54 responses to “The great freelance rate debate continues”

  1. Paula B.

    “The site’s defenders counter that most contributors write only part-time, and don’t depend on it for their livelihood. ”

    So what? Work is worth what it’s worth. This is a red herring, and insulting to boot.

  2. Lance Haun

    Hi Michelle,

    As you know, I’m not in journalism but I am familiar with compensation as a part of HR. Time after time, I’ve found you generally get what you pay for. If someone has high rates, it means they are putting significant work into it to produce a better product. If they don’t, they end up getting popped out and never used again. Business ends up drying up for these folks.

    I remember once, we hired this consultant who had the most insane rates. Insanely low. When we had him come in, he listened for about ten minutes and immediately started pitching his software and standard training process.

    I am certain he made money and it worked for him but it wasn’t a long term strategy.

    I can see some of the same parallels in journalism. Freelancers may earn a living doing cut rate work (even if they are good) but how sustainable is that practice?

  3. jesakalong

    I love how you’ve pulled all these perspectives into one post and given your readers a great starting point for forming their own opinions. Lance’s HR perspective is really good to hear, too. I like to think that I offer my clients value for what they pay me – not just some canned, off-the-shelf product. I can also relate to the self-confidence issue. We risk rejection while trying to get work — and, as writers, we risk rejection with every draft. But you said it beautifully: with risk comes reward. Agreed!

  4. Steven Walling

    I took a honest look at Demand Studios (I haven’t researched Helium or Examiner.com much), and I think it’s reprehensible.

    They claim that some writers are making thousands a month on ad revenue sharing, but no one credible is backing up their statements.

    In my experience anyone who isn’t willing to pay a fair price up front for my work has something to hide. If my original content is so valuable to Demand Studios, they can pay me up front like any decent publication.

  5. StefanieF

    Thanks for linking to my blog post, Michelle! And for linking some other posts on the debate as well. I’m going to have to read them all over the weekend.

    I’m still on the fence as far as content aggregators go. For me, I think the biggest question is if the ease of getting/working on assignments from these sites is really worth the pennies they pay. But, I will admit, the lure of quick assignments and weekly pay (even if it’s little weekly pay) is tempting.

    However, I’m one of the part-time writers these sites’ defenders are referring to and find it a little insulting that they seem to imply that part-timers are willing to work for next to nothing. Just because I have less hours in the day to devote to writing doesn’t mean my work isn’t worthy of the same pay as a full-timer freelancer.

  6. Deb Ng

    Hi Michelle,

    For the record, I’m extremely old school. I began working for a publishing house in 1985 when I was 20 years old and have been writing ever since. I write for a variety of private clients right now but do a little web writing to supplement my income now and then. I don’t necessarily think this is an old school vs. new school debate. I do think many old schoolers are reluctant to embrace web writing and the reasons why web clients pay less than traditional media.

    Also, to clarify a few things.

    Carson and I did often have spirited (but always pleasant) discussions regarding rates, but he always took the side of the low payers. I fought for writers to get a higher wage. I still encourage writers to reach for the stars, but I don’t discourage them from doing what they must to put food on the table. Realistically, writers are going to write for these sites. I can discourage them- and they won’t listen, or, I can point them out to the better opportunities.

    Also, I don’t think it’s fair (and I wrote about this in a blog post today) to compare a $3 article spinner to a $20 per article web content site. Not all web content buyers are the same. They all have different payment methods, guidelines and hiring practices.

    I still stand by many web content sites as a good way for writers to get their start. Yes, I’ll always recommend they take their web content experience and use it to land higher paying opportunities. However, if it’s a choice between the $3 PLR guy and the $15 web content site that offers editorial guideline, critiques, bonuses and a reputable name, I’ll take the side of the $15 guy any time.

    I think you have valid points as well. I’m not a fan of the Google and rewrite approach to writing at all. Not all web content writers do this though and not all web content writers churn out crap. Most of them are very good at what they do. Many web content writers are journalists and copywriters who use these sites as a way to supplement their income.

    I can go on about this forever and I know it won’t change your point of view. I just want to say I enjoy having these discussions because they make new writers aware of all the opportunities around them – at all levels of pay. Being able to make informed choices is a very good thing.

  7. Round 2 of the freelance rate debate « Happy Coffee

    [...] Count’s Michelle Rafter has written a follow-up to a post she made earlier in the week about why working for sites like Demand Studios and Helium [...]

