In Which I Confront Content Mill Owners About Their Rates…In Person

Confrontation

This blog was born from my hatred of low-paying content mills and their habit of writer exploitation.

I thought if I could shine a light, and show writers there are real clients and professional pay rates elsewhere, mills might dry up and blow away.

Yes, I can hear you laughing from here.

Instead, over the past five years, mills have sprung up like toxic mushrooms under every shady, damp spot on the Internet. I get an invite to sign up for some new “great opportunity for exposure” from a startup mill nearly every week.

This week, I was in a unique position in my quest for fair writer pay.

At NMX (a/k/a BlogWorld) in Las Vegas, as I cruised the trade-show booths, I noticed something: Many of these companies were promising to develop content for blogs — lots and lots of content. Cheaply, too.

Slowly, it dawned: They were content mills.

Most weren’t big names (I gather Textbroker was lurking somewhere, but didn’t seem to have a booth.) But there they were.

Real, live content mill owners. I thought I’d go have a chat with them about their rates.

(The names of these mills have been omitted to avoid promoting in any way the very thing I aim to destroy.)

Content mill owners in the flesh

So I went to talk to them and find out what they charged, and how they felt about their rates. I got a couple of them to really talk to me and answer my questions.

You’ll be proud of me to know that I resisted the urge to shout and/or strangle anyone. Keepin’ it pro, folks.

“Are you looking for writers?” I’d ask. “I run a community with more than 600 writers.”

“Sure,” they invariably replied.

“What sort of rates do you pay writers?”

I got two basic responses from here:

Type #1: Unrepentant ripoff artist

One owner, a young Asian man, told me he was looking for web content writers. He’d pay, like, $100 for a multi-page website, he proudly related.

When I said I get three times that often for just one page, he looked baffled. “That’s way too much,” he asserted.

He was looking at me like I’d arrived from an alternative universe. I think he was right.

Maybe in the Phillippines those kind of rates work, bud, but it’s hard to live off that in the First World.

“We’re always looking for quality writers,” he told me.

At those rates, I just bet you are, I thought.

“Best of luck with it,” I said with a big smile.

Type #2 Even I’m embarrassed

The second mill had a couple of women owners.

“We have a staff of 22 writers we work with,” they told me proudly.

“And what do you pay per blog post?” I asked.

“Twelve dollars,” one responded.

And then it happened.

As she said that pay rate, she winced.

Even she knew that was a ridiculous, untenable rate. She couldn’t even say it to me with a straight face.

And in that moment, I realized mill owners know what they’re doing is unconscionable — at least some of them do, anyway.

They keep doing it because it keeps money in their pockets. They do it because they can.

Why? It’s simple — the desperation and low self-esteem of writers makes their business model possible.

Content mills aren’t going anywhere

So. There you have it.

After five years of fighting for better pay for writers, and after looking content-mill owners right in the eye, here’s what I’ve learned:

Content mills aren’t going away.

As long as there are suckers — and I gather there’s one born every minute, just like P.T. Barnum said — and entrepreneurs hoping to exploit them for low-cost labor, mills will continue.

They may not thrive — have you seen Demand Media’s stock lately? — but mills will be around.

As one dies, another is born. Bet on it.

What you can do about content mills

Given that it’s unlikely our outrage will crumble all content mills into pixel-dust, there’s only one question on the line: Are you willing to work for mills, or not?

Mill rates will always suck, because the mill business model is failing. SEO junk content put against ad clicks doesn’t bring in enough to pay writers a fair wage. That’s unlikely to change.

I’ve learned there are only two things you can do about content mills — vent uselessly as you continue to earn slave wages, or opt out. Refuse to play their game.

Think of mills as The Underworld of freelance writing. You don’t have to stay in that dark place, earning pennies.

Instead, do it the way all freelance writers did in the many decades before content mills were ever invented — market yourself and find clients that sell a real product or service.

Once you start looking, you won’t believe how many great companies are out there that need your writing help.

These proven businesses have real money to pay writers. Content mills never will.

What would you say to content-mill owners if you met them in person? Share it in the comments.

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155 comments on “In Which I Confront Content Mill Owners About Their Rates…In Person
  1. I think I love you.

