Are Daily Rates for Technical Writers Collapsing?

Daily rates for technical writers are down to $30 per hour in some places in the Bay Area. Recent articles on other technical writing sites suggests that daily rates for technical writers is collapsing in the US, in particular the west coast, as more writers struggle to find roles that match their previous salaries.

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TECHWR-L (tech-whirl), the oldest site that I know for technical writers, highlights the case of a technical writer who’s been in the industry for 10 years and been jog-hunting for six months.

When asked what he thought where the tech docs industry was heading, his reply was, “it’s a race to the bottom”.

12 months ago, he left a high-paying tech writing job to travel but returned six months later, and looked for work. So far, nothing.

Daily Rates for Technical Writing in California

His only job offer to date was for $30 an hour.

Some recruitment sites quote $40-$60 an hour as the industry standard.

I know that when I last worked in the states, late 90s, the rates were $40-$60 per hour, and that’s almost 10 years back.  It’s hard to believe that now, ten years later, and factoring in inflation etc, daily rates are almost half of this.

Daily Rates for Technical Writing in Bangalore

According to a tech writer in Bangalore, the going rate in India is $10-15 an hour.

Link: http://www.techwr-l.com/node/1205

Tomorrow’s World

My concern for US writers is that they fail to grasp the momentum that counties like India have established and the high quality of university graduates they are now producing.

Also, the upturn in the recession has given a false sense of hope. Some that I’ve spoken to feel that the worse has passed and normal service (i.e. job stability) will be resumed.

As someone who works in Asia, and is seeing at first hand the juggernaut that is hurdling down the motorway, the race to the bottom has only started.

In the next 10-15 years, IT jobs which can be replicated offshore/offsite to lower costs will be embraced more aggressively. US companies have little choice but to do this.

The challenge for technical writers

The question for technical writers and others in this industry is how to approach this.

One suggestion would be to setup consultancy services in places like Bangalore, Vietnam, and Poland where the talent is there but the experience is lacking.
Experienced technical writers, who are willing to travel and embrace a new challenge, could do very well in these countries.

Staying at home may not be an option.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Are Daily Rates for Technical Writers Collapsing?

  1. kendallrnh says:

    In the fall of 2008 (when the financial fiasco was getting up to speed), I was laid-off by a large company where I had worked as a tech writer for four years.

    At the time, I was making what I considered an excellent salary ($78k). The company gave me a friendly send-off with a generous severance package, and that was that. This was my fourth lay-off over a 20 career as a software tech writer, so I wasn't too panicked about it.

    Each of my lay-offs occurred because the company I worked for either outright failed, or ran into serious economic hardship. That's just the nature of the software business, and I accept risk.

    This last layoff, however, has been quite different from the other three I experienced. Over the past year, I've had no permanent job offers (partly my fault, I don't live near a major metro area) and I'm contracting for $25 an hour. I can do that because my overhead isn't huge, but man, that's a far cry from where I was a year ago, or even 15 years ago!

    I really like being a tech writer. I'm good at it, I have all the right credentials (a degree in tech writing, excellent experience, etc), plus, I think it's a fun job. So I'm not about to give up on the profession. But there's no question, the earning power of tech writers has fallen dramatically over the past year (2008-2009).

    I don't expect that's going to change any time soon. But it might be a good thing, as only the people with a passion for tech writing will remain. The rest will move on to other more lucrative fields, leaving more for us.

  2. kendallrnh says:

    In the fall of 2008 (when the financial fiasco was getting up to speed), I was laid-off by a large company where I had worked as a tech writer for four years.

    At the time, I was making what I considered an excellent salary ($78k). The company gave me a friendly send-off with a generous severance package, and that was that. This was my fourth lay-off over a 20 career as a software tech writer, so I wasn't too panicked about it.

    Each of my lay-offs occurred because the company I worked for either outright failed, or ran into serious economic hardship. That's just the nature of the software business, and I accept risk.

    This last layoff, however, has been quite different from the other three I experienced. Over the past year, I've had no permanent job offers (partly my fault, I don't live near a major metro area) and I'm contracting for $25 an hour. I can do that because my overhead isn't huge, but man, that's a far cry from where I was a year ago, or even 15 years ago!

    I really like being a tech writer. I'm good at it, I have all the right credentials (a degree in tech writing, excellent experience, etc), plus, I think it's a fun job. So I'm not about to give up on the profession. But there's no question, the earning power of tech writers has fallen dramatically over the past year (2008-2009).

    I don't expect that's going to change any time soon. But it might be a good thing, as only the people with a passion for tech writing will remain. The rest will move on to other more lucrative fields, leaving more for us.

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