Sunday, January 29, 2006

Writing in India

We were just discussing on my writers group how magazines in India have such low pay rates for freelance work--famous magazines like Good Housekeeping pay one rupee a word in India while the US version pays around $1/word. Where's the equation? Our rate is a fraction of the American rate, so why would we want to write for the Indian GH, or other mags that pay like this (most do)?

What would the American GH have said to the Indian setup? Are they aware of the pathetic pay here? And why do the Americans pay $1/word? The magazine has high popularity there as well, they could also pay a pittance and let those looking for a Good Housekeeping clip alone contribute. Probably because there is a union or similar organisation that will interfere saying that if you charge this much for your ads then you need to pay your writers this much.

In the UK, according to The Writer's Handbook, they have categories for publications - Group A charges __ for advertisements, has __ circulation and so pays __ for material. If you find that a magazine's pay is not in keeping with this, you can bring up this point in discussion with the editor, or contact the appropriate journalists' union, or to that effect.

In India we have too few magazines and too much competition to write for them. If you refuse to write for anything below a figure you name, you risk losing the opportunity to write for them. There are so many eager writers who are willing to spend hours on reserch and writing and yet give it away for a song--and I do mean give it away, because these magazine sharks buy All Rights, worldwide, at that miserable Re.1/word rate.

Walk into a decent restaurant (no five star, just a good one) in a city like Bangalore and pick up the menu; there will be side dishes listed at Rs.100-200 each. And the place will be packed. People do have that kind of money to spend, which means they earn that well, too.

True, the bulk of these well-to-do people work in the IT field, or in BPOs--in multinational companies that do business globally, and hence earn revenue in foreign currency that multiplies nicely in INR.

You might argue that the foreign currency revenue is the reason for the high salaries, whereas magazines cannot pay much because they, after all, cater to the Indian consumer only.

Remember that many of these Indian consumers ARE the high-salaried readers. The products advertised in these magazines target this class, they invite people to spend Rs.350 on a lipstick, to use lip-liners, and more than one shade of lipstick to make up their lips just right--around Rs.1000 just on lips, and then there's the rest of the face to go, and the body and hair as well, not to mention clothes, shoes, perfumes, etc..

Articles regularly cover dieting, slimming down, exercise. You can't be poor and fat, can you?

A cup of coffee that used to cost Rs.5 a few years ago is now sold at 3-4 times the amount--not to mention our cool and cozy espresso bars that sell them for Rs.40-80 a cup. But our newspapers have been paying Re.1/word and less for decades--that has not changed.

So magazines like GH also set up shop, advertise regularly on TV (know how much an ad on TV costs?), get the country's top women on the covers, and pay the freelance writers a rupee a word. Know why?

Because they can.


Anonymous said...

Guess what,I came upon your article when googling for Freelance writing rates in India. Reason because some internet content company offered 50 Rs per A4 size page !!
I was appalled at the rate and wrote back saying "sorry rate far too low - look for someone else." In 5 mins i get a reply : what rates are u looking at?

Bottom line is : if more and more of us start demanding for higher rates, they might pause and think, if not give us what we ask for.

What if we all started working for International magazines sitting in India and got paid 1 $. Soon, there would be no one to write for Indian publications. They will have to then buy content from US for which we would have written and got paid @ 1$. heheh

As I write this I received another mail from the same company offering 100 Rs for 500 words!

I bade them Good luck.
Anjana Das

Anonymous said...

Hi Hash,

The Re.1/word debate can go on forever. As someone relatively new to the Indian market, I don't know what a 'fair' rate is. To me, it seems good that mags pay *at least* that much - because I don't know any better.

I've asked around and I'm sure there are freelancers who get paid 3-4 Rs/word, but *they are not telling*!

My query has always been : If I don't know what other people are getting, how can I ask for more?

In the UK/US/Europe, guidelines give you an indicator of the range available, so you know that there's a possibility of negotiation. In India, there's no such thing. The determination of keeping pay rates secret (by writers) only makes things worse.