Times are hard. They’re hard for people, they’re hard for businesses, and they’re just… hard in general. Jobs are difficult to come by, households are in debt, people have lost jobs, the list goes on.
But that doesn’t give free license to companies to treat their workers, or potential hires, like dirt. Like beggars begging for scraps. “Oh, be thankful you have a job.” “Oh, you’re lucky we’re offering you any work at all.” That is called exploitation. And it’s absolutely disgusting.
This is especially true for those in the creative field – the photographers, the videographers, the designers, the writers – because their talents are often considered intangible. An accountant can show you numbers and reports, but how do you measure the beauty of a painting and it’s worth? The overall effectiveness of a tagline in a marketing campaign?
There’s also the perception that writing is easy. That we can fart prose and vomit articles at the snap of a finger. The truth is, like everything else, it takes time, energy and effort to craft something worthy. And if it’s so easy, as a lot of people like to put it… why don’t YOU do it then?
Even before the pandemic, writers, especially freelancers, have always gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to pay. For some inexplicable reason, writers are often thought to subsist on sunshine, fresh air and exposure. Why else the fuck would companies be so keen to utilise our knowledge and skills, but aren’t willing to pay the decent rates we ask for – not to get rich, mind you! – but simply to make a living?
“Oh, I thought writers write for passion anyway,” someone once told me over a friendly gathering of ex-high school mates. “And anyway, writing is easy. It’s not like accountancy.” (person who said this is an accountant).
I would very much have liked to shove my half-eaten carrot up his nose, but decided it would be better (and less messy) to simply imagine scenarios of said person being run over by a truck in multiple, horrible ways.
Remember those iconic lines you always associate with certain brands? Just Do It. Taste the Rainbow. Finger Lickin’ Good. I bet you can think of the brand right away.
Well, guess who came up with those lines?
That’s right. Writers.
And remember that creative ad with the touching script? That you still talk about years later whenever you discuss heartwarming festive ads? Or that article that made a place sound so amazing and interesting, you had to put it on your bucket list? Guess who came up with those?
Cookie points for the correct answer.
Right again. Writers. Here, you get a cookie.
Now, on to why I made this tirade.
Recently, an old acquaintance of mine dropped me a line about looking for travel writers for her director, who owns a travel/tourism company. Being on the lookout myself, I asked her what the job entailed, and how the pay was like.
To my absolute horror, her reply was: RM8/article. 400 to 500 words each. 15 articles a day.
I will now give you a breakdown of what this implies.
- If I worked 8 hours a day, that would mean 15 articles/8 (I’ll round it off to 16) = 2 articles per hour. That means I have 30 minutes for each article. No plagiarism. Article should be ORIGINAL and RESEARCHED based on the topic given.
- It takes me on average 2-3 hours to write a good article (sometimes more, depending on what it is. If it’s a super simple one I can get it done in less). This does not count the time I go out to do interviews, send emails to sources, make phone calls, and verify facts are accurate. If you want a shit job then yes, I can give it to you in 30 minutes.
- Even back when I was working as a journalist at the newspaper, the maximum number of stories I was given to write in a day was three.
Now, I will not name and shame this company, nor the person who approached me. I know she did it in good faith, based on what her boss told her to do, and she probably has no inkling of what a ‘fair’ price for writers would be.
But ask yourself:
If I were to ask you for an hour of your time doing what you’re doing at your job right now, how much would you think your pay should be worth? Say… an accountant. (I honestly don’t have anything against accountants; I just think that Asian societies tend to place this job on a pedestal, so it’s best for comparison).
What would your job entail on a daily basis? Ensuring financial documents are accurate, and that they comply with laws? Preparing financial reports? Prepping tax returns? Risk analysis? Would you be able to do that all within one day? If not, then why the fuck would companies think we can write 15 original, plagiarism-free articles within a day?
Also, imagine your boss coming up to you and saying, “Hey. I want you to get all of this done quickly. And I can only pay you eight bucks. But you know, times are hard, you should be glad you still have a job. And anyway accounting is easy, right?”
Most writers take years and years to hone their craft. The very idea that some company would even have the cheek to offer RM8 for a 400-500 word ORIGINAL and RESEARCHED article is DISGUSTING. It’s exploitation. And please don’t give me the bullshit excuse of ‘it was the market rate 10 years ago’. I can guarantee you that no one in their right mind would say it ever was, even a decade ago.
What makes it astounding is that this is a legit company – not one of those Upwork/Fiver job postings. If it was, I wouldn’t even bother writing this post – you can find plenty of content mills offering to write you 1000 words for 1$. How good the quality is I cannot vouch for. What pisses me off is the fact that employers in Malaysia, from apparently ‘reputable’ companies, think it is okay to pay their writers RM8 an article.
I told my acquaintance in the nicest way possible that figure is way too low. That the current market rate is at least 0.50 per word, up to RM1 (so RM800 for an 800 to 1000-word article. That’s considered high, by the way. I think RM400 is fair.)
I’m honestly not even mad at her. She’s probably just repeating whatever her director was telling her to do. And also, I know a lot of people are blissfully unaware that writers are living beings too who have bills to pay and have families to feed, just like everyone else.
“Well if you don’t like it, just don’t take the job! Why bitch about it?”
a) Yes. I won’t.
b) It’s my blog so fuck off.
I feel I have to say this because these bad practices have been going on for far too long, and because some people really do sell themselves short because they’re desperate or whatever.
If you’re one of them, please. Don’t.
You’re worth much more. You aren’t a dog at someone’s table waiting for scraps to fall, and you shouldn’t kill yourself trying to fulfil unreasonable demands for a pittance. It shouldn’t have to be so difficult just to make a living.
Writers are people too.
PS: This article took two hours to write (inclusive of editing, etc.) I bought myself a chocolate milkshake after that. The milkshake was 15 bucks, by the way.
“They might as well give you McD vouchers”– Husband, 2020.
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