    In seriousness though, the same argument has been going on over in the UK thanks to the combative advertising methods of a few of our mills.

    I think the key is educating clients. That just because you’re doing something over the internet doesn’t mean the old adage isn’t true. You get what you pay for. And if you pay crap rates, you’ll get crap copy in return.
    Andy Nattan @ Unmemorable Title recently posted..2013: The Burning Blogging Questions

  2. Tammy says:

    You hit the nail on the head. Same exact problem with photography. High quality photos for sale for pennies through micro stock websites.

  3. Holly says:

    As long as people keep writing for them they will stick around. I applied for a travel writing gig which sounded extremely legit. Full job posting, detailed description. They wanted someone who went to J-school and had experience. I mean everything was professional, even the recruiter.

    Pay?

    $1 for 300 words

    • Lauren says:

      Holy cow, $1 per 300 words? That’s a joke right? LOL
      Lauren recently posted..How to be unique in today’s job market – some suggestions

      • Sadly…not a joke at all. I actually was contacted by a company paying those rates last year, and they were really persistent in continuing to email me after I blew them off. I finally sent a long, detailed response explaining that I’d rather write for free on topics I’m passionate about than churn out content for their insulting rates. I gave a detailed explanation of how I would actually be LOSING money writing for them when I could do something that might actually pay my bills. Never heard from them again.
        Julie M. Rodriguez recently posted..The Top 3 Reasons You’re Not Making Money On Your Writing

      • Carol Tice says:

        I think a lot of low payers ARE getting more sophisticated in how they present themselves. But that doesn’t mean I want to write for them. It’s still up to the writer to say no!

    • art williams says:

      Well, like Carol said. Those guys aren’t going anywhere.

      In the case of travel writing (which I’m not an expert in but I do have an interest in) I know it takes a lot of practice and study to get good at it. And I highly suspect that those guys paying low like that are not getting top quality.

      But realistically, do they really need ‘top quality’ to make money?

      I doubt it.

      I can’t say that I blame them for not paying for any more than they need/want.

      Our challenge is to do more and better marketing to find the people who will hear our siren call of better quality.

      Regards,
      Art
      art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

      • Do they need quality writers to make money?

        In the short term, some don’t. As a sustainable business model, however, it’s a joke.

        Carol’s right: there are companies with real products and a real business that need quality marketing collateral written.

        What holds most writers back is their belief that content mills are the “world” of writing, instead of one tiny town in the “world” of writing.

        But to get noticed in the big city, where the “real” jobs are, you have to do some pretty scary things. Thankfully, there are people that are willing to show you how it’s done – from their own personal experience of success.

        There are places (like the writers’ den) where they gather for the sole purpose of helping people reach their true potential with their writing careers.
        Jesse Lanclos recently posted..How to Increase the Sales of Your Product – Without Being Sneaky or Pushy

        • Carol Tice says:

          That’s it exactly, Jesse — I meet so many writers who say, “I couldn’t find any good jobs this week on Craigslist so now I’m broke.” They are utterly unaware that this is just the underworld…or as you say, one tiny town. It is not the whole world of freelance writing!

  4. Willi Morris says:

    This is a problem with virtual assistant services as well. People think it’s totally okay to pay someone peanuts for their blood, sweat and tears. I had a difficult time convincing folks yesterday that $20 per hour still isn’t enough to cover someone’s life expenses unless you are working for a company with fringe benefits.

    Just had a similar experience on a bidding site about low wages for writers. They had the audacity to put they are looking for “exceptional” writers but only wanted to pay them $5 per article. Such a shame.

    By the way, are you sending this to some of the big blog sites to ask that they stop asking for free guest bloggers? :-)
    Willi Morris recently posted..5 Tips From a Top Marketer’s Mistakes

    • art williams says:

      $20 is darn good money for somebody in the Philippines. I know because that’s where I am (til I can get out). It’s also good money for certain types of work that aren’t that complex that can be done from home.

      Here in Manila, full-time engineers are rich if they can make $400 a month. College grads in the call centers are jumping at call center jobs (not ‘apples to apples…I know) that start around $275 plus benefits.

