The "Global Writers Market" (and Why it Doesn’t Exist)

When I launched this blog in 2006 (under the name 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.

Beyond Language

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.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

Subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter to get freelance writing updates from Jenn in your inbox.

12 thoughts on “The "Global Writers Market" (and Why it Doesn’t Exist)”

  1. I took a few low paying jobs when I was just starting out. Fortunately I was selective enough that I only accepted steady work at low rates, from people who were easy to work with – clear requests, regular payment schedules, etc.

    I can’t believe that since I started, the rates on many webmaster forums and freelance bidding sites seem to have gotten worse. Back then, one cent / word seemed normal. Now people are bidding $3 / 500 words, and clients are employing those people, despite their terribly written forum posts, and the fact they seem to bid on every single job. How could they possibly deliver so much content, quickly, and at an acceptable quality?

    PS: The allfreelancing link seems to go to a parked domain?

  2. Excellent article – and it really hits the nail on the head. All the people who bid on that low priced work really do fall into the one category – their writing is generally dreadful!

    I always smile at the job postings from people who want ‘top quality work’ at ‘rock bottom prices’. Don’t they realise the two just don’t go together?

  3. Great piece, Jennifer,

    It was relevant when it first came out, and it’s even more relevant now. One thing I’d add is that, not only isn’t there a “global writing market,” but there isn’t a “national writing market,” either.

    Such an assertion implies that we’re all part of one big market called “writing” and the rules for all of us are somehow the same. And of course, nothing could be further than the truth. And I’m just not sure why so many people still struggle with this concept.

    McDonald’s doesn’t compete with Red Lobster, who in turn, doesn’t compete with The Four Seasons (FS), etc., etc. The hiring manager at the FS wouldn’t recruit waiters from the ranks of burger flippers at McDonald’s, and by the same token, those burger flippers at McD’s shouldn’t be surprised that they can’t just walk into the FS and get hired as a waiter.

    Of course, if that burger flipper hones his service/people skills, and works his way up through places like Red Lobster or Olive Garden, at some point, he or she will be in a position to get hired as a waiter at a much more prestigious restaurant. Same thing with writers.

    Sure, a lot of writers languishing in the writing basement just don’t feel like doing what it takes to move themselves up into higher-paying writing realms. Which is fine. But in that case, they should stop complaining that they’re not getting paid what they’re worth, when in fact, given the company they’re keeping, they’re getting paid exactly what they’re worth.

    Again, great piece!


    • That’s so true Peter, on all fronts.

      While I hate to use this word, it sometimes needs to be said. “Lazy.” It’s lazy marketing to do nothing but troll job boards when you already know most of the gigs there are beneath you. Will you find an occasional gem? Sure. Will you get a good return on investment for your time that way? Probably not. And if you choose to go that route knowing it’s not a great option because you don’t want to put the work into identifying prospects, building your platform, pitching, etc., then you don’t get to complain about the quality of the gigs you find later.

      The one change I’ve noticed over these eight years is that we’ve gone from less general complaining about clients wanting to pay very little and moved more into excuses and the blame game, putting fault on other writers if someone can’t land the kind of work they want. It seems like some writers are saying it’s less the buyers’ fault and more that other writers are ruining “the market” for them and everyone else by charging too little. It’s senseless. It’s silly. And it does nothing to help that person secure better gigs. I’ll never understand it. And I don’t have a lot of patience for it.

  4. I love this post Jennifer, especially this line — Because there’s no such thing as simply being a “writer.”

    I often have a hard time getting this point across to our clients. Writing is a commodity that you get what you pay for. If you want to pay low rates, you are going to get low quality.

    I wish more people could get that. Thanks for spreading the word!

    • I always find it funny that the clients willing to pay the least often expect the most. I don’t know how they process that in their own minds, nonetheless think they can justify it to contractors.

  5. I love this article! I’m working on finding higher paying clients, and I was once stuck in this mindset, too. I knew there were higher paying options out there, but 1) I didn’t have any clue where “out there” was (still having some trouble) and 2) didn’t think I was an “expert” enough or qualified to receive those rates.

    • While your freelance writing rates can certainly go up over time as you gain experience, no one has to settle for very low rates, even if they’re relatively new. Sometimes it seems to stem from an “I have to start at the bottom” mentality (a big myth in the freelance writing world). Sometimes it’s a confidence issue. And sometimes, like you mentioned, writers don’t know where the better gigs are. What I usually tell them is to stop thinking in terms of “where.” There is no special place out there where all the high paying clients are hanging out. That’s the difference between pro-level gigs and the extremely low-paying ones. For higher paying work, the clients are everywhere. You just have to pitch them individually or find a way to attract them to you. Fortunately once you make that transition in how you think about finding gigs, it isn’t really difficult to do. It’s just different. 🙂

  6. As a rough estimate, there are about 20 million native-English-speaking novelists whose work is plenty good enough to be published by a major commercial publisher. The market, however, has room for only a fraction of them. The result is a bloodbath that smug name authors don’t see because they are name authors and could get their used toilet paper published on that basis. There’s no shortage of self-interested propaganda pieces by established names such as the author of this blog post. It is in their pecuniary interest to promote the notion of a “market” for novelists existing at all, so they hypocritically do so. But the same is true to an even greater extent for music, and to an orders-of-magnitude greater extent in the psychopath-dominated worlds of television and film. I think we can write off (pun intended) the author of this blog post as being guilty of that of which nearly everyone is guilty today: concealing her conflict of interest in maintaining the status quo.

    • We can equally write off your comment as coming from someone with no reading comprehension given that this post in no way talked about a market for novels. The only time the word was even used was in listing rather general types of work a writer might specialize in. The post had to do with freelance writers, which is clear starting in the very first paragraph. You might want to work on that and make some attempt to know what you’re talking about the next time you feel like acting like a pompous ass. And familiarize yourself with a site’s comment policies before posting your uninformed BS. It’s not welcome here.

  7. When I hear someone complaining about the state of the profession, I wonder just how much they’ve actually tried. See, for me there was no recession even though I’d heard tons of writers complaining “There’s no work out there.” Meanwhile, it was my busiest, most financially rewarding year. I believe people create their own realities with these blanket pronouncements.

    I think Herman has a few issues with understanding proper behavior. It does read to me as though English is not his first language — using all those fancy words as an attempt to impress. Alas, just another person hiding behind an alias.

  8. Right, first of all, great ideas and comments – all valid and coming from hard-working, creative writers. The word “mind-set” was used somewhere here and to me it is the key to succeeding as a writer. When we truly believe in our abilities to communicate our thoughts on to paper and share it with the world, we won the game. Lets face it, most writers write out of enjoyment-the money is only secondary. If someone can produce an intriguing article that touches a reader, it will eventually be shared with others and a demand for more of the same will be created. Quality articles attract premium payments.


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