  8. Round 2 of the freelance rate debate « Happy Coffee

    [...] 11, 2009 by StefanieF Word Count’s Michelle Rafter has written a follow-up to a post she made earlier in the week about why working for sites like Demand Studios and Helium [...]

  9. Erik Sherman

    I think the “print” versus “web” distinction is also a distraction. Michelle, as you know I write quite a bit for the web, not just in print articles put onto sites, but blogging commercially, blogging for myself, and taking part in various social networks. To me, the high volume that low rates the mills offer creates a squeeze, where you get trapped by the volume of writing requied to reach any sort of decent rate. I think many writers would be better off taking their time and investing it in learning video, audio, and other aspects of multimedia to create enough value to command better prices. It’s something I’m certainly looking at. And thanks for the link to my blog as part of the discussion.

  10. Jmartens

    Two things I want to comment on:

    First, you use the term “content aggregator” in a way I have never seen before. I don’t think having stories from multiple freelance authors makes a site an aggregator. I always thought aggregators where essentially link blogs.

    Second, the price paid for content is just basic economics. It seems that the old skoolers want to defy these laws. As long as there is competition, the price will be driven down…on anything, not just freelance journalism. But it is also an opportunity for the best to rise above the rest. Hey, lots of people buy $10 shoes but lots of other people buy $200 shoes. The people selling $200 shoes have created more value in the eye of the consumer.

    I get the frustration in the industry, don’t get me wrong. But I wonder why so many people spend time fighting the reality instead of adapting too it?

    It wasn’t that long ago that travel agents reacted the same way to the changes in their industry that some journalists are reacting to this change. Would anyone out there prefer that we got rid of online self booking, shared hotel reviews, and sites like Expedia or Priceline? One day we will look back at this shift happening in journalism today and say to ourselves “can you believe it was ever done *that* way? I am so glad things changed!”

  11. Steven Walling

    Jmartens,

    You make some good points. I agree that adherence to old economic models is an ineffective reaction to a changing landscape.

    But this isn’t like advertising in print media. Original content from writers has not been devalued, it’s only been extended into new distribution models.

    Publishers can still make great profits publishing my content while paying me exactly the same fee that a print publication would. That’s not theory, it’s a fact I’m living right now.

    What Demand Studios is doing is trying to prey on part time writers who are entering the market for the first time, not knowing that they are subject to unfair labor practices.

    In other words, this isn’t an economics issue. It’s about content aggregators (what we’d call publishers if this was print) exploiting unfamiliar territory to drive down wages.

  12. Deb Ng

    @Steven,

    Forgive me for rambling. It’s early, I’m waiting for the coffee to perk and I’m probably going to sound incoherent.

    I understand your point but respectfully disagree. I don’t feel anyone is being exploited or treated unfairly. They’re all grownups and can make their own decisions. Many of the writers are “old schoolers” who have been writing for $1 per worders or earn high salaries as journalists or copywriters. They’re simply looking to supplement their incomes. They’re smart. If they don’t feel they’re being exploited, and they know what it’s like to work for these places, why should the people who never wrote for a web content site take issue? While I do believe certain content sites are good places for writers to get their start, this isn’t only about new writers.

    Yes, there are places that exploit writers, but there are also web content sites that are awesome opportunities. I’ll use Demand as an example because it started this whole discussion. In addition to pay, writers are learning more about their skill. They receive feedback on every piece they write. Editors work with the writers to build up their expertise and skill level. Writers also have the opportunity to apply for much higher paying, internally listed gigs. Many writers feel there are other perks here too such as the ability to work from home and not have to pay for childcare or a commute.

    I often see job opportunities for full time, staff writers,even staff content writers. These writers do the same thing the Demand Writers do and earn $10 to $20 an hour – only they have to go into an office for eight hours instead of working out of the convenience of their own homes. I often see magazines or newspapers offering writers the chance to work for the glory, or they’ll pay $5 to $25 for a single article. As a newspaper columnist I only $25 a pop. Why isn’t anyone up in arms over this?

    They’re not up in arms because it’s not about money as much as it’s about content sites. They don’t like the idea of writers being paid to create quick content for less money than they would accept themselves. If they look around, they’ll note these same jobs are also in the real world. From the $15 an hour staff writer to the magazine writer working for a byline.

