are two easy ways that NWU members can help:  

  1. If you write for publications or media properties on a freelance basis, please report your rates to Who Pays Writers? — and please come back to do so on a regular basis. More than 70 percent of writers who read the website don’t submit their own rates. What if every time you went to the site, you also added to it? Personally, I’ve made it a step in my own invoicing process: at the end of each month when I do my bookkeeping. I also go online and report all my rates to Who Pays. If you want to receive a short email reminder to do this every month, Who Pays can you send you one when you sign up here
  1. Share with anyone and everyone you think it will matter to: your peers, students, and friends, on or offline: 

Who Pays Writers? and passionate advocates like Manjula Martin are important to all of us trying to put together a living as freelancers, but are concerned about dwindling rates. Let’s show the power of a union by reporting our rates to Who Pays Writers? and helping build it into the kind of tool that can have a real impact on the freelance market.