Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Freelancing Drying Up?

I've heard from way too many people recently that their freelancing pipelines are empty. Naturally, publishers that are hurting are going to try to cut back their title lists and pull as much in-house as possible. It makes me nervous for all of those who make their livings this way. Is my anecdotal evidence just that--anecdotal? Or are you having the same experience? What can a freelancer do to adapt and get more work? Will some people have to give it up and go back in-house? Will there be jobs for those people? Is the sky falling?


Anonymous said...

Hi Lori,

I can't offer definitive evidence either, but it makes sense that the freelance market would be shrinking in this economy. On the other hand, in the long-term I think freelancing (or something like it) is going to become an increasingly popular career mode. I think more and more we're already seeing people pop from company to company and project to project on an almost freelance-like career path. This is only going to intensify as the line between vocation and avocation blur and people find ways to make their living in a more decentralized way.

As an IBM Global Innovation Outlook report put it some years ago, rather than seeing the future as one massive company of a billion people, think about is as a billion companies of one person each.

Of relevance to this I think, is our new press, Hol Art Books, that uses an unusual publishing model. In our team publishing system, an author posts a book on our site; an editor, a designer, and a publicist see the posting and agree to work as the book's publishing team; the team develops the book and Hol prints, distributes and markets it; and everyone -- the author, the team, and Hol -- gets paid with a percentage of the book's sales for as long as it sells.

The risk of the publishing process is spread out among all the participants, but so is the reward -- the more successful the book, the better everyone is paid. While there's no quick money to be made here, there's a chance for people to put together a portfolio of reasonably steady incremental income from past projects. And because the process is driven by the team rather than by me as the publisher, they can always go back and revisit their project to boost sales.

Aside from the potential financial benefits, publishing professionals -- whether freelancers or moonlighters from other houses -- get to choose the projects they want to work on based on what they think will be financially successful, what they think will be critically successful, who they'd be working with, and what they find the most interest in.

For us, giving people choice in their projects and reward for their good work will hopefully lead to a dynamic, open community producing excellent and interesting books. And for them, a financially viable way to use and develop their skills and pursue their passions in a freelance world.

Lori Cates Hand said...

Hi Greg,

What an amazing idea! I love it. I'll be checking into it further.

You are so right about the coming freelance-dominated economy. Tina Brown calls it "gigonomics," where people will be moving from gig to gig. I just wonder how all of that will balance out in the publishing world.

Thanks for your comment!


Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

I have been in publishing 25 years, freelancing for the last 14 of them. I still have loads of gigs and, in fact, must turn some away. This is the case for most of the experienced freelancers I know. But also, I have moved more and more in the last few years into the niche of medical copyediting, which is still very busy, so I may be somewhat insulated.

I have heard from less-experienced freelancers who are having trouble finding gigs. And yet I have one mentee who has managed to build her freelancing business over the last year and a half, despite all of the changes in the industry and despite the recession.