    When I see more writers expressing outrage of over some of the low paying “real world” writing jobs in addition to the content writing jobs, I’ll take their concerns with more than a grain of salt.

    No, I don’t want writers to be exploited. I dedicated the last four years to educating, sharing and discussing these issues and more so writers will learn how to find the best opportunities available to them. To express outrage over one content site, when this sort of thing has been gong on forever in the “real world” is kind of biased. At least that’s the way I see it.

  13. Yo Prinzel

    I can only speak for myself here, but the argument that I should not be upset about DS wages until I go protest outside every minimum wage paying establishment is ridiculous. We all choose certain fights–hey save the whales while you eat a hamburger–and that does not invalidate our arguments.

    I worked for DS, I thought it was the best I could do. It wasn’t. I’m sick of hearing about this “whole new internet way of writing that requires you to STFU and be happy earning less.” It simply isn’t true, and that’s where my outrage stems from. If you choose to work for DS, fine. But don’t try to make this and old school/ new school argument. Don’t try to say it’s the only way to make money. Don’t try to make everyone else drink the Kool-Aid. I’m betting that you would not be happy, Deb, making a living working for DS. So you make more elsewhere–because you can. And so can they. It’s not a new world in which we all have to write for whatever the mills tell us to. Of course people can choose to do what they want when they have all the facts presented to them. But the more people who make up ridiculous excuses, “the work is easy”, “it’s a new world”, “only magazine writers are upset”, the more hidden the truth becomes.

    It’s not $1 per word or nothing for goodness’ sake. There are a lot of comfortable increments in between. Choose to write for DS, fine, but don’t tell everyone that it’s the way and the light. Yeah, they give feedback on your work, great–so do private clients.

    I want DS workers to know they can make more and work less–without having a degree, without querying, without writing for print. What the hell is so wrong with that?

  14. Deb Ng

    @Yol

    As I don’t understand or appreciate the hostility directed towards me this will be my last comment here on the subject. I just want to be clear:

    My message is not that it’s content or nothing. It’s not my way or the highway and it’s certainly not that you have to take one side against another. My message is simply this: Every writer has to make the choices he feels are best for his own situation. If that’s a $15 content site, fine. If that’s a $300 article, fine. If that’s a job fetching coffee for Anna Wintour, fine. However, I will never question a writer’s talent or credibility because of the choices he makes. I will continue to present the pros and cons of all available options regardless of pay, and writers will do what they may with that information. However, I respect, appreciate and understand their choices.

    Thank you, Michelle for hosting this discussion. Please don’t be a stranger.

  15. Yo Prinzel

    Hostility, while not directed at you personally so much as directed at the argument in general, may come from assumptive comments you make like this: “They’re not up in arms because it’s not about money as much as it’s about content sites. They don’t like the idea of writers being paid to create quick content for less money than they would accept themselves.” Now, you may not have meant that to be taken personally when you wrote it, but this being the internets and all…..please don’t speak for everyone in the argument against yours. I don’t care if people get paid less than me anymore than I really care if women stay with men who abuse them. As you say, it’s their choice. But hey, if I can spread the word that there is another way, I think it’s my responsibility to do so.

    So, why are content sites, and DS in particular picked on? Because the argument that they are great places to work full time (and pay thousands per month) is louder than those arguing for $1/500 word gigs. DS does pay writers thousands per month–but there is another side of the argument that needs to be considered.

    I know that you are a good person. I know that you are doing what you feel is right. I know you don’t enjoy these debates any more than I do. But you can’t call hostility and run away. If anything, we should just discontinue because we don’t agree and probably never will. But I strongly resent the assertion that I’m being hostile to you when I can take a lot of statements you’ve made on your blog and in comments and decide that they are hostile.

    Lastly, I’ll say this: You have set your bar of acceptability with DS. Anything with lower pay, easier standards, less feedback, etc. you have decided is probably not a good option. That’s cool, I respect that and I understand why you set your personal bar there. As someone who wrote for and made “thousands per month” with Demand Studios, I feel differently. It would be nice to see you accept the fact that you don’t know what it is like to come from that point of view and that maybe, just maybe, there could be some validity in my POV. Instead, all I see is new/old, quick writing (which it’s not–you yourself said you had to edit some pieces after submitting them), and “everyone should make their own choices.” I’m not going to make any challenges to you, since it’s really not my place, but I will say that I think you would feel a lot differently if you actually tried to make a full time income from DS–compared to what you are doing now. You might just find that you feel the same way I do and want to make clear that, while DS has its place, there are much better ways to make a full time income that will also make you feel more fulfilled as a writer.

