Friday, 17 May 2013

THE CONTENT MILL – EVIL GENIUS OF THE WRITING INDUSTRY?

I recently signed up on a content site, Copify

I was at a low point, where I had not been pitching or marketing and *surprise* the work wasn’t just appearing like magic. I was broke. I railed at my own carelessness and carried out an emergency marketing program to get back in business. 

Signing up on Copify didn’t take long, and I soon got a notification: "Congratulations! You are now approved as a standard level writer!" I assume this is because they didn’t have any criteria for ‘phenomenal genius’ writers. But with time and excellent feedback, I might be eligible for promotion to ‘professional’ level, so there was that. 

Content mills are a brilliant idea, but they have come under fire from many professional writers and writing industry unions. They say that being paid little more than a penny per word is an insult, undermines the profession of writing, and encourages bad grammar and the proliferation of misplaced apostrophes. I have to say, I agree. 

For the fifteen minutes I spend researching and writing a two hundred word article for Copify on the glorious benefits of rust-free garden furniture, I could send an email to two magazines suggesting a fabulous feature on how best to encourage teenagers to spend more time outdoors, or how to keep young children safe on the internet. A Copify job will pay a fairly instant £2 or so. The magazine features may eventually, if I’m lucky, pay a hundred times more. Paid blogging that I’ve sourced myself will pay better than a content mill piece, and the job itself is more flexible as what I may write. If the piece links back to my own site, I have a good reason to provide better quality posts. 

Writing is a business, and any successful writer must also be a manager. But not all writers are good managers. Not all writers are even decent writers. And sadly, the market is okay with this. If a company wants to place words on a website, they generally couldn't care less if those words are creative, inspiring or even completely factual. What they want is traffic to their website, so that when someone googles ‘my garden furniture is rusty’, they will land right on the company’s page selling rustproof chairs and tables. 

I suppose eventually someone will invent a robot that can scan the web and write a passable SEO-optimized article with apostrophes in all the right places. Google is constantly changing search algorithms to discourage this type of activity anyway. But for now, the market is open for writers who are willing to bang out uninspired paragraphs at 1p per word. I can understand why writers might be happy to work for so little: before I became a professional writer, I wrote thousands, millions of words, for free. I wrote on my own blog, I wrote for charity, I wrote for parenting websites, just for the experience and the pleasure of writing. 

If there had been a decent content mill or two available in those days, would I have stayed up all night writing about garden furniture? Maybe. I can research and write two hundred words in ten minutes. The math looks good. But I would have missed out on writing for the sake of writing, exploring my thoughts on paper. I would not have spent hours researching the business of writing. I wouldn't have taken the courses, shared inspiration with other writers, asked question after question, had comment discussions, sketched, made up stories, written them down, and pitched and pitched and been rejected and pitched again. More importantly, my own website wouldn't have grown so successful. When writing for a content site, your article is generally published without a byline. No credit, and no link back to your own site. 

The day I set up my Copify account, decent work started pouring in from my marketing efforts, so I haven’t had to resort to content mill writing. Hopefully I never will. But I’ll keep the account open, as a reminder that if I don’t keep pitching, that’s where I’ll end up.



Follow Nan: Facebook 
                    Twitter 
                    Pinterest 
                    Linkedin

7 comments:

planetnomad said...

Every so often I am tempted by one of those, but good sense has always prevailed. Except for a time in Morocco, I wrote for a site...forget the name now. They paid per click on the ads they put on your articles. I made a whopping $10 over 2 years. Not really profitable, not so much.

Lucy Grewcock said...

Great post about, sadly, a growing industry. I registered on People Per Hour and over the past three years their tack has changed from quality writing to cheap content filling - it's frustrating when other writers post 'I can write your website for £20'; 'I can write ten blog posts for £10'. Let's hope that Google can help sort it out in the future.

Nan Sheppard said...

Can you imagine the amount of money being made by the sites themselves? Didn't I start freelancing so that the money I generate would be mine? The pay per click sites must be reeling it in. Copify charges over £14 for 400 words. And the writer gets, say, £4.

At least they are straightforward though, they say what they pay and they pay up fast.

Martin Harrison said...

Hi Nan,
Thanks for your post and comments which I read with interest. Some things that you may perhaps not have considered:

400 words is actually £14.40 including VAT so we take £12 net. We pay a writer £4-8, so a worst case scenario for us is a profit of £4. A healthy margin perhaps, but less so when you consider the costs associated with running the business. Hosting, office, corporation tax and accountancy fees. Believe me, these mount up.

Then there's the big cost - recruiting the customers. A Google Adwords conversion would cost us between £20 and £40, so in a worst case scenario a customer would need to place 10x400 word orders before we would even break even…

Nan Sheppard said...

That's true Martin, like any business I guess there are overheads to consider. As a small freelancer my own overheads are very low... I haven't even had to pay an accountant yet! So any profit is my own :)

Sarah Halloran said...

I'm a regular writer on Copify and for me it's a great way to supplement my freelance writing income or to give me a welcome break away from some of the more mundane copy. After all, there are only so many consecutive hours I can devote to car exhaust content before I start to lose the will to live.

Some of the jobs I have completed on Copify have actually paid pretty well. I was awarded the heady status of professional writer when I applied and thus receive a higher rate. Sure, there are the low paid jobs but if you can bang those out quickly over an hour, you start to make quite a decent hourly rate.

To make Copify work for you, and you can, you need to cherry pick the jobs you want to do and ignore the ones you don't. It really is that simple.

I dip in and out of Copify when I need to and it's working really well for me right now and it's a great backup. Plus I don't have to chase up clients for payment. That's a major bonus!

Christian Quinones said...

That's good to know Sarah. I'd heard numerous tales of their low, low rates and controversial payment-per-word policy.. seems like it's not true. I will try Copyify and see how it works for me as a full time Freelance Copywriter.