Another Web Content Post: What They’re Saying, What’s True and What’s False

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Whenever I have something on my mind regarding content sites, I  struggle with whether or not to discuss it here. I’m sort of tiring of the discussions mostly because at this point it’s the same people (on both sides) beating their same tired arguments to death. It’s resulting in a lot of name calling and finger pointing and it gives me a headache.

On the other hand, I really want to address some of what I’ve been reading lately.

I won’t be insulted if you skip this post in favor of one not geared towards web content sites. I’m pretty sure you’re tired of reading about this as well and while I promise to try not to continue to dwell on this topic too often. I’m not going to steer clear of honest discussions regarding rates, opportunities and putting some myths to rest. Love them or hate them, it’s important to have a dialogue regarding content sites (and all forms of writing) in order to clear up misconceptions and allow writers to make informed decisions.

The Inspiration

After reading Carson Brackney’s post about clips yesterday, I realized I’m in a unique position. You see, unlike most of the bloggers discussing web content, I have actually worked for these sites. Not only have I worked for web content sites, but I worked for other (much) higher paying places. Plus, I hire writers. It allows me to look at the web content issue from all angles, instead of making judgments based on other people’s judgments.

What really bothers me most about the web content debate is how a large number of the detractors have no idea of what it’s like to work for these sites and take rumblings from some disgruntled writers as Gospel.  I’m not saying web content models don’t need improvement, or that all are a positive experience, but there are so many misconceptions floating around it’s easy to see why writers are confused.

Today I thought I’d explore some of the arguments and discuss whether they’re true, false or somewhere in the middle.

Web Content Sites are Low Payers

True: They don’t pay top dollar, that’s for sure. Some of the wages are downright insulting. I’ve even seen blog networks paying $1 or less a post. There are some other content sites offering a revenue model, which can work well but not for everyone. The pay for all of these sites won’t even come close to the dollar worders most anti-web content freelance writing bloggers like to use as an example of good pay. There are also flat fee sites paying anywhere from $10 to $30. None of these are high wages in the traditional sense.

However:

It depends on what you’re writing and who you’re writing it for. For example, if you’re an automotive engineer and you write two to three automotive how to type articles per hour, off the top of your head, you now earned $30 – $45 per hour. $45 per hour doesn’t suck. If you’re a brand new writer with no expertise in a particular area, taking three hours to write a $15 article makes bad business sense. Yes, you can earn a good rate of pay with web content, but you have to choose the right kind of content. Keep in mind we’re not talking about heavily researched writing.  For that a writer should be paid more money and put time and effort into doing it right.

Web Content Site Clips Won’t Help You Land Good Opportunities

Mostly False: I do know there are some editors who won’t look at a resume listing only Associated Content as a client. However, I also know there are plenty of people who hire writers and they don’t care where clips come from as long as they are well written. Not everyone who hires a writer is an editor and not everyone who hires writers cares about content sites one way or another. It depends on your market and the content-snobbiness of the editor. Any editor who makes it more about a content site than a very good piece of writing probably is in the wrong line of work.

However:

Experience matters. Probably anyone who hires writers will take a clip from the Ladies Home Journal over a clip from Joe Blow’s Cheap Content Emporium. That’s common sense. Can content sample clips land you a lucrative writing gig. Absolutely. However, it’s also a good idea to diversify so your clips come from a variety of sources.

Web Content Sites Flood the Web with Poor Content

False: Poor writers and lack of proofreading flood the web with bad content. The problem is many content sites are hobby sites and the writers aren’t as skilled or diligent with their writing and proofreading. Why wouldn’t someone with an opinion want to receive payment for his desire to pontificate? If he can spout off about politics or NASCAR and a website wants to offer him a little change in the process, he’d be a fool not to take them up on on their offer.

Some content sites have editors and fact checkers on staff and won’t allow writers that are unqualified for particular topics. Even if certain content sites become more choosy about the people they hire, there will still be poor writing  because everyone can be a published on the web. Citizen Journalists who have something to say will say it whether it’s on a blog, website or free article directory. Even if there were no content sites, we would still see an overabundance of poor and mediocre talent.If you police the content sites, you’ll have to go after everyone who puts amateur content on the web.