    Yes, your site has a ton of resources for people who want to try and do better-but when you are promoting DS to the extent that you are now, I think it way overshadows the empowering points you make. It also in no way addresses the new writer assumption that DS @ $15 per article is a good-paying gig.

  16. Yo Prinzel

    I’d like to add (because I have OCD) that Deb doesn’t exactly promote working DS full time. I don’t want anything I’ve said to imply that I think she does. I think for the most part, Deb and I are even on the same page. I think there are so many different “arguments” going on right now, that it’s confusing to really ferret out what each of us is for or against. I agree with Deb that none of us should insult a writer’s ability just because he or she works with a content mill–sure, there are some crappy writers working for DS, but there are crappy writers with private clients too. Also, there are a lot of comments being made about a lack of standards on the part of these writers. These same arguments could be made about writers in any situation, so maybe they should be taken out of the discussion.

    My concern, and the only reason that I’m involved in these discussions, is that there isn’t enough transparent communication to new writers about the fact that content mills are NOT good sources of full time income. You need to rely on yourself and your own skills, not a writing factory, to get yourself work. Liking DS while still being sure writers understand the best place for DS in their lives is fine–but inferring that the advent of the internet has made it so that $15 writing gigs are great is not cool.

  17. Michelle Rafter

    This is what happens when you live on the West Coast – turn your computer on in the a.m. and the conversation’s already in full swing. Need to catch up on all the comments before replying.

    Michelle

  18. Paula B.

    Here’s another point to consider. Who is the audience for the articles posted on these content mills? Why would anyone go there to read articles?

    Magazines and newspapers appeal to audiences who read them because they promise to deliver on a certain topic or to an audience with particular interests. These content “aggregators” cannot say the same, and in fact, their target market is *only* the writers who provide content for them. So if you’re trying to build a career and a following, they’re certainly the wrong place for you. On the other hand, if you’re trying to pick up enough money to buy a coffee once in a while, they might be just the thing.

  19. Susan

    Michelle,

    You are so on the money. People who support sites like DS are encouraging writers in a race to the bottom, rather than to strive for the top.

    IMO that is simply irresponsible. As an “old school” journalist — and a true journalist who came up through J-school, worked at newspapers and a wire service — it’s the role of those who are more experienced to try to help and encourage those with less experience. I got that as a newbie newspaper reporter eons ago; I got that when I started freelancing more than a decade ago. People urged and encouraged me to do well. They didn’t say “you should be happy that you’re earning $10.”

    If someone is proud of themselves for encouraging writers to write for $20 than $3, they certainly have much to learn about this business. Those of us where I hang out encourage each other to take gigs that pay $1 a word or more.

    I do have to disagree that there is a difference between writing for print and online news sites. Recently I’ve written a number of pieces for highly respected personal finance sites. The reporting and writing were no different than what I would have done for a print pub.

  20. Twitter Trackbacks for The great freelance rate debate continues « WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age [michellerafter.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

    [...] The great freelance rate debate continues « WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age michellerafter.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/the-great-freelance-rate-debate-continues – view page – cached Writing for content aggregators and rates that those companies pay are currently much-discussed, much disagreed upon subjects in the freelance writing world – and that’s putting it mildly. — From the page [...]

  21. Susan

    Jmartens,

    Maybe I don’t understand your post properly, but are you saying we should all just cave in and accept being paid $10 an “article” because it’s a sign of the new economy?? We all violate our ethical and professional standards, write whatever comes to mind without doing basic research, or plagiarize others, and be happy that we receive a pittance from a company like Demand Studios, which is making millions?

    New economy, old economy. I really don’t care. I am always going to adhere to the ethics and standards I was taught at age 18. And I am going to continue to accept assignments from clients that value my work and are willing to pay real money, not the crumbs DS and others are offering. Those clients still exist. Anyone who claims they don’t isn’t willing to put in the time or effort to find them.

  22. Susan

    Michelle,

    The pieces I’ve done for the web haven’t required me to do links, heds, etc., so that must vary from site to site or editor to editor.

    Of course the multimedia aspects is a whole other animal. I was just focused on the writing aspect, since some people are arguing that writing for the web is different than writing for print. In my experience, editors at sites that pay real money value good, old-fashioned reporting and writing skills.

