Publishing & Technology: Feast and Famine
Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS
This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about a trend in the publishing industry (among others) toward the expanded utilization of independent contractors, or freelancers. I had intended to spend this week addressing either global publishing trends or talking about the highly comical price ranges that Publishers Marketplace provides on its “Report a Deal” form. But this month’s issue of Publishing Perspectives, the monthly magazine published by the good folks at the Frankfurt Book Fair, has a little article on its very last page by Laura Summers titled “In the Future, Will we all be Freelancers?” and I just can’t stop myself from weighing in on this trend.
Don’t get me wrong; I always wanted to be a freelancer. I used to dream about it when I worked a corporate job. I put myself through graduate school as a freelance reviewer of reference books and research materials for a publication catering to the needs of college librarians, doing a little web design, and writing for an SEO copywriting specialty company, and I truly did enjoy the freedom that came along with the position. I would roll out of bed at a reasonable hour, shuffle into the kitchen in my pajamas and slippers, put the coffee on, and settle in at the kitchen table to start my work day. If I had a meeting, a class, or an appointment to attend, I would leave the house and my work behind for the necessary time, without having to consider the impact on my nonexistent co-workers or boss and without having to ask for permission. If I felt like taking an afternoon off, or sleeping late on any given day, I only had to make a Faustian bargain with the rest of the week’s schedule to do so. There were some definite upsides, not the least of which was the exemption from dealing with the office jerk (and every office has at least one). But there were also some serious drawbacks to freelancing. At any given point, despite my efforts to diversify my sources of work, the work could just dry up, leaving me with little to keep myself afloat. If I weren’t diligent in my accounting and quarterly tax payments, I would get spanked with a hefty tax bill at the end of the year (and at a considerably higher tax rate than I was accustomed to in my previous life as a corporate drone). I was responsible for providing myself and my family with health insurance, and all the other little perks that come with working as an employee that are so easy to take for granted until you have to provide them for yourself. Freelancing also took a toll on my sociality as a human. I found myself babbling ad nauseum to the first person that I came in came into direct contact with at the end of the day, as if spending a solid day in my own company had left me starving for human interaction. In the end the good and the bad balanced out to the point where working freelance was tolerable, if only because I knew that it was temporary. And from my perspective, that may be the biggest problem with the entire industry dragging itself toward reliance on freelance creatives. There are very few people that are cut out for handling the income insecurity, isolation, and extra tax burden that come with working freelance for the long haul.