Sir Walter Scott’s Literary Legacy: the word Freelance

Like a lot of other words, freelance used to have a much more literal meaning, like a Dragonlance is an actual lance for slaying dragons. Freelance meant roughly the same thing as mercenary or sellsword, or as we would say today, military contractor.   Higher education doesn’t use the word freelance. We use the word adjunct, but it means the same thing. The majority of college classes, whether online or face-to-face, are taught on a freelance basis, where the instructor is on a short-term contract with no benefits and no job security. This is especially true of those first foundation classes, before students enter their majors, where they are new to college, new to adult responsibilities for managing their time, and especially vulnerable to flunking out. This is not a good solution, since the economic interests of the freelance and the employer are not aligned. The freelance wants smaller classes, since they are paid per class. The college wants bigger classes, since they are paid per student. This classic conflict of interest becomes even more complex when the students’ interests are considered.

The Other Side of the Copper Coin

Now, I’ve been a freelance. I’ve taught on short-term contracts for 5 different colleges.   So my products are designed with freelance instructors in mind. Not only are they the biggest market, they really need quality plug-n-play work for their students to do. Suddenly, this week, I’m on the other side of that equation for the first time. Joel Bennett suggested that I try the online freelance market Fiverr.com, where people post $5 gigs, like, “I will format your e-book for $5.” Of course, that’s for something really simple like a novel, where there are no pictures, no graphs, no advertisements. I realized that. What I didn’t realize was how much ambiguity there is in one of these marketplaces, where I’m only communicating with the freelance electronically, in 1200-character chunks.   Following the Lean Startup Method, I did an experiment. I gave the same job to two different people, one in Mexico and one in Israel. After our initial negotiations, Mexico charged me $15 and Israel charged me $35. When I got the $15 job back, it was only one chapter of my textbook. Mexico apologized, said it was his fault, that my directions had been clear, but that he had not realized there was more than one chapter when he quoted me the $15 price. He offered me my $15 back to stop with no hard feelings, or $90 more to finish it. I decided to follow the experiment through to the end and see what would happen. I should know in a few days. We’ll see if there are similar misunderstandings with Israel.


Before I go for this week, I want to publicly thank my wife for holding down the same retail job for over 20 years. Just as my mother’s teaching job gave my family secure cash flow that buffered the boom-and-bust cycles of prices for milk and beef and tobacco, which bankrupted so many other farmers in the 1980s, my wife’s persistence and responsibility enable my entrereneurial adventures.

Written by rhayes

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