Re: Technical Writer Rates

Subject: Re: Technical Writer Rates
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: Techwrl-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2000 14:12:43 -0800 (PST)

"EXT-Hornoi-Centerwall, Theodore" wrote in message...
> What determines technical writer rates, either for sale of service/product or

>for hours worked, in light of the rapidly changing face of the profession?
> (This may have been addressed in the archives, but all the discussions I have
read are about the rates, but not what lies behind them. Read on.)
> Before someone says, "The marketplace," I would like to know how that works
in the case of techwriters. Because, in theory at least, the value of a
service or product such as what we provide is based on both some intrinsic
value and a customer-assigned value. To be specific, documentation has an
intrinsic value in terms of facilitating use of a software application, but
well-written specifications based on customer-requested functionality, probably
has a higher value.

Tech writers provide a service. Our work is synonymous with that of a roofer or
bricklayer. We do work, provide results, and are compensated for that work. We
are not producing refrigerators or cars which have significant tangible
elements. Documentation (especially in the age of electronic docs) has
basically no commodity worth.

In fact, NOTHING has intrinsic value. All things are variable and the market
determines their value. Even those things that are tangle fluctuate over time.
The value of a car or a refrigerator is based on many factors, some of which
can be computed, but ultimately are based in what the market will tolerate.
$90,000 refrigerators may look nice, but who would buy one?

Now, you can begin to debate how some things deserve to have fixed values - but
then you are debating economic principles and not how the markets work. We all
know how successful centralized price fixing was in those nations that try it.

There are no standards for pricing in tech writing because there is no way to
reliably determine the value of a document, web site, or help file. Sure, you
can count words or check spelling, but ultimately the impact of a document is
highly variable. Some documents can help sell a product and as such are worth
millions. Other documents are virtually worthless since they contain no useful
information. Yet this is an "after the fact" analysis. It could just as easily
be argued that the color of the web site made the company millions.

Thus, what predominantly guides the rates for tech writing is the same that
guides the rates for any service profession: experience, talent, reputation,
and customer service. Talented and experienced tech writers can usually charge
more for their services because they have more to offer. Inexperienced writers
must charge less.

Furthermore, the worth of a given person is exactly what they will take. If my
company suddenly started offering top quality tech writers on contract for $20
an hour - you can bet I would rapidly consume the market. Independents who
charge $75 and $85 an hour would get pushed out of the market simply because I
could undercut them. The independents would have two choices - open new
markets or cut their rates. Just because you THINK you're worth $75 an hour,
does not mean companies must pay that.

What governs the market is what governs ALL free markets - supply and demand.
Currently the demand for good writers is rather high. The supply is pretty low.
There are a lot of writers out there, just not very many good ones.

This has an overall effect on the markets. For each moron who botches a job
and whines about how the company didn't respect him/her the rates for all
writers takes a hit. The more morons there are botching jobs, the more rates
are suppressed.

Likewise, the more diversity there is in the market the more options a company
has, which also can help or hinder rates. Why work with an unknown independent
for $50 an hour, when a company can get a guarantee from a contract agency at
$60 an hour.

So the answer to you question is - there is no such thing as a standard in
rates for tech writers. Those sites that quote rates are just going off what is
commonly charged and what the market will most likely accept. Any "basis" for
those rates is speculation.

You are worth what you'll take, and you'll earn what the market will pay you.
Documentation does not have intrinsic value. It has a market value, like all
things in the economy.

Andrew Plato
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