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Blog // Creativity
July 14, 2017

Some Honest Talk About Freelancing

I used to love enquires from print editors, but a recent experience made me wonder about the future of freelance photography and writing.

Have you ever had the experience, maybe while looking through clothes in your cupboard or shuffling through drawers in your kitchen, when you stumble upon something and say to yourself, “Wow, I’d forgotten about this”? That’s how I feel about LinkedIn.

The ever-popular social media app (yes, it’s social media) is a regular part of many people’s lives. If you work for a company that’s big enough to have an HR department, or at least an HR manager, there’s a good chance LinkedIn has played some role in your career.

But for many creatives, especially those who work for themselves, or in small companies, LinkedIn is an odd beast. It’s a bit like watching a reality TV show where one of the contestants is a friend of a friend.

So it’s always a surprise when I get a message from LinkedIn. A few months back there was a promising communication from a senior Asia editor at one of those big fat glossy fashion magazines. Apparently I’d been recommended to them and they liked my photography and writing. Their brief was “undiscovered Japan”.

I said sure, give me more details, and let’s talk. They then requested I submit five or six original and unpublished feature-length stories, complete with photos, for them to “consider”!

So, I do all this work, maybe two or three months’ worth, and they might pay me? Or might they just pass my work on to their in-house team, and send a much cheaper writer and photographer to go reproduce it, using my efforts as a free template and guide?

I’d like to say this was unusual, but it isn’t. The freelance world was always tough but it has increasingly become brutal. Part of me wants to cry despair and say that, given the anxieties I’ve had recently, I’m not up to competing in this game. But, it’s not just me.

There’s been a string of articles in recent years calling out the state of the creative freelance market today, like The ‘gig economy’ has broken a fundamental link in capitalism that was good for workers, All work and no pay: creative industries freelancers are exploited, and Freelancing made my depression worse – here’s how I learnt to cope.

This experience has been behind some of the other recent things I’ve written, like Stop Being A Photographer And Make Better Photos, How Can We Define Fine Art Photography, and On Having No Side Projects.

I’m not saying that freelancing as a model is dead. But unless you can work at high volume, on short notice and with massive adaptability, it’s increasingly untenable.

This is why, from now on, my focus is on selling the work I make, as finished pieces of art.

In one sense this is redefining what my work looks like, but more importantly, it’s redefining the ecology that allows that work to exist.

In the coming few months you’ll see new products from me, a new online store, and new ways to support the work. The blog won’t change. It will be ad-free and honest, like always. But I’ll be able to talk more openly about everything I do. I’m looking forward to this and I hope you will enjoy it too.

Dane Cobain 6 years ago

It’s interesting because I’ve had the same experience. When I worked as a social media marketer for an agency, I checked LinkedIn several times a day. Now it’s unusual for me to go on there more than once or twice per month. It’s also interesting because the goal for me has always been for me to earn enough from my book sales to reduce the amount of freelance work I do, which I suppose is similar to the direction that you’re taking. They say that you’ll never stop working unless you find a way to earn money while you sleep, so I’m working on it 🙂 I don’t think freelancing is all that it’s cracked up to be though and there are a lot of misconceptions about it. I also wouldn’t want to go back to working for someone else either, though.

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