Taking stock: what have previous freelancer surveys uncovered?

Keeping track of what’s happening in the media field is of benefit to everyone, whether you’re on staff, in management, or a freelancer. When negotiating terms for your own work, knowing industry standards and how other freelancers are faring is essential. And when collective action is called for, having hard data to back up your group’s demands is invaluable.

While we collect some data of our own on the state of magazine freelancing, it seems like a good time to look at other recent surveys of media workers in Canada.

Last year, the Canadian Media Guild conducted a survey of its freelance members who contribute to CBC under the CMG’s collective agreement. CMG mailed a letter and paper copy of the survey to all of the freelancers covered by the CBC contract, who numbered approximately 1,800 at the time; they also had the option of completing the survey online. About 200 freelancers responded. These were the key findings:

  • Half of respondents reported freelancing in the writing and broadcasting industry for more than 10 years – many of those for much longer.
  • CBC freelancers are a mix of full-time freelancers (both journalistic and technical) as well as professionals with other media and non-media jobs.
  • Full-time freelancers made up about 40% of respondents; two thirds of those reported earning more than $35,000 in freelance income.
  • Freelancers with another full or part-time job made up 60% of respondents; the majority of these freelancers earn less than $10,000 in freelance income annually.
  • When it comes to pay, a quarter of respondents reported negotiating payments above the minimum rates set out in the CBC/CMG collective agreement.
  • CBC freelancers told the CMG that what they wanted from them was: market information, professional development, negotiating skills, and access to benefit plans.

Another important survey, a couple years older and broader in scope, was the Canadian Magazine Industry Task Force 2008 survey, which consulted more than 450 staff and freelance writers, editors, and publishers. The result was a report by the Professional Writers Association of Canada, in partnership with Magazines Canada and the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors, called “Respect & Remuneration: Attitudes about editorial working conditions in the Canadian magazine industry,” which can be viewed in PDF form here. CSME’s president, Bob Sexton, called it “required reading for all editors, writers, publishers and those who care about the future of magazines in this country.”

Some key findings from that report included:

  • Thirty-eight per cent of all respondents felt that working conditions in the industry have deteriorated over the time they’ve been working in it.
  • Forty-seven per cent of freelancers felt this way, as did more than a quarter of magazine staff (29 per cent) and management (27 per cent).
  • Eighty-seven per cent of freelancers and 91 per cent of staffers felt the industry allowed them to create work of real value.
  • Only 67 per cent of freelancers and 72 per cent of staffers felt they were treated with respect.
  • Primary concerns for both staff and freelancers were: reliable delivery and meeting deadlines, achieving consistent and predictable editorial quality, payment (for freelance contributions and/or for salaries/benefits), and keeping editorial costs down.
  • Fewer than a third of staff respondents (31 per cent) felt that relationships between editors and publishers were excellent or good.

What’s changed in the past couple years? Are conditions worsening or improving for freelancers, and in what areas? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Click here to take our five-minute freelancer survey, and please share it with your colleagues.

5 Responses

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  1. Written by spanked
    on June 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I started working freelance for CBC.ca about five years ago. At that time, a feature paid $900. Then the union negotiated a new contract and threw freelancers under the bus, causing rates to drop to $360 (less dues, of course). This January, management of CBC.ca completely eliminated freelance budgets. (I think there’s a bit of money coming back now, but it is small and all seems to be streamed to hard news.) So if you’re a freelancer, just forget about working for CBC.ca. (I can’t speak for the radio or tv branches.)

  2. Written by Keith
    on June 6, 2011 at 4:20 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I can tell you that the Guild didn’t negotiate any reductions in rates for anyone. If that’s the line you were or are being fed, I would submit that someone is not being entirely honest with you. And if you were being paid $900 before, there’s absolutely NOTHING to stop the CBC from continuing to pay that amount. The published rates are minimums only; people can be, and are, paid above those minimums.

    When in doubt, read the collective agreement (it’s on our website), talk to a member of your local executive or contact the national office at info@cmg.ca or call 1-800-465-4149 or 416-591-5333.

  3. Written by spanked
    on June 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Keith, as you must surely know, the universal message to freelancers from producers and editors is: here’s the rate, take it or leave it. Sometimes a rate can be negotiated up a bit, but never x3. After the new bargaining agreement, the new base rate for CBC freelancers writing online was $360, and that’s what their producers were told to stick to. Yeah, they could have paid more, but they didn’t because their budgets were tight and their masters were watching. You don’t think I asked about the possibility of staying at the $900 rate? I did, and was told it was impossible. How could the union have protected me when the collective agreement indicated the acceptable rate?

    It’s all moot now anyway, because the budgets are all but gone.

  4. Written by Keith
    on June 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I’m sorry you were treated badly. The reason there’s an online rate in the book is that people were being paid even *less* than the per-word rate that’s there now. (it’s on page 102 of the agreement).

    There are sections of the website, just as there are programs within CBC radio and TV, that routinely pay above the minimum rates – sometimes considerably so. Sometimes it’s a function of the image/prestige of the show; in other cases it’s based on the image of the freelancer and the kind of audience he/she will bring to the site.

    In terms of how the union could protect, or could have protected you, there’s a larger issue at play that the Guild’s Freelance Branch takes very seriously. Iif we can generate enough solidarity among freelance content creators so that people will no longer accept work at crappy rates, then the union – which is only as strong as its members – can negotiate for better terms for everyone. Imagine what would happen if every freelancer cbc.ca contacted refused to work for 45 cents a word.

  5. Written by spanked
    on June 9, 2011 at 2:34 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I understand what you are saying, Keith, but it is a buyer’s market. If a freelancer refused their crappy rate, they’d move on to the next freelancer. I write for the Globe for about .50¢/wd frequently, and there are a dozen like me — highly qualified, widely published — who’d step into my shoes if I declined the job. I agree, rates are too low, but no one has proposed a practical system to combat this problem.

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