Here it is 2009 and I can tell you that print writing is alive, even if it isn’t doing terribly well. The days when newspapers and magazines dominated media are over thanks to the emergence of the world wide web, a relentless blob that appears to be swallowing up nearly everything in its path.
For talented writers, especially those with a journalistic flair, change means one thing – learning to adapt to online writing or hanging it up and moving on. Perhaps most disturbing for veteran writers is that the pay scale for most online work isn’t usually as rewarding nor is the prestige comparable to getting published in Better Homes & Gardens, The New York Times or Forbes.
Distressing Change For Some
I don’t come from a strictly writing background but I have friends who have and are mourning the loss of an industry which once provided plum writing jobs, excellent pay and the attendant good life that so many writers today are finding elusive. Some industry veterans have found new life on the web while others have carved a niche for themselves in the safety of a corporate communications department, longing to step out anew but worried that at age fifty-something time is no longer their friend.
Print writing isn’t dead, but it may not endure much beyond the next decade or so. Scores of national and city newspapers are bankrupt, but many of the smaller weeklies have managed to find a niche as have regional magazines, including those glossy “living” publications that you can pick up around town. I’ve written for both mediums and would like to share with you some of the pluses and perils of print writing these days:
Portfolio Building – Every print article published is ammunition you can use when sharing your clips when being considered for a new gig. I keep scanned copies on my hard drive and forward these files to editors.
Fair Pay – Forget earning the old dollar-a-word minimum unless you’re well known and extremely good at your craft. Twenty-five cents per word seems to be the new minimum rate while a flat rate for an article of a certain length may do it. Still, these rates are typically higher than most online jobs unless you can snag the copywriter gig for an important website.
Prestige – In every career, peer recognition is important. We may think that we don’t care all that much about what others say or think, but when you get an “attaboy” for appearing on the editorial page under contributing writers, it is just the sort of ego stroke most of us welcome. I know that I do.
No Kill Fees – I’ve been fortunate in that every article I’ve written over the past two years has been accepted and published as previously agreed. One article was rejected for unrelated reasons, but my publisher promised to pay me just the same. A lot of publications will only accept your work conditionally and many no longer pay a “kill fee” if they choose not to use your work. This means that you have to find a new buyer for your article which takes up additional time and energy, never mind the possible loss of funds if you’re unable to sell it.
Bankruptcies – Reader’s Digest is filing for bankruptcy, but so are many smaller magazines and newspapers. There is a chance that between the time that your article is published and when you’re due payment, that the periodical will fail. If the newspaper or magazine files for bankruptcy you may never see any money or you may have to wait months for full or partial payment.
Invisibility – Declining readership means that fewer people will read what you wrote. I’ve noticed that some magazines have cut out their “letter to the editor” sections which means that you have no idea what someone thought about what you wrote. Feedback is important, but some of the smaller publications have scaled back in order to cut costs.
Finding Your Place
Although print media is under tremendous assault, a number of magazines and newspapers have transitioned to the internet or offer online access in addition to their print copy. Advertising income, which is the financial bedrock for media, can determine whether any publication succeeds or fails. Your success as a freelancer writer is being aware of these changes and pricing your work accordingly.