Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Herding Cats

Word (from mastheadonline.com) that the Communications Workers plan to organize on behalf of freelancers. Good luck to them. Not that there have been many examples of successfully corralling such a ragtag bunch of independents.

It should be recalled that the the Periodical Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) was intended to do just that, from dictating pay scales to providing a contract template that magazine editors were to follow when hiring freelancer writers. However, the organization has morphed into more of a genteel service organization to which most of Canada's best freelancers don't belong (any more than most Canadian magazine editors belong to the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors (CSME)). It seems that people in the business are just not joiners. Fewer than a third of consumer magazines belong to Magazines Canada. Perhaps one-sixth of trade publications belong to the Canadian Business Press (CBP).

The freelancer's trajectory seems to be a)working for nothing or next to it, b) getting some contacts and reputation, c) starting to sell semi-regularly for perhaps $1 a word and d) becoming disillusioned about making so little a year and e) bailing from the business to take a job, which may or may not be related to journalism. Usually PR or some such.

Some time ago I stated the math, which is pretty unforgiving:
A freelance writer in a year writes about 10* pieces of an average 3,500 words, for $1 a word. Total income, $35,000. Income tax (29% on taxable income of about $23,000) is $6,675. Take home pay = $545 a week.
If an experienced trade union can do something to convince Canadian publishers that it is in their best interests to start paying a living word rate to freelancers, I say go to it. If it can get these guys to pull together, it will be a miracle. I'll sell tickets.

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