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Do You Really Want to Write for a Content Mill?
From the Frying Pan into the Fire
Never let it be said that I avoided a topic because it was too controversial.
No, this isn’t about abortion, or religion, or gun control.
This is about a real hot topic…writing for content mills.
Let me get my opinion out of the way immediately: I hate content mills and I think they hurt the writing industry.
Was that clear enough for you?
Allow me to explain.
My father was a staunch union supporter, a member of the Teamsters during the 50s and 60s, when the Teamsters meant something and carried some weight in the economic landscape of this country. He had a natural distrust for corporations, and he believed that the average working stiff didn’t have a chance at fair wages and treatment without the power and weight of the unions. My dad had no desire to be rich from working in a gravel pit; he just wanted to be paid what he was worth, and what his hard labor was worth.
He came from a generation that believed if you work hard, you should be paid enough so you can raise a family and live comfortably. He believed if you were lazy and did not work hard, you didn’t deserve a job. He saw management and the labor force in a partnership, and if both held up their end of the contractual agreement, everyone in our society would benefit.
I have a real hard time finding anything wrong with his thinking.
And that leads us to content mills.
First, a Definition
I’m going to borrow from Wikipedia for the definition of a content mill, or content farm as they are also called:
Definition: A content mill or writers mill is a slang term used by freelance writers and given to a company, website or organization designed to provide cheap website content, usually at a significant profit to themselves, and usually by paying very low rates to writers.
There are literally thousands of content mills currently doing business around the world, and some of them are hugely successful. Demand Media publishes over one million articles each month, and is worth in excess of $100 million.
How does it work? In a typical scenario, a company contracts with a content mill like Demand Media to increase their search engine visibility through articles laced with keywords. Demand Media then pays writers to write those SEO articles for the customer. If Demand Media is any good at what they do, the customer will see his/her online visibility increase, and supposedly, then, their overall business will increase. Meanwhile, Demand Media is raking in the money paid for those articles.
But what about the writers who actually write the articles?
Now we’re getting into a topic my father would have loved to weigh in on.
What about those writers and their pay?
So, What’s the Problem?
Imagine, if you will, writing a 500 word article. You research the information, write the article, and format it for publication. You invest an hour of your time doing so, and for that hour you are paid $3.50. In other words, if you work a ten hour day, you will have a grand total of $33.50 in your bank account at the end of that day. How does that sound to you?
My dad is rolling over in his grave at this moment, screaming at me, “Bill, don’t you dare work for that little amount!”
Don’t worry, Dad, I have no intention of doing so.
But I did at one time, when I was first starting out, because hey, I had bills, and I was eager to make anything writing, so I worked for a content mill and made five bucks per article….and then I woke up from my nightmare and slapped myself.
Let’s stop for a moment and take a deep breath, because I can hear some of you screaming that you make much more working for a content mill, and I know you speak the truth. Remember, I said there are thousands of these mills out there, and some pay “decently” for articles. I know writers who are getting paid twenty and thirty dollars per article, and although you will never get rich doing so, you will at least be able to pay your bills. Those writers are doing it correctly. On sites like Elance, they only take jobs that pay them well, and I’m all for that.
But the majority of content mills get away with paying five bucks per article, and they will continue to get away with it as long as there are writers out there willing to write for pauper’s wages.
This Is Not a New Concept, Folks
Take most major corporations, and you will find the same economic thinking applies. When you have a working force that is desperate to make money, then that working force will lower their standards and work cheap because hey, if they don’t, there is always someone who will. Ask any clerk at a convenience store why they are working for minimum wage, and they will tell you the same thing: they need to work and they need to pay the bills. They have no chance of getting ahead by doing so, and there is practically zero chance they will receive a raise in pay, but those bills have to be paid, so they do it.
And the corporations are planning on that desperation!
I Have One Other Problem with Content Mills
Actually, I have a lot of problems with them, but let’s focus on the fact that accepting low pay drives the pay scale down for everyone. Again, as long as there are writers willing to work for that ridiculous pay, then the market will not be forced to raise its standards.
It’s a bit like coal mining. Everyone with half a brain knows that coal mining is bad for the environment and horrible for the health of the miners, but there are still people willing to work in those mines. As long as there are those who are willing, coal mining will continue to be dangerous, harmful, and, for some, profitable.
You Have Other Options
I’m for the writers in this economic battle. Consider me your union leader.
I say cut out the middleman, and in this situation, the content mill is the middleman.
Instead of having the content mill drum up work for you, why don’t you go out and drum up the same type of work for yourself, and charge the customer what the content mill charges?
This is what I do and I pay my bills, on time, monthly by doing so. I contacted local business and gave them my sales pitch. I then charged them what a content mill would charge them, and I shared none of that with a middleman.
If you don’t see the economic advantage of doing this, then there is no hope for you.
I currently have two major customers I have been working with for three years. They pay me $30 per 400-word article. I can do three of those articles in an hour. In other words, I make $90 per hour, and now we’re talking about serious money.
Which sounds better to you, $3.50 per hour or $90 per hour?
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- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Let's talk about being a writer and a freelance writer
But There Are Many More Options
Write for online magazines. Write for online newspapers. My goodness, my best-selling article has been sold to five different publications for a total of $650 to date. One article! It took me two hours to write that article, and probably a total of two more hours to sell it five times. Four hours of work for $650, or $162.50 per hour of work.
What sounds better to you, $3.50 per hour or $162.50 per hour?
I Understand, I Really Do
Times are tough. I get it. I understand why people write for content mills. We need money, and we’ll do just about anything we can to make that money so our kids can eat and have clothes. Yes, I understand.
What I don’t understand is continuing to work for that little when there are viable options that will pay you better.
If any of this makes sense to you, then I invite you to join my union. It’s called the Fair Pay for Writer’s Union, or FPWU for short.
Seriously, what do you have to lose?
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”