Updated: Jan 8
Until there’s a disruption in the industry, try taking any optimistic trends with a pinch of salt
Image: wirestock | Freepik
Last month, a renowned media company called me regarding a full-time copy-editing position. I declined the role, as it wasn’t part-time or freelance work.
In the course of our conversation, though, the HR executive revealed the pay.
The amount I heard took me aback.
The monthly salary for this role was lower than what it was 8-to-10 years ago for the same level of experience.
This wasn’t the first such shocking instance of its kind in 2022. The year was all about crappy pay rates offered for writing, editing, and content-strategy jobs in both freelance and staff capacities. I had to summon all my calm while reminding a few recruiters and prospective clients that 50 paise per word was my lowest copy-editing rate and not my highest rate for writing. And I foresee doing the same in 2023, I’m afraid.
While the obvious solution to this situation would be to try better-paying international waters, considering most of these issues are endemic to India Inc., it’s far from easy. The competition beyond our borders is more intense than one may think.
But why are companies not even offering industry-standard rates? Is budget the issue or something else? If business owners don’t have the bandwidth to hire writers/editors, why not do the work on their own until they start earning enough to pay a decent remuneration?
I have 3 guesses:
The most obvious explanation is that companies offering low-paying writing gigs aren’t taking content marketing with the seriousness they should or are doing it wrong. (Or maybe they think and have, deep down, accepted that content marketing is dead.) More than quality, their focus is to churn out content, no matter how it is, and get it up online. Even those seeking quality but actually lacking the budget usually have a needlessly aggressive content strategy that makes it time-intensive for entrepreneurs to execute it by themselves. So, if a novice with a laptop in tow can do the job for a few bucks, why spend five-to-six digits per month on “over-experienced,” “overpriced” professionals?
With the advent of AI writing, writers are an even more replaceable and disposable commodity now. Some experts are confident AI will help writers instead of doing away with them. But if increasing displays of AI writing on social media are any proof, companies are likely to use it as an excuse to slash their writer-hiring budgets even more.
If writing as an industry has been corrupted more than disrupted, writers and editors themselves are to blame in several instances, especially those who accept any gig that comes their way without negotiating or sticking to their rates.
Until writers and editors collectively form a union and press for uniform rates, I don’t foresee any real change. Even with established rates, there will be people who will continue to give into exploitation for a host of reasons.
So, where do these developments leave qualified, talented professionals who always insist on their worth? Will these phenomena spell the death of the deserving writer in 2023? Are higher-paying but extremely saturated corporate markets their best bet? Will their SEO prospects remain intact if ChatGPT indeed throttles the search engine? How do writers cut through the competition, gatekeeping, and other issues that plague the publishing world to make their mark in it? If movie industries, too, are in a state of post-pandemic flux, where are writers going to find work that, like them, pays so much that they never have to look back?
I firmly believe that when one door closes, another opens. The year will belong to writers and editors who not only practise their craft daily but flaunt it on various platforms (think blogs, social media, YouTube, podcasts). It’s important we have a finger on our readers’ and audiences’ pulse and create content that not only solves their pain points and meets their needs but also makes for a nuanced copy and pleasurable reading experience. Upskilling for strategy, content management, sales techniques, and other areas is a bonus—so is having a niche with tremendous market potential. All these measures are sure-shot ways to stand out from the crowd, boost demand for our expertise, and enhance our bargaining power. Besides, blogs, YouTube, and podcasts are promising avenues for affiliate marketing and sponsored posts, which help generate passive income and scalable business opportunities in the long run.
Eventually, a course correction is in order for the industry. Audiences are getting smarter by the day, and so are algorithms. Subpar content has to see rejection (look what’s happening with Bollywood films right now) and pave the way for unique, well-written pieces. But to accelerate the process and make it a reality faster, it’s essential to pay heed to Rancho’s advice from 3 Idiots, prioritise “excellence over success,” and hone our skills regularly.
Yes, the system needs an overhaul, but on the part of us writers, there should be zero tolerance for complacency. Because the much-needed disruption is coming from the writer who stays their ground and insists on being compensated for their true worth. No matter what the next big innovation is, it’s ultimately going to seek out only the bloody best writers out there. But until that writer-friendly disruption occurs, it’s advisable to take all optimistic trends and projections with a pinch of salt.