  23. Yo Prinzel

    Paula–I think for me, that is my main point. It’s one thing if all those pro DS people were admitting that it’s not the smartest way to make a full time income, it’s not the best way to make a full time income, and it’s not the only way to make a full time income, but they choose to because (insert some personal reason here). That would be fine. Instead, people who are against sites like DS (and I use the term “against” mildly. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, they have their place) are called whiners or old school, they’re told they don’t understand how the new market works or how “easy” the articles are to write, etc. Those are not valid arguments–and I think that’s what starts these debates.

    I’ve got some guest posts coming next week from people who write for content mills and they have agreed to answer questions. To date, none of them have been involved in any of these debates, so I’m really interested to read their thoughts.

  24. Mark N.

    Yo Prinzel are you paying writers for their guest posts?

  25. Yo Prinzel

    Mark, I’m not and I am also not trying to tell people that writing free guest posts for me is the new way of working and that anyone who says otherwise is an old school whiner completely out of touch with the new reality. I also don’t tell them that they can be written up real quick (although my editorial standards are probably much lower than DS’s, so they probably can be). As for the writers that I do pay, I’m not telling them that either. If you look at my posts you can see that I repeatedly state that Demand has a place–as a matter of fact, I sometimes write a couple of articles when I know I’m going to Old Navy. If you want to find holes in my arguments, I’m sure you’ll be able to, but it’ll look better for you if you do so with a more reasonable subject than with guest posts–which are traditionally unpaid.

    Now, if you would like to write an opposing viewpoint I would gladly post it on my blog. Since you seem to be against the traditional “free” guest posting platform, you might object, but who knows. An entire post to shoot holes in my argument? I would think you couldn’t resist.

    I might not agree with your viewpoint, but I’m not going to run away from it.

  26. Jmartens

    @Susan

    I am suggesting that you work for what the market says you are worth. It is basic economics…every industry deals with it and you can’t change it.

    I am also suggesting that journalists evolve and find a way to differentiate themselves and provide more value…like the $200 shoe example I gave earlier.

    Here is another example: Lowe’s and Home Depot. Before they came into town, local hardware stores had it one way, for decades…and it worked well for them. Of course, plenty of them went out of business when Lowe’s and Home Depot came to town, but others adapted and thrive today. What do consumers have now? A place they can go to play less, for less and a place to go where they can pay more for more.

    Who wins? Everyone…as long as they were able to adapt.

    I know my examples are off the wall in relation to journalism, but I am try to show you that journalists aren’t the first people to deal with this and wont be the last. And in the case of shoe stores, travel agents and home improvement, things worked out just fine. This will too.

  27. Jeremiah

    One thing I have noticed more and more is that some people believe that their writing is worth X amount of money and that anyone who doesn’t pay them a certain amount is not worth their time. Well some people like to write because they are true artists and writers and believe in the written word. Purests see writing as a way to express ones self and not make any amount of money for it. So while I agree with some of the comments on here I see alot of people being very smug and thinking that their writing is worth a tremendous amount. Any writing is worth whatever its readers place on it no matter the medium or the source.

  28. W. Kirk Crawford

    The price is about right, but the idea of editing sucks. I would think, take or leave it, but don’t change it, even if its right or wrong.

    W. Kirk Crawford
    Tularosa, New Mexico

  29. Yo Prinzel

    I see what you’re saying Jmartens, but I disagree only because you are comparing a fixed, tangible commodity with an intangible talent and voice. Does that make sense? If my local hardware store sells Kenmore dishwashers for $400 and Lowes has them for $350–I’m goin’ to Lowes. It’s not that easy to compare writers though. Each have different voices, different methods of attacking the same materials, different turn around times, different backgrounds and experiences–you aren’t going to find two that are exactly the same.

  30. Kila

    Anyone taking a look at the ehow forum right now would run, not walk, away from ehow and Demand Studios (parent company) and never look back.
    Apparently, they have not been paying new writers who signed on in early August anything at all, and the owners and managers refuse to say why.
    I would not be surprised if those forum threads talking about this are deleted by Monday. Ehow is trying to get members to stop talking about the problem. But the problem seems to be very real.

  31. Jmartens

    @Yo

    I’d argue that you never buy just a physical product, you buy service and an experience, but it takes this discussion down the wrong path.

    I’m in the minority, I know. Just trying to look at things logically and not emotionally.

