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Freelance writer rates: Who pays the most online?

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MY EARNINGS HISTORY as a freelance writer looks like a bell curve. When I started in journalism in 1993, writing record reviews and short news items for the SF Weekly, I got ten cents a word. By ’97 I was getting two dollars.

I can still pull that down occasionally, but more often it’s closer to the $150 I got for about 500 words for, or, worse, the sad, sad, three-cents-a-word I was getting for a weekly online column (for a nonprofit with decent traffic, but still). And the frequency of writing “for exposure” grows with your every tweet.

The weird thing is that while print has fewer pages to commission due to the decline in ad revenue that started with Web 2.0 and was accelerated by the Great Recession, online publishing still hasn’t had the ad revenue to compete with what print pays. So where is all this leftover money? Sitting in ad agencies’ bank accounts?

Surprisingly, perhaps, some of it actually seems to be going to writers. Although some freelancers report receiving five percent of the print edition’s fee for a piece under the same title that would appear only online, over at the Yahoo newsgroup Upod (an acronym for “under promise, over deliver”) they have better news: a recent poll of the 1000 mostly-freelancer members found several websites offering a dollar-a-word and up.

…it’s still an uphill struggle, but not impossible; I know a few personally who manage it.

That was the benchmark figure when I started writing—but it’s worth about $1.47 today. So it’s still an uphill struggle to support a family in a major metro area as a freelance writer. It’s not impossible, though; I know a few personally who manage this.

Nonetheless, most would be wise to flesh out their income by writing in different media. Film and television is the most lucrative; even if your name is never on screen, if you’re both lucky and good you can pocket $30k for a pilot that takes a couple of months to write—and if you’re really lucky and really good, rewriting features can earn you as much as fifty grand a week. Proposals for books that can be completed on a part-time basis routinely earn $30k advances, according to lit agents—the eBook notwithstanding. I can personally attest that PR writing brings in $45 an hour and up (if you have experience). Speaking engagements, if you have a “brand” as a columnist, pundit, or book author, also help good writers put the icing in the gravy and bring home the bacon.

“There is more hope than you would think,” says Upod founder and moderator David Hochman (a regular contributor to O, Playboy and many others). “It’s not all ten dollars an article like the content farms are paying. There’s a lot more ways to make money now, and I feel like there’s a revival happening just in the last six months.”

Below are what Upodders reported, this fall, receiving from various online pubs. Keep in mind this is what somebody has earned, not necessarily a standard rate. Always ask for more, or, if they first offer less, politely express your wonder that you know someone who got more.

BTW, I got $50 for this (but I over-delivered).

[Editor's note: to the extent we've been able to find them, links go to freelance writer guidelines or contact info. If you want the full up-to-date scoop on how to pitch these and hundreds of other pubs, consider ponying up for AvantGuild membership at mediabistro.]


$150 flat fee (750 word essay; Q&A up to 3000 words)


Daily Beast
$250 flat fee (commentary)
$300 and up (reported)
“writers they like” are said to get $1/wd and up
$30 flat fee for a 200-word email newsletter
$150 flat fee for articles around 500 words

under $.50/word

AOL Travel
$250-$400 flat fee (750 words) (“In Transit” blog)
$50 per post
$50 per post




$700 flat fee (800-1000 words)
$75 flat fee (100 word post with picture)
$500 flat fee for a post of 250-1200 words

$250 flat fee; length ranges 350-1000 words


$1/wd. (now fashionablebride)

Technology Review



Momentum (Univ of Minn. eco journal)

Travel & Leisure
$1000 flat fee for a slideshow (Harvard Business Review)
$1.20 – $2/word

Responsibility Project

* The travel writing course from MatadorU gives you access to freelance writer leads, as well as connections to travel editors at Matador and beyond.


