When I launched this blog in 2006 (under the name SixFigureWriters.com at the time), one of the biggest issues being discussed by new freelance writers was the "global writers' market."
Writers in English-speaking countries would routinely blame this supposed global market for the fact that they couldn't find decent-paying freelance writing jobs. They blamed non-native English speakers in countries with lower costs of living, as though those writers were driving prices down everywhere and taking all of the gigs that would otherwise have gone to them.
But here's the thing. The "global writers' market" is a myth. It doesn't exist. It didn't then. And it doesn't now.
- No, English-speaking writers do not have to lower rates to try to compete with freelancers in other parts of the world.
- No, those new writers in other countries are not directly taking gigs and money from you.
- And no, the existence of ridiculously low-paying advertised writing gigs does not mean pro-level gigs no longer exist.
The first problem is that many people don't even know what a "market" is... they assume if you do even remotely similar work, you're in the same market. So let's establish what a market actually is, in both an economic and a marketing sense.
- Economics: To put it as simply as possible, in an economic sense the market consists of both supply and demand.
- Marketing: In marketing, the "market" consists of the buyers of the product or service you're offering. It's who you're trying to target with your promotional efforts in order to make a sale.
A "market" in both senses of the word (albeit similar to begin with), can in fact be global. Look at various manufacturing industries (such as automobiles and clothing) as prime examples. Freelance writing will never (let me repeat that.... it will never) be one global market.
With industries such as manufacturing, you're creating a tangible product. Those products can be manufactured using the same machinery in China or India as they can in the US or Canada. It doesn't matter what language is spoken by the workers creating the product, as they can be trained in their own language.
Language is Key
Writing is based in communication - that's your key distinction. Until everyone becomes fluent in one world language, there will never be one market even in that most general sense.
A foreign writer with reasonable English skills, but not able to pass as a native English speaker, won't land freelance writing gigs where the client actually cares about the quality and readability of the work. In the past, these low paying gigs largely came from webmasters looking to churn out content in bulk solely for search engines. They didn't care about readers, which is why these gigs have never been a threat to professionals. Fortunately that's changing as even search engines are putting more of an emphasis on quality content.
I acknowledge that many non-native English speakers can write fluently in English. I know plenty of them personally. But that isn't necessarily the case. Being able to communicate in English doesn't mean someone is qualified to write professionally in that language. At the same time, I and other English-speaking writers won't be hired to write in our non-native tongue unless we're entirely fluent as well. For example, I speak enough French that I could get around in the country just fine. But no French publication or company is going to hire me to write for them in their language.
Why are low paying gigs so dominant on job boards and freelance marketplaces? The higher paying online writing gigs are generally not advertised, so those markets are hidden from those who don't know where to look or how to network with the right people to get leads. Most of these higher paying publications targeting an English-speaking market will only hire a native English speaker or someone who can pass as such (or German-speaking writers, or French-speaking writers, etc. depending on where the publication is based -- high paying markets aren't exclusive to English-language companies and publications). That in itself rules out a completely global market.
Let's pretend language and communication aren't issues at all.
Writing still wouldn't ever be one global market. Why? Because there's no such thing as simply being a "writer." You're a certain type of writer (a novelist, journalist, blogger, content writer, copywriter, etc.). Many people can wear multiple hats and perform well in a variety of writing niches, but you'd be hard pressed to find even one who could be considered a top notch writer in every medium or specialty area. This is where supply and demand come even more into play.
A demand exists for sales letters that will convert into hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. A general content writer will often bid on these kinds of projects, or offer such services, without understanding the first thing about copywriting. They might offer the service for $50 or even less in the so-called "global marketplace," especially if they're trying to break into a new niche.
However, most clients who are in an honest position to earn that much in conversions also know the value of hiring a professional with verifiable experience and results. They happily pay thousands of dollars to have that sales letter written rather than accepting the much lower bid. The demand doesn't simply exist for a "sales letter." It exists for a "sales letter written by a professional copywriter with proven results."
As another example, you might be a great Web content writer. That doesn't mean there's any kind of demand for your particular type of services in non-fiction publishing, magazine publishing, trade journals, or copywriting. Each specialty area, despite any similarities, is a different animal with different service providers and a different level of demand. They're different markets.
So is there a "global market" for low quality, generic Web content writing? You could make a pretty good case for that. But I wish people would finally wake up to the fact that writers don't fall into one market. Simply being a fluent English speaker with better than average writing skills can automatically put you out of that low paying so-called global market.
You don't have to compete with writers willing to take pennies per word. What you would need to do instead of lowering your rates and becoming a "sweatshop writer" (as Zainie, one of this site's original contributors, so often called it), is to learn that there are other markets out there that are willing to pay you what your skills and abilities are worth.
If the lowest-paying clients start to see that they can't manipulate quality writers into accepting slave wages, either they'll understand the value of quality writing and pay more, or they won't. They can settle for substandard writing if it meets their needs, and you, as a freelance writer, can be off in another market making much more money. And remember, some buyers simply can't afford to hire a pro. That has absolutely nothing to do with perceived value or them trying to drive down rates overall. And it isn't going to change. Those buyers are not in your market right now. That's okay. They might be further down the line.
So no matter how many times you see people talking about a "global market" for writers, don't fall sucker to that line of thinking. It's not true, and it's used to manipulate experienced writers into lowering their rates. Don't let that happen to you.
Note: This post was originally published on November 26, 2006. It has since been updated and republished on its currently-listed publication date.