  32. Yo Prinzel

    JMartens,

    I understand what you are saying. The thing is, though, the writers who write for content mills aren’t actually hurting my business and they aren’t pulling rates down for me–so as far as my experiences are concerned, your argument doesn’t hold any water. If I had clients leaving to go to content mills for writing, then I would have to agree with you–but that is not the case. Which just makes me even more frustrated–I’m trying to help web writers make more money because I’ve done it. Oh well.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but my concern is that too many people are telling new writers that the internet has changed things so they should be happy with content mills. I know from my experience that this is not the case. I make 5-10x more now than I did when I believed that–I just want the misinformation to stop. Also, no one pro mills talks about what that $15 article is worth when you take out taxes, double SS, sick time, vacation time, savings, etc. (not that I’ve seen, anyway.)

    Because I think these comment veins are watering down my message, I’ve decided just to leave them and just stick with my own blog, where I can get my message out with less dilution, as I’ve been doing for months. I’ve also decided not to do the guest posts next week because I don’t want the writers who write pro or con views to suffer any ramifications. Generally speaking, you are only punished for speaking out–and I don’t want to be responsible for the ramifications or flak they could face.

    So again, there is a place for content mills. You are not a bad writer if you write for them. If you are working hard and trying to write well for the mills, you should be insulted when people infer it is easy work. There is a better way, a way that can make you more money in less time. If you choose not to take that way, for whatever personal reasons you have, that’s fine–but don’t say that it’s unrealistic to do better, because it isn’t.

  33. Mark

    “Guest Blogger” is a term made up by cheap bloggers who don’t want to pay writers.

    I’m sorry Yo, you can’t express indignation on this blog and others and then turn around and seek out free labor. You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re for writers earning what they’re worth or you’re not but you can’t get all high and mighty at everyone else and act as if none of it appplies to you.

    If you want to write about the Demand Studios experience you can do some investigative journalism and learn all sides of the story. Instead you took the cheap, lazy route and hired a bunch of writers to submit free “guest posts.”

    I hope you at least promised exposure like the Craigslist free content guys do. That shows you really care.

  34. Erik Sherman

    What bothers me about the mills is that many writers are assuming that you can’t do better. It bothers me that there are people championing them saying that this is the new way of working and you have to get used to it. It’s the saying that this is the only way to really break in. All of that is simply untrue, as much as it would be if I tried claiming that the only way to work is in higher end magazines, which I don’t.

    Talking about working for what the market says you’re worth is disingenuous because it assumes that the market is efficient (in the economic definition) and that everyone participating in the market is equally informed way. Unfortunately, many of the writers I see not adapting are not the long-time freelancers. Yes, many are unhappy about accustomed markets disappearing, but many of the ones I know are making the shifts because they understand the principles. No, the ones who are getting hurt most are those coming into freelancing for the first time and who are listening to those saying, “This is the way it is.” And it’s not.

  35. Jenn Mattern

    A bit late to the conversation, but I wanted to share a few thoughts:

    “My message is simply this: Every writer has to make the choices he feels are best for his own situation. If that’s a $15 content site, fine. If that’s a $300 article, fine. If that’s a job fetching coffee for Anna Wintour, fine.”

    To this I’d like to add something. It’s not about the writer simply deciding what’s best for them. It’s about them getting off their butts to become truly educated about all options and their future implications before they jump into business of any variety. If they can make a legitimate case for that being the better option for them (and I’ve never found a writer who could do this after really going through all the fact and crunching the numbers), then that’s fine and I’d have nothing critical to say about the strategy. But in line with what Yo was saying, no one really cares what individual writers choose to do. If they want to screw up their reputation or earning potentials, let ‘em at it. The problem is when they start trying to convince other writers that DS and similar sites are the only or best options, or that they represent the bulk of Web writing in some way (they don’t — not even close).

    “However, I will never question a writer’s talent or credibility because of the choices he makes.”

    I wouldn’t question their talent as a writer. I would, however, question their credibility when it comes to them being someone who should be giving advice to other writers who are serious about running a freelance writing business. Writers doing what they want for themselves? Good for them. But writers actively holding down newer writers with them because of misinformation or a lack of real critical thinking or business sense? Another story altogether. (And I’m not pointing fingers at anyone in particular. It’s a pretty rampant problem.)

