Why freelance journalists aren’t making any money

The days of freelance journalists making $500 per article are over, says the founder of Bleacher Report.

Bryan Goldberg, in a PandoDaily post from a few months back, explained the realities of publishing economics.

Unless a journalist’s personal brand is particularly large compared to the publisher in question, paying a premium price for an individual piece of content simply doesn’t make sense:

An individual piece of content is valuable when it helps its publisher get past that line. Because if the publisher is on the wrong side of the line, then they cannot build a sales team and earn premium CPM rates. And no publishing business can thrive on third party sales.

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Unfortunately for Nate Thayer, The Atlantic already has a great brand, so he alone will not move mountains for them. For that reason, newer publications like PandoDaily, TheVerge, or Bleacher Report can get more mileage out of “big name” contributors who can do more to advance the brand.

But what about advertising dollars? Surely even a moderately well-known journalist with a good piece of content can bring in enough revenue to justify a decent paycheck, right? 

Probably not:

To bring this to life, let’s use an example… A very successful article will attract 100,000 readers. If there are two impressions per page and a $1.00 CPM, then that article will generate $200. For most blogs, those rates are a best-case scenario. It would be very difficult to make a living in such a manner.

But for a successful website that has crossed “the line” and employs a strong sales force, then those rates could be much higher. Let’s say $5 CPM’s: An article for such a site might be worth $1,000 if it attracts 100,000 readers.

Could a tyical rate of $500 per article work in such a scenario? Probably not. Because then the publisher has a “gross margin” of about 50 percent, which will likely not be enough to pay for the rest of the operation, starting with the salesperson who will take his or her commission right off the top.

There is one hope for journalists looking to make big paychecks, but they might not like it – sponsored content:

This is a great opportunity for writers to align their efforts with that of the advertisers in a very direct manner.

And while most writers must still understand that the publisher could just use some other writer instead of them to create the sponsored content, there is usually a fair middle ground. Most publishers pay more to create sponsored content, because it just seems reasonable when it contributes to a seven-figure check.

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