Earlier this week the trade union I’m a member of, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, released it’s recommended rates for freelancers. These aren’t law in the same way as minimum wages laws or award rates are in some jurisdictions. They’re indicative of the rates a freelance journalist ought to charge in order to make a decent living.
For writers, they suggest the following rates.
- $911.00 per day
- $607.00 per half day (based on charging 2/3 of the day rate)
- $227.00 per hour
- $925.00 for 1000 words or less (and then 93c per word)
The rates are similar for editors, proof-readers and photographers.
The assumption that these rates are based on “what a freelancer would need to charge to earn the same income as a mid-level journalist working on a metropolitan daily newspaper”. The mid-level journalist they have in mind gets paid about $70,000AUD per year. That includes super-annuation but I’ll work on the assumption that freelancers are contributing to their own super-annuation fund.
Let’s break that $70,000 down.
- There are 365 days in year.
- Weekends – 104 days
- Public holidays – 10 days
- Sick leave – 10 days
- Annual leave – 20 days
That leaves 221 working days in the year making the mid-level journalist’s day rate $316.74
It’s not looking like the MEAA’s suggested rate of $911 per day is at all reasonable.
The MEAA also includes in their suggested rate “reasonable out-of-pocket expenses” such as travel costs, telephone, car mileage, fax costs (really – people still fax?). Even if I allow $800 per month for those things (that’s based on looking at my own expenses so I’ve added insurance and a few other bits and pieces) that’s only about $40 per working day.
I’ve written before about setting a pay rate. Advice like the MEAA’s rate card is useful but it needs to be tempered with reality. Even allowing that the real cost of a full-time employed is 1.5 times their salary (allowing for on costs such as a computer, etc), the MEAA’s rate suggests an annual salary of just over $200,000.
With all that said, I’m a self-employed contractor because I like being able to work flexible hours, dress in whatever I fee like much of the time, sneak out in the middle of the day for a tennis lesson, lunch or whatever I want. However, I expect those things to come at a price.
The MEAA’s rates aren’t realistic. You’re better off setting your own goals, working hard and enjoying life. If you can’t make it work as an independent freelancer (and it’s not for everyone) then perhaps the safe $70,000 per year job is what you want.