  36. Welcome to WordCount « WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age

    [...] media business and the role independent writers play in it. Lately we’ve played host to a raucous debate on the merits of so-called content aggregators, or as some freelancers call them, writer mills. I’ve called them the lowest common [...]

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    [...] Michelle Rafter The great freelance rate debate continues [...]

  38. Chris

    I am a writer for DS, and yes, I am a novice. However, compared to my day job, writing is an absolute pleasure. The day job pays less and is backed with all kinds of stress, dealing with an idiot for a boss for one. If working for DS can help me quit the day job and pursue writing full-time, it is a dream come true.

    There are other perks for me. I’m using my degree and conservation background to write articles in my area of expertise. To revisit this field is worth so much to me since I’m not currently working in conservation.

    I am pursuing other endeavors such as finishing my first novel. DS helps me improve my writing. I have money coming in until I sell my book or find other writing assignments. As a blogger, I appreciate the backlinks to my blogs.

    I understand the arguments, but the reality is having money to pay the bills and put food on the table. I’d love a $1 a word gig just like anyone else. As I see it, DS is bringing me closer to being a full-time writer. For that, I’m grateful and will continue to write for them.

  39. Coming soon – WordCount 2.0 « WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age

    [...] When I started out, I thought of blogging as a solitary experience. It isn’t. Good blogs are like good conversations – stimulating, provocative – and two-sided. That lesson hit home recently in the very lively debates that have happened here over content sites and the rates they pay. [...]

  40. Lori

    Great post, Michelle. I love these types of debates.

    After years of advocating fair pay for writers’ skills, I have figured out a simple litmus test to determine a project’s value. If you can get more working a minimum-wage job, it’s a bullshit project. I will never understand why trained, practiced writers (or beginners, for that matter) take on work so low in value that a McDonald’s worker looks like Donald Trump in comparison.

    Content mills make a ton of money off your work. They pay you next-to-squat for that work. The only people getting any benefit from your relationship are the people exploiting you. Period. There are other jobs by reputable companies. Go after those.

    I’ve long been a proponent of starting in newspapers. Yes, they pay less, but these are CREDIBLE sources – with actual editors looking over your work. There’s a defined audience (unlike the free-for-all on content mill sites). Also, wire services search newspapers for content. They may pay you very little for your troubles, but any editor looking at your resume is going to be much more impressed by your newspaper credit than the crap that’s been churned out on a content mill site.

    Consider the content mills the floor-length flowery polyester dress of the writing world – the “I give up” look. The clips that say “I can’t be bothered to put any effort into my career.” Believe me, that’s exactly how editors see those clips.

  41. Lori

    Actually Michelle, I have to address one point in your post. You even highlighted it in the ad you supplied: “Then you rewrite/summarize the article, adding a few sentences that are specific to our business. ”

    Here’s the thing – if these writers are taking someone else’s copy, revising it and adding just a smidge more copy? That’s theft. It’s plagiarism to pass someone else’s work off as your own. That’s exactly what these “employers” are asking writers to do.

    I had an encounter with one such “employer” who asked me to rewrite articles to “60 percent original.” I didn’t do the research, the interviews, nor did I write the original copy. Any regurgitation of someone else’s work is plagiarism, copyright infringement, theft, take your pick.

    I explained this to her and she actually defending her business model, saying I didn’t “get” the entire process. She mentioned “deep embellishes” and “extensive” revisions. For six bucks an article.

    I have two words for that – bite me.

  42. Wendy J.

    I agree with Lori’s comment where she says, “If you can get more working a minimum-wage job, it’s a bullshit project.” The one thing I’ve noticed is that some writers will take the less than minimum-wage project over the minimum-wage job just because of one appealing aspect- that they can work from home.

    There are some people that will do anything to make some money while working from home, even handing over a lot of money to a scammer; because they couldn’t see past the stars in their eyes over the ‘work from home’ part of the supposed job. There are even people who will leave a high-paying job, take a big paycut-just to work from home.

    While I love being able to write from my home, I don’t see how that should be a negotiation tool of some kind to justify a $5 an article, or whatever, job. Of course there are other reasons why people go for the content mill type jobs, but I thought I’d offer my viewpoint.

  43. Carson

    This is an interesting discussion. It was an interesting discussion five years ago, too. The arguments haven’t really changed on either side, the surrounding context has.

    Why do I feel a long post in my future…

    “In Defense of Content Mills” comes to mind.

