Study: 88% of Creative Freelancers Oppose AB5. It’s Easy to See Why

2020 was projected to be the start of a creative renaissance. It did not get off to a good start.

On January 1, AB5 became law in the State of California. It delivered a serious blow to creative freelancers, and even if you’re not one, you should care. It has the potential to set off a shockwave that’ll hurt the content world at large.

What is California AB5?

AB5 is a well-intentioned bill passed in an attempt to make rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as employees, rather than independent contractors.

But the law didn’t stop there. It also requires companies to classify freelance writers, editors, and photographers as employees once they contribute more than 35 assignments.

Back in November, our Freelance Advisory Board was deeply concerned. They told us the law totally missed the point. Many freelance creatives didn’t want to be employees. They were freelancers by choice. The law penalizes arguably the most successful freelancers—the ones who’ve managed to secure lots of repeat work with one outlet, handcuffing their ability to work with their most loyal clients. (Indeed, publishers like Vox went on to cut ties with hundreds of California-based freelancers.) Even worse, other states like New York and New Jersey introduced similar bills, threatening the livelihood of creative freelancers.

We had heard from our Freelance Advisory Board, but we wanted to get a deeper understanding of how freelancers felt about the issue. In December, we surveyed creative freelancers to find out what they thought of the new law.

We just published our findings on The Freelancer, and the big takeaway is clear: Freelancers are overwhelmingly opposed to AB5.

Freelancers overwhelmingly oppose AB5 and say it misses the point

We polled 573 freelancers about AB5 (24 percent of respondents live in California). What we found:

  • 88 percent oppose the 35-submission limit
  • 82 percent oppose a cap on freelance submissions of any kind; another 10 percent found the 35 cap too low
  • 75 percent prefer freelancing to a full-time job
  • 90 percent agree or strongly agree that limits on freelance work could negatively affect their livelihood

freelancing infographic AB5

As a former full-time freelancer who still freelances for publishers like Fast Company, two of those stats stood out to me. First, 75 percent of creative freelancers work independently because they prefer it to a full-time job, and 90 percent believe this law could hurt the career they’ve built—particularly if it spreads to more states, as it seems to be doing.

Essentially, AB5 codes into law the idea that full-time employment is always preferable to independent contract work. It assumes that freelancing is inherently exploitative. This may be true for rideshare contractors, but it’s simply not accurate for creative freelancers.

While the government needs to do a better job of protecting freelancers in the gig economy, AB5 falls woefully short. Seventy-eight percent of our respondents said there were more pressing matters at hand that the government could address, such as affordable healthcare options, access to affordable insurance including disability coverage, and the ability to recoup or contest unpaid wages. Eighty-seven percent of respondents feel like lawmakers don’t understand who they are or what they do.

Why everyone in the content world should care

We started Contently because we wanted to build a better media world. We aimed to help freelance creatives get paid well to do work they could take pride in. We also set out to help brands invest in great stories instead of stalking people around the web with crappy display ads. Some freelancers bring in six figures on our platform alone.

Over the years, it’s only become clear that freelance creatives are the lifeblood of the content world. They allow brands and publishers to collaborate with the type of storytelling talent they would never be able to hire otherwise. Because let’s face it—many of the most creative people in the world don’t want to be a marketing or media staffer.

And many freelancers do their best work because they’re able to constantly recharge their creative talent with new projects, challenges, and environments.

If we restrict freelancers, well, then the content world will become significantly less creative. Instead, we need to protect and empower them, which is why we made a contract with the freelance community, promising to always pay them fairly and quickly, listen to them, and make them a key part of our company’s decision-making process.

It’s a small step, and we’re always looking to do more. Everyone who cares about the power of great content has an obligation to do the same. If we want to usher in a new creative renaissance, protecting our creative class should be our top priority.

Image by Trifonenko

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