A new alliance between a popular freelance job board and Demand Studios, a Los Angeles company that runs eHow, Livestrong.com and other websites, has freelancers worrying once again about the folly of writing for so-called content aggregators.
Freelancers are up in arms that Deb Ng, owner of the widely-read Freelance Writing Jobs blog, cut a deal with Demand Studios, whose parent company has raised $355 million in venture capital financing for a variety of web-based enterprises, yet pays independent contractors $15 to $30 per article they write and $3.50 per story they edit. Why, critics argue, should any self-respecting professional freelancer used to getting 50 cents or $1 a word or more settle for such a small amount.
My answer: they shouldn’t. In fact, I don’t really see what all the fuss is about.
It’s not as if Demand Studios and content aggregators like it – Helium, Associated Content, Studio101, etc. – are the only places hiring and paying writers. It’s true newspapers aren’t the reliable freelance markets they once were. And yes, it does feel like magazines have folded up their tents and slunk away, at least where freelance contributions are concerned.
But there are still plenty of places to write for that pay far more than what Demand and sites like it are offering.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been approached by no less than three editors for print and online-only publications asking pitches and all of them pay far more than the going rate at content aggregators. On top of that, I’m talking to several publications about projects that could result in interesting new work, some of it ongoing.
I’m not the only one. I’m starting to read similar accounts of an uptick in work that’s out there from freelancers who hang out on the writers’ message boards I do.
Content aggregators like Demand Studios represent the lowest rung of freelance opportunity. It doesn’t take a lot of journalism training, writing experience or time to put together the kind of evergreen how-to articles these types of sites thrive on, which is one reason why the pay’s so low. Another has to do with supply and demand. When there’s a large supply of writers, professional or otherwise, willing and able to do the work, sites like Demand Studios don’t have to offer higher rates to attract the labor they need.
The kinds of opportunities Demand Studios represents have always existed. In pre-Internet days, they were the writing jobs listed in the classified ads. Those jobs are more high profile now because the Internet’s created more of them, but also because Craigslist, blogs and job boards like Freelance Writing Jobs have made it easier for companies to market them.
The biggest difference between writing for content aggregators like Demand Studios and its ilk and writing for traditional publishers – whether they’re newspapers, magazines or websites – is the amount of work a writer has to invest in the process. For one, you scan a job board like Freelance Writing Jobs to find out what’s posted – like looking through the classifieds for a job opening. See something you like, fill out a form – or in some cases go through a training period – and voila, you’re ready to start.
Getting those other writing jobs takes a lot more thought, training and work. They’re the equivalent of the high-level jobs companies never list in the help wanted ads. You have to come up with an original idea for a story, find a market, craft a pitch that explains what the story is, why it’s a good fit for the market and why you’re the best writer to do it. If you land the assignment, there’s research and reporting to do before you even start writing.
That process takes a lot more work than answering an ad. It only follows that the compensation should be commensurate to the amount of work.
So, do you focus on the lowest-common denominator freelance gigs that are easier to come by and easier to write but pay less and have a heck of a lot more competition vying for the opportunity? Or do you aim higher, going for the tougher assignments that are harder to land, harder to complete but pay more too?
Ultimately, it an individual freelancer’s decision to make. But I see no reason to compete in a race to the bottom when you can aim higher and get a lot more out of your efforts.