Freelance Writing Rates Hit Bottom Last Year: What’s Next?

Maybe the glory days of being a freelancer are, um, over. (Hey, at least it’s still impossible to be “fired” as a freelancer, right?)

James Rainey, writing in the LA Times this morning, says that freelance rates hit a bottom in 2009, but he sees no upward trend coming next.

With low rates and shrinking budgets, stories are being missed, he says: “Even those inside journalism can only guess at what stories they might have paid for, if they had more money.”

Meanwhile, old hands have watched their income drop by 50 percent or more in the past few years. Not pretty.

Where’s the hope? Rainey writes that freelancers who succeed in the new economy “will require not only … flexibility, but a return of a more stable financial base for journalism.

“Philanthropic, nonprofit sites (ProPublica) will take up some of the slack, while other new models (Spot.Us) ask consumers to make micro-payments to put writers on specific local stories. Other websites (True/Slant) pay bonuses for stories and commentary, with writers getting paid more as they deliver bigger audiences.

“It’s hard to say if any, or all, will succeed. But the sooner they can take the free out of freelance, the better.”