  44. Susan Wells

    Ok, as far as writing goes, I’m nobody and nobody knows my name. I self-published a book a few years ago, which is ranked about 1 millionth on Amazon. But I love research, and I thought I might like to write something else. And I have very little journalism experience.

    So, I looked into a couple of “mills” because I’m stuck at home right now, caring for a sick family member. And, despite my nothingness, I’m flabbergasted at the compensation being offered. I honestly can’t conceive of how to possibly do a topic justice for so little pay.

    If the topic is not something essential to life or health, then I guess I could make concessions about how well-researched it was, but otherwise, despite my desperation (and you don’t know desperation until you’ve waited 2 years for Social Security disability benefits), I could not, in good conscience, put out half-ass information.

    There’s certainly too much of that in the media as is.

    And, it didn’t help that I just finished reading the book, “Nickel and Dimed,” so that when I received the first specifications and payment info from ____, all I could think of was, “give me a ‘W’ – an ‘A’ – an ‘L’, —- M,A,R,T.

    Were we meant to work our way through college for Wal-Mart wages; was ANYONE meant to work for Wal-Mart wages, for that matter? Or should we be summoning some guts and the ghosts of Joe Hill and Woody Guthrie right now?

  45. Mridu Khullar » Blog Archive » The Debate Surrounding Demand Studios

    [...] Also from WordCount: Some novice freelancers see writing for Demand Studios, Examiner.com, Helium and other content aggregators as a legitimate way into the business. They’re willing to put up with working conditions that make more experienced writers cringe: fees of $10 to $20 or less per article that necessitate cranking out dozens, even hundreds, of pieces a month to make a decent living. [...]

  46. Freelance Rates – Part 1: Determining Your Worth as a Freelancer : Lillie Ammann, Writer & Editor

    [...] The great freelance rate debate continues, Michelle Rafter, Word Count [...]

  47. Michelle Rafter

    Thanks Lance. I love getting perspectives on this issue from people outside the realms of journalism and freelancing, especially when they come from people like you, who are in the people business. I agee that for some writers it’s a self confidence issue – they don’t have enough confidence in themselves to go for higher-paid work. It’s scary, and it’s no fun getting rejected. I’m as guilty of that as the next person. But with risk comes reward, and over my career I’ve found that when I risk it and step out of my comfort zone, good things can happen.

    Michelle

  48. Michelle Rafter

    Thanks for weighing in on this Steven. Your comments should help put to rest the argument that’s bouncing around some freelance blogs that this is an old schoolold fart v. new school Gen Y debate, given that you’re decidedly one of the latter yet advocating like an industry vet.

    Michelle

  49. Michelle Rafter

    Deb, thanks for adding to the conversation. Rates are one, but only one, reason some old-school writers haven’t jumped into writing for the web. If you’re used to things being a certain way, the FUD factor can get in the way of changing the way you do business, and writing for the web is definitely different, even if you’re writing for $1/word online-only news publications. I believe that many web content writers have backgrounds as journalists and copywriters, but I’ll continue to maintain they’d be better off earning supplemental income writing other ways, like writing for hyperlocal news ventures, or starting and monetizing their own blog.

    As the media business moves online, there’s never going to be one way to make money as a writer. Back in the day, nobody was telling newspaper investigative reporters that they’d make more money writing features for Good Housekeeping, or sports columnists that they’d be better off as Reuters financial wire service reporters.

    One thing’s for sure: I’m glad I started this discussion because it got you to my blog!

    Michelle

  50. Michelle Rafter

    I have some ideas about who the intended audience is and that’s the topic for a post I’ll write this week.

  51. Michelle Rafter

    I write more for online news sites than print publishers these days and agree that the basics of writing for both are the same. But in addition to the basics, when you write for online, you add links and pay more attention to keywords, tags, categories, how the headline will get picked up in online searches, etc., in addition. As Erik pointed out, you can also add interactive elements: podcasts, maps, etc., to online stories.

    Michelle

  52. Michelle Rafter

    Y.P., I’ll be very interested to read those guest posts next week, and will be sure to link back to them here.

    I’m also planning a couple follow up posts – stay tuned.

    Michelle

  53. Michelle Rafter

    Of the half dozen or so online publications I write for all but one wants links in the story and the others all follow their own formats for how they’re inserted. Ironically, the one that doesn’t want links is the one that’s more concerned with getting the keywords, headline and SEO right.

    Michelle

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