Web Content Site Writers are Inexperienced Newbies Who Don’t Know Any Better

False: The prejudice regarding content sites is creating some strong opinions towards writers for these sites. They don’t deserve that type of treatment. I know of one writer who used the term “hack” to describe web content writers. I know content site writers who are journalists, lawyers, pharmacists, educators and copywriters. They write for content sites for any number of reasons but they’re clearly not hacks. They’re not stupid either. They know exactly what they’re getting in to. Some will stay with web content sites and many will move on. That doesn’t mean they’re hacks. Most content site writers are well aware of their options and take pride in what they do.

Web Content Writing is Tedious

It depends: Web content  CAN be tedious, it depends on who you’re working for. For blogging sites, the sky is the limit. Writers have carte blanche to discuss nearly any thing they like. For some article sites writers can choose from a list of titles. The tedious stuff comes mostly from the places that require you to write 30 articles on a given topic each month. I like to use what I call the “pallet rack example.” I once took on a client who paid me to write 30 articles about pallet racks. My friends, that was tedious and I was happy when it was over.

However: Not everyone who writes web content is doing so all day. They have more than one client and takes breaks as needed. Web content can be tedious, but each writer has a different experience. Generally, they break it up with different clients and different types of projects.

Web Content Writing is Driving Down the Rates

False: Conde Nast isn’t going to stop paying $1 per word because Associate Content pays $3 per article. Web markets and print markets are different. There are different revenue models and different types of writing. In fact, I’ve been noticing an increase in pay for content and blogging gigs. Five years ago, most regular blog gigs paid $5 per post. I’m seeing $20 per post as the low rate right now, with $35 to $50 per blog post as an average.

Also, I haven’t heard of a single case of a high earning writer being contacted by a client telling her he’s lowering her rates from $500 to $20. There were low payers 50 years ago and they didn’t drive down the rates, the low payers now won’t either. It’s just a matter of picking the kind of writing you want to do.

Content Writers are Robotically Churning Out Web Content All Day

False: Not all content writers write only content site stuff. Not all content writers work for one site only. Most like a little variety or use web content as a means of supplementing their income. They’re people not machines. Moreover, content sites aren’t sweatshops. Writers are able to set their own limits. They can write as much or as little as they like. No one is forcing them to work day and night writing evil, substandard web content.

All Web Content Sites Are the Same

False: Comparing web content sites is like comparing apples to brussel sprouts. They don’t look the same, the don’t have the same rules and they don’t pay the same. Some web contents sites are blogging sites while others require articles. Some web content sites pay $25 for an article while others pay $1. Some web content sites have a strict hiring policy while others don’t care who comes on board. Some web content sites have editors checking articles and rejecting bad content, while others don’t edit at all. Some require sources and references, others don’t check for factual information. To say they’re all the same is absolutely false.

Web Content Writing is Lazy

False: Web content writers aren’t lazy. They’re simply exploring a different avenue of writing. Because content site writers might not follow one writer’s tried and true format doesn’t indicate laziness, it means the writer is trying a different type of writing. It’s not lazy to enjoy an easy form of writing. Moreover, many web content writers also query, market and search for opportunities. From my observations, many web content writers work hard and give each job their all in order to dispel the content site myths. Taking one form of writing over another isn’t lazy. It’s a new kind of writing. Writers don’t have to take as many steps to reach the published and paid end result. That in itself doesn’t indicate laziness.

You’re Better off Starting Your Own Blog

Perhaps: It could be more lucrative to start your own blog and live off the residual income each month, this blog network is certainly proof of that. However, it takes time to build a blog. What are writers to do in the mean time? It took several years for this blog to break even, and even longer to bring in a profit. Blogging isn’t for the instant gratification crowd. Blogs are excellent sources of income when they hit, but it’s getting to that “hitting” point. This blog probably would have earned sooner if I didn’t have to do client work at the same time. So yes, blogs are good, but remember they take time to grow and time to earn.

Web Content Writers Only Write Web Content

False: Said it over and over above – nope. Not even close to being true. Web content writers enjoy a diverse portfolio of opportunities.

Web Content Writers Have No Aspirations to Seek Higher Pay

Wrong again: Most web content writers do aspire to higher pay as well as better opportunities. Many are using web content to start or supplement their income between queries or gigs. Some are earning Christmas money. Many just enjoy writing for web content sites and don’t understand why that’s so hard to understand. Show me one person who doesn’t wish to earn more money, and I’ll show you a big, fat, Pinocchio-nosed, liar.

With that said: Because web content is so easy, writers can get spoiled and not wish to break out of their comfort zones, but that isn’t because they don’t aspire to do better. It’s the lure of weekly pay, flexibility and quick projects that keep most content site writers doing what they do.

