This article first appeared in Publishing Perspectives’ 2015 Global Publishing Magazine.
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By Laura Summers, Co-Founder of BookMachine
UK-based BookMachine organizes publishing events, and as a result, we meet lots of people. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen an unmistakable trend in the growth of freelancing, want-to-be-freelancers, and curated networks of freelancers. A 2013 Tower Lane survey revealed that more than 60% of companies expected to hire more freelancers over the next year. It’s a rapidly growing trend, not only in the wider industry, but in publishing, too.
The key driver of this growth is the effectiveness of the model for all parties involved. From an employer’s perspective, despite the stability, systems knowledge and efficiency savings offered by long-term workers, the benefits of hiring freelancers rather than expanding the employee base at a fixed cost are clear—particularly as more companies experiment with new, digital projects.
Meanwhile, in-house employees who migrate over to freelance work often report a number of advantages. There’s no more clock-watching, no more killing time until 5 p.m. The freelancer works on their own schedule—if they must finish at 3.30 p.m. to pick up the kids from school, they can do so without worry of judgment from colleagues. Hard-working freelancers can earn substantially more than their in-house counterparts, if they are prepared to work long hours and take on multiple assignments.
In light of this trend, and looking towards 2020 and beyond, it’s worth us asking: will we all be freelancers?
Baby Boomers (born 1946–64) do not have a typical freelancer profile. With a high value on time in the office and an often critical view towards remote working, it’s only as Baby Boomers start to retire that there could be a move towards a freelance mindset. The fact that some Baby Boomers were impacted by the fall of the dot-com marketplace and need to work longer than planned could add further to this trend. According to those surveyed recently by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), many plan to work at least part-time in retirement. This might mean moving into freelance positions.
Generation X (born 1965–79), in response to watching their parents work so hard, decided to adopt a work-hard/play-hard attitude, taking more advantage of their free time. Compared with the previous generation, they tend to have a disdain for both authority and structured work hours. This is evidence in itself that that a freelance working life might suit this demographic.
Millennials (born 1979–97) have a different skill set to previous generations. Having grown accustomed to fast broadband speeds and instant updates, whilst attracting personal attention and branding from social media, they expect a similar immediacy at work. Instant promotions and fast response times are typically required to keep Millennials happy, which is why they are perceived to be the hardest workforce to manage. Again, good contenders for freelance life.
Not much is known yet about Generation Z (born 1998+). They will have grown up with social networks, which will mean they share some character traits with Millennials. Online collaboration will come naturally to them, and they will tend to be entrepreneurial due to all the business tools available to them.
In the UK we have seen curated freelance networks expanding both for trade and academic publishers. Whitefox offers publishers repeat services such as editorial, typesetting, and copywriting, which, in addition to helping them scale up quickly, is great for firefighting. As a quality publishing service, Whitefox help their ever growing list of freelancers to find work, and their clients obtain variable costs per project, based on the different services available.
Just Content, founded by Melody Dawes, have only been running for 18 months and specialize in outsourcing projects for academic publishers. A core team of ten freelancers work on most projects, and this inner group expands as needed to take on larger projects. There are around ten publishers using Just Content at the moment for consultancy, a variety of key editorial processes, and full publishing packaging services, too. As with Whitefox, they offer a service for their team that includes negotiating fees and validating their briefs, something that can be quite daunting for newbies on the freelancing scene.
In addition to these curated networks, our own BookMachine Connect is a way for freelancers to showcase their skills. Users with peer recommendations and large portfolios are ranked higher on the website, giving publishers a pool of quality talent to access as and when they are needed.
As Millennials and Generation Z grow up in a world where the on-demand economy fills their every need, where companies such as Handy do their cleaning, Washio do their washing, and Uber show up with instant taxis, will the nature of the publishing workforce respond with on-demand needs and requirements of a flexible agile workforce? As companies expand and retract in response to new trends in the market, perhaps this is a sensible way to go. And no, we won’t all be freelancers—but as learning new skills and the ability to work anywhere and at anytime becomes more and more commonplace, will the industry adapt to take advantage?