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Monday, November 02, 2009

Should Writers Work for Peanuts?

Here's a query I received from a reader the other day...

While looking for freelance work, I see a LOT of offers for 4-500 word articles, and they pay $1.00 apiece. Are these legit? Or even worth it? It seems like a scam, but these postings seem to be the majority of job postings these days. Thanks for your help.

Here's an expanded version of my reply to that reader. First of all, he is quite right. There are lots of 'job offers' on the Internet paying that sort of money or even less. Just do a search on 'bloggers wanted', for instance, and I can guarantee you'll find hundreds.

These opportunities (though I hesitate to dignify them by that name) are normally posted by small-scale entrepreneurs looking to get content for their websites and blogs as quickly and cheaply as possible. They are more concerned with quantity than quality, hence the very low rates of pay.

There is a free market for writers, and people can offer whatever fee they like. It doesn't mean they are scams (a much over-used word on the net). However, I can't really see why any self-respecting writer would want to accept such low-paid work. Indeed, here are two good reasons why I think you should give them a very wide berth...

1. By accepting such low rates of pay, you legimitize the exploitation of writers. If no writer accepted such rates, website owners and others would have no alternative but to offer more realistic fees.

2. You could make more money by writing the articles for yourself, putting them on a free Blogger blog (which takes five minutes to set up), and add some Google AdSense ads to make money. If you're able to drive even a modest amount of traffic to your blog, you will soon earn more than the minuscule fees on offer, and it will carry on for months or years.

If you don't even want to do this, there are various sites that will publish your articles and share the advertising revenue generated with you. Helium is one very popular article-publishing site, while ScribeSeeker is a new venture currently paying writers 90 percent of advertising revenue generated. Several other such sites are discussed in detail in my course The Wealthy Writer, by the way.

You are unlikely to make a fortune from these sites. Nevertheless, if you compare the potential returns with offers of $1 for 500 words, they suddenly look a lot more attractive. And, as mentioned, they will go on paying you month after month, whilst if you work for someone paying you $1 per article, that is all you will ever get. Meanwhile, your client will probably just have posted your article on his site and be making the money from it you could have earned yourself.

Those are my thoughts anyway. Do you agree? Please leave any comments below!

Photo credit: mape_s on Flickr

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Blogger Jen Pearlman said...

I agree that taking taking low pay for our talents doesn't pay off in the long run. I like your idea of using adsense. It's something I've been considering. Great response. Thanks!

5:56 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Jen. As I said in my post, no-one is going to make a fortune from Adsense ads on one site. Even so, if you get even a modest amount of traffic, you will make some money. And within a few weeks or - at worst - months, your income should have exceeded the paltry fees on offer.

As a general comment, I think writers need to be increasingly entrepreneurial and look at new ways of earning from their skills. The old model of seeking out clients, working for them and then being paid by them is looking increasingly outmoded. More and more, I think writers need to be looking at self-publishing options, not as second best, but simply because they may be more remunerative.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Glen Ford said...

Spot on Nick. It's bad enough that short story mags paid the same rates for 100 years. Offering 2% of those rates is an insult.

Far better to just build your own blog and drive traffic. For that matter better to delete the article.

I've seen other industries destroyed because people were willing to accept whatever was offered. It's just not worth it. Better to demand a fair price for fair work and walk away from the industry if necessary. It's not like writing is a great paying job (with some exceptions).

Just my personal opinion, of course.

Glen Ford

5:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for your comments, Glen. I must admit, nowadays when I'm approached about content writing for websites, I'm very tempted to say straight off, 'Sorry, I'm too busy'. I just know that if I quote my normal rates for off-line writing, I'll be told, 'Sorry, that's too expensive for us.'

10:11 AM  
Anonymous louiejerome said...

The way I see it is that the market for internet publishing is global, so we compete with writers from places like the Phillipines and other countries where they can afford to work for less money. This keeps the price low because there are so many out there willing to work for peanuts.We can't buck the trend.

I actually took on three of these very low jobs, proved my worth to these people and now have regular work at a higher rate of pay. As a writer it's good to be able to rely on that.

My point is that you have to be willing to prove your worth and then, just maybe, you might get permanent work. I would certainly rather earn a small regular income than to be like some writers I know who are earning nothing but won't work if the pay is to low.

Off line writing is a different thing altogether, especially here in UK>

10:23 AM  
Blogger welshtrekker said...

yes, thats true. They look for writers to exploit. The exploitation game should be shunned by writers and not supported. I have stopped using many sites for finding work (mainly bidding sites) as they want you to literally work for 'peanuts'. Honestly, there are only a handful of job sites worth the bother and your time.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, guys. I agree that with the job auction sites (as I call them) it can sometimes be worth bidding less than your normal fee, if it results in a long-term working relationship (at better rates) with the client in question. This is clearly a gamble, but it's still better (IMO) than taking on a job advertised at a ridiculously low rate.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Judy Kroo said...

My husband blogs for $2 a post. Its not that he wants to blog for so little, its that the market is completely flooded with out of work writers or bloggers these days. Its tough to find meaningful writing jobs while still paying the bills.

4:25 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Judy. I do understand - and sympathize with - your husband's position. And $2 a post is not the lowest fee I have ever heard of. But still, I can't help feeling that he might do better in the long term by writing for himself rather than exploitative clients, and getting the benefit of the advertising/affiliate revenue generated by his work directly.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Fiona Tankard said...

I'm not sure how people (prospective clients) feel seeing Google Adsense on a professional site. I thought it was a big no-no. I wouldn't put it on my writing site, which is hosted by typepad. Maybe I'm wrong?

12:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Hi Fiona

I probably wouldn't put Google Adsense on a professional website (although I've seen it done). Such a site has a different purpose, which is to generate work and enhance your professional credibility.

What I'm really talking about in this post are separate blogs or websites devoted to some other topic, about which you can write articles. You wouldn't even need to admit authorship if you didn't want to. The main aim of such sites would be to generate advertising income (and maybe affiliate commissions as well).

The way I see it, people advertising for writers to produce articles for $1 a time are probably planning to add them to their own blogs or websites and make money from the associated advertising. As a freelance writer, it strikes me that you might just as well cut out the middle-man and profit from the advertising yourself.


2:59 PM  
Anonymous Fiona Tankard said...

Yes, that makes perfect sense now Nick, thanks!


8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More than 3 decades ago, our writing class was taught never, never, never, to write gratis...

For information about what writers should be paid...

6:55 PM  

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