Web Content Is Not News

True: Web content isn’t news and doesn’t claim to be. Most of it is simple “how to” stuff or informational articles. It’s not in-depth reporting or journalism.

You Can Do Better

True: This is true with any job, though. Of course writers can do better than writing for web content sites, and, again, they know their options. Web content writers aren’t dummies. They know their options.

What are some of your questions regarding web content sites? Any rumors you’d like to address?

Comments

  1. I really, really wish that I could believe this to be the last word on this tired old chestnut. Good stuff.

    The writing industry has always been full of elitist snobbery and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. I’ve always felt the whole thing to be very simple: don’t like it, don’t do it. Easy.

    My question is, is there anyone who can honestly say they’ve never stumbled across some good/useful information (even if you do have to take it with a grain of salt) on one of these content sites? I have; and while obviously I’d cross-check what I read there, they can be an okay source of simple answers to simple questions. So I won’t knock them too hard.

  2. “Joe Blow’s Cheap Content Emporium” that had me snorting in my apple juice. There will always be ‘high-minded’ writers who poo poo anything that isn’t
    ‘serious’ work. It used to be novelists vs. magazine article writers, then print folks vs. web folks…

  3. I am a regular contributor to wisegeek (am I allowed to name names?) and they put me through a rigorous screening process before hiring me… Is the pay great? Not especially. Am I learning a lot about writing from this experience? Yep. The work is easy and steady and great for in-between my higher paying jobs.

  4. I think I am going to have to go ahead and get my PE license. I don’t much care for consulting, but the freelance market is melting down. And I can sure as hell do the math.

    • Hi Dave,

      That math thing is getting a bit stale.

      I don’t think the market is drying up at all, I find so many good opportunities every single day – for different types of markets. This time of year isn’t notoriously slow and the economy looks like it might be picking up a bit. Who knows? 2010 might be your year.

  5. The flimsiest of confirmations will satisfy somebody who holds the same opinion, while it takes overwhelming evidence to convince someone to change a position they’ve decided on. Neither side is going to be budging on this issue anytime soon.

    • You’re absolutely right, John.

    • And there’s no reason why either side should. Both sides have equal measures of merit.

      It’s like the age-old vegetarian versus meat-eater argument. Neither side is more “right” than the other side…each have their own merits, pros and cons. But it is a debate that will continue on until we no longer eat plants OR animals, but instead only eat a goo like in the Matrix or other movies =P

      Ironically enough, the only time the debate comes into play (rates/content sites) is when the content-mill haters start in with their anti-content drivel. In two years of time I have never since a single, solitary post made by a content writer who works for content sites complaining about what “the other side” is doing. In fact, almost all content site writers are happy with their current situation. The only people you see complaining about “the other side” is the content-site haters. Every day another topic springs up from one of them, berating content mills and people who work for them.

      It’s kind of fun to watch, in a way. One side is completely content and happy to let the other side go on doing whatever it is they want to do, while the other side can’t go even a day without shouting at the top of their lungs, all in a panic over what their opposites are doing.

      Money talks, BS walks. I’ll let my paychecks do the talking for me.

  6. I’m still not sure what all the fuss is over.

    If there is a problem with the quality on content sites, and I don’t know that there is, fussing isn’t going to fix it. Higher caliber writers writing for them could.

    If the problem is pay, be a more active learner. The more you know, the more you can intelligently write about quickly. As Deb pointed out, if you know a lot about the topic you’re writing on and don’t have to research, the pay isn’t half bad.

  7. Personally, I “use” content site writing to provide me with professional clips in areas I want to “grow.” If I want to start doing travel writing, a content site will allow me to do just that – and then have clips to link to. Ditto with any topic of special interest.

    OTOH, have yet to figure out how to make serious money on content site writing. By the time I’ve researched, written, templated, photo researched and uploaded, and then “Web 2.0-ed,” there’s no way I’ve spent under an hour total.

    I’d think, though, that Deb is right: if I were an auto mechanic or DIY expert or programming geek, and ALSO had a pile of public domain images easily available, I could clean up big time with WiseGeek, Demand, etc.

    To each his own.

    Lisa

  8. I think that every person needs to do what is right for them. I think people that bash content mill websites need to just worry about their writing and work and not about other’s. Everyone has certain reasons why they do the things they do.