About The Author

Paul Tullis

Paul Tullis writes, from Los Angeles, on policy, politics, science and culture for a variety of national magazines (and websites). He blogs—for free—at

  • Julie


    Great piece and crazy timing- this week, I’ve been eyeball-straining over a project for Matador about determining current rates of print magazines and online magazines. Specifically, I was updating and expanding a document we give to our MatadorU writing students about paying outlets.

    What surprised the hell out of me was that most outlets–print and online–have actually increased their rates of pay since we first produced this document, just over a year ago.

    All the more reason, if you ask me, to fight back against the ridiculous, unfounded cry about print being dead, as well as the fallacious argument that print and online are always competitors. The numbers definitely suggest otherwise.

    I also agree that diversifying your subject matter as a freelancer is the best way to actually make dough (I’ve found way more success publishing “travel” or place-based writing at non-travel magazines than in travel mags), and I support your suggestion to invest in a MediaBistro AG membership. At/around $50/year, it’s a worthwhile investment; I’ve had one for the past two years, and it’s more than paid for itself. The content’s generally up to date and when it’s not, the MB staff respond immediately (always within 24 hours in my experience) with updated information.

    Thanks for this timely article, which will be useful to many of our readers, as well as the U writing students.

  • Lola

    I couldn’t agree with Julie more. Solid article and one I’m definitely bookmarking.

    Thanks for the fantastic roundup!

  • Kymri / Mira Terra

    Please check the link for Travel & Leisure, it’s directing to Momentum! Great resourceful article btw!

    • David Miller

      thanks for the heads up! this is fixed now.

  • Bethany

    Awesome – thank you so much for this excellent resource!

  • Marcia Frost

    Great article! I didn’t know of a lot of these markets. Thanks for being so thorough!

  • Alan

    Great Article!

    But how on earth do you you submit to The Daily Beast? I can’t find a link or email address anywhere. Invitation only?

  • Melody Moser

    Great article! It’s an excellent resource. I wasn’t aware of all of these markets. Thank you for being so thorough.

  • David Page

    This just in from a rather salty Orbitz contrib, on the condition of strict anonymity:

    “Orbitz is now offering the stunning sum of $50 to write 400-word hotel reviews. Jetsetter pays $300 to write 4-500 word hotel reviews. But neither of these assignments are, technically speaking, “reviews.” They are advertorials.”

  • ugh

    Man, its like chasing pennies. I’d like to write for a living, but anything under $250 per piece is just not worth the time. Particularly, when the work isn’t exactly steady. The solutions I have come to are to network and get to know as many pe-fuck it

  • b

    The Salon figure is correct; just wrote my first piece for them. Asked for more to no avail & wish I’d known ahead of time. Traded cash for cred in this case, tho I’m not necessarily complaining about that.

    Great list — thanks for this!

  • Jenna Makowski

    Great piece, thanks! I’m not sure about your GlobalComment quote, though. I recently submitted a piece and they responded that they don’t provide any financial compensation. Maybe they’ve changed their policy?

  • EmmaOffshore

    One worth bookmarking, especially after slogging out a number of freebees for a yet to be online resource. You have to do the odd exposure pieces but if their not exposed….

  • Harleena Singh

    Thanks for putting up a great informative and educative write up.

  • Susan Johnston

    Thanks for sharing such a valuable resource! I’m a UPOD member, too, but I’ve gotten extremely behind on reading those posts. This also serves as a gentle reminder to keep checking the UPOD digest, as it’s a wealth of freelance info.

  • Cristina

    This is a fantastic article, thank you so much for taking the time to gather all this info and share it!

  • Harleena Singh

    Thanks for sharing a great informative post accompanied with so many links! This  surely is an eye-opener, though I do wonder how does one get through to these sites, so that they hire us to write for them!

    • Sandra Harriette

      It’s such a small world!

      • Soham

        Well done with that racist comment Sandra, you Xenophobic piece of filth.

  • Pamella de Leon

    Thanks for these! 

  • joezillions

    daghan salamat(many thanks)

  • CSKoo

    May I know what is the payment method by AARP? Does it accepts PayPal?

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