    My majority of writing used to be content mill websites when I was pregnant because I just couldn’t deal with strict deadlines. I couldn’t promise a client that I would have 2 articles done for them in 48 hours if I was suffering from morning sickness or was so dead tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open past 8pm.

    Like I said you never know what is going on in a person’s life and what their situation is, so it’s best not to judge others.

  9. I think the big part of the problem is many people underestimate the amount of niches they are qualified to write in. Life experience, work experience, vacation experience, hobby experience…all of these things culminate in niches that you are an expert to write about.

    The reason I’ve been able to make so much money off of content sites is I simply stick to the things I enjoy talking about on a daily basis with friends and family. I’ve read up on these things over the course of my life because they were passions I enjoyed learning more about, or things I enjoyed doing. I don’t write specifically related to my professional experiences as a business owner (although being a business owner gives its own set of unique niche areas you can write in), but rather based upon my experiences living life so far.

    If you’ve ever traveled, you can write about it. Like cooking string beans? Write about it. Have a great way to groom a dog? Write about it. Obsessed with pretty rocks? Write about it.

    Most of the content sites are really easy to use because you can simply plug in the keywords related to your hobbies/passions, and then blam…you are presented with dozens of opportunities to make money without ever having to research, query, or deal with other people.

    Now, granted…if you have to research it, and it requires photos you don’t easily have on hand, then it drives your productivity down, which makes content sites not-so-profitable for some people, but as long as you stick to what you know and work the system to your advantage, it’s fairly lucrative as an alternative.

    If you can stick to what you know and what you love…you can easily make 40-50 dollars an hour using traditional content sites, and the best part about it in my eyes is the simple fact that since you are writing about things you enjoy talking about in the first place…it’s not really work. You are getting paid to talk/write about your hobby.

    • So far, and maybe it’s just me, I’ve found nothing I could just write about quickly on Demand or WiseGeek. I’m something of a generalist, with specialties in areas like parenting, basic science (what is global warming type stuff), autism, simple crafting, fundraising, freelance writing, etc.

      There were travel topics, but they were things like “Top hotels in Ann Arbor” (never been there). There were science topics, but they were on obscure topics about which I knew nothing. Even the gardening and pet topics were very specific and rather obscure (how to cure a particular plant disease or prepare a certain breed to show).

      Am guessing that content mill writing for big money is a specialized area in itself. Yes, pretty rocks or string beans are great subjects to know about, but ONLY if the content mills are interested in multiple articles on precisely those topics. And the likelihood is that they don’t want in-depth info on string beans more than once. Even a basic knowledge of geology isn’t helpful: I did search, and the topics, again, are very niche. No one wants an article on how tsunamis occur: they want to know the precise way in which to measure outcomes. And I don’t know!

      Sites like Examiner do let you actually write in depth about topics you know well, which is great.. the potential down side, of course, is that it’s up to you to generate readership (which may be easy or hard).

      Lisa

  10. Thanks for clearing this up Deb. I understand content writing a lot more. I do it because it provides freedom and flexibility. Of course I can’t forget the money aspect. But the most important thing is that I’m improving my writing skills.

  11. No one can seem to agree on the content mill issue because Old School writers lack key understanding of the type of service mills provide, and content mill writers probably couldn’t grasp the concept of being given free reign to flex their own creative muscles by crafting a story that people read for the sake of enjoyment–not because it generates ad clicks. I have done both, and I find the content mill model more efficient, flexible and reliable–and just as lucrative by the hour. It targets the largest of the markets in terms of demographics: the average Internet user.

    The problem that I see is that those who oppose content mills on principle alone seem to place a prohibitively high price tag on their work. While $500 for a 1500-word story might to them be “meh,” for many of us, that is the equivalent of a week’s salary. And those of us who work in print realize that a story on the front page of the special features section doesn’t even pay that anymore. So unless everyone is getting paid by The New Yorker, I suspect that there’s some fudging of the numbers. Sure, I would love mill writers to be paid more so that even higher-quality content with new information and professional interviews to freshen up old topics. But there has to be a happy medium somewhere between $15-20 and $500 at which one is willing to define as “fair” considering the effort expended.

    After having a very bad experience with a famous “client” (who sought me out), for whom I ghostwrote a +250-page book (published and sold) and never got paid a dime for my time or efforts, I realize that even the real deals sometimes aren’t real. In this economic environment, I need to work for clients who pay reliably and on time. Show them *my* references? No … they need to show me theirs.

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