      Regards,
      Art
      art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Willi –

      Yeah, I love how mills are always saying, “We need quality writers who can start right away!” Well OF COURSE YOU DO. Because it isn’t easy to find people willing to be ripped off who can actually write. Best of luck with that, as I said to the guy.

      But mills endure because if they look long and hard enough all over the world, they CAN find rubes to rope into their scheme.

      I knew one writer who was having to get up at 2 am in order to nab assignments from a mill dashboard before all the easy topics were gone. Pennies for pay AND you have to get up in the middle of the night! I’ve never really understood why people subject themselves to this, when it almost never adds up to a living. I’ve literally heard from ONE guy ever who really earned well off mills, and it was because he had a former career where he could write topics in 15 minutes off his head on his subject.

      A single, free guest post on a high-traffic blog, on the other hand, is a completely different animal in my view, Willi (though I DO wish more blogs would pay for posts). I think what newbie bloggers may not understand is those guest posts are usually a sophisticated form of marketing for that blogger that they leverage a lot of sales off of. They’re earning from it, just indirectly.

  5. Hi I totally agree with you about content mills but where do new writers go for work, there doesn’t seem to be much work out there for new writers. I wrote a 2,000 word article for some-one he wanted it with-in twenty four hours which I did well in time, to date I am still waiting to be paid. He only offered 3.5$ per 500 words. I have tried to contact him but no joy, that is enough to put anyone off but I am determined to succeed as a freelance writer and I will carry on writing and try to find some-one that will pay me a decent wage even though I may be new to freelance writing, we all have to start somewhere.
    Thanks
    Veronica

    • Jayne says:

      Hi Veronica,

      I was just going write a comment in this post about the same issue you are talking about. I think people need to start somewhere; nobody was born with a pen in their mouth. Content mills can be a good place for someone like yourself – interested to be a digital writer, but lacks experience, know-how and education. Getting paid something is still better than writing for free.

      Do you see your submission published? If yes, is it under your name, or they just used your writing? Is the article published as you have written it, or you could hardly recognize it?

      The reason(s) I am asking you these questions is this:

      It is perfectly acceptable to write for low pay if you gain additional benefit from the process. For instance, if they published your article that hardly resembles to what you wrote, you should review it and see what they did. Analyze the edit. If you do not know how, either ask a friend editor, or submit it to an online editor for help.

      You should see your writing getting better as you progress; if that is not happening, perhaps you should find a mill that would send back your posts with highlighted edits/comments.

      You should try to write for a site that allows you to write about the same topic repeatedly; meaning, you will gain experience in a subject matter that you can also use in your CV or promotional material

      You should also seek out sites that offer either FREE, or low cost educational programs for writers. I am fairly new on Carol’s subscribers list, but based on what I saw so far, this is a great site for newbies to learn. Try to register to any affordable program that Carol offers and you’ll be on your way to higher pays.

      Keep up your good work. If you want additional help, or just want to talk to someone, you may contact me offline. My blog is not live yet and I am not a copywriter, but you can learn from anyone with any writing experience.

      • Carol Tice says:

        I agree and disagree with what you’re saying.

        Content mills are not a good place for writers. They’re a good place for owners and profiteers.

        On the other hand, it IS perfectly acceptable to write for low pay…for a quality client where you get a clip that’s actually useful to your portfolio. I advocate heartily that new writers find a local small business or nonprofit organization, or small publication and do some writing for them, ASAP.

        When you write for mills, you get nothing. Trust me. I work with dozens of former mill writers in my community, Freelance Writers Den, and here’s their big problem: They have no usable clips! It was either ghostwritten, or they don’t know the end client or where it appeared, or it was crap because the topic was bizarre. And now they have a website with no portfolio on it, sometimes after YEARS of toil.

        They are still at the bottom rung of the ladder. The only thing writing for mills prepares you for is more writing for mills. You never make enough to have the time to proactively market yourself and find better clients.

        That’s the trap that keeps mill profiteers fat and happy.

        • I was tempted by mills while in college, but never bought in. With practically no prior professional writing experience, especially not for mags, I’m now writing for a local magazine that pays a min of $35 per article and more for feature articles. Very small compared to what I aspire to earn, but it’s a REPUTABLE publication, at least locally. Several friends have complimented me on my articles that they’ve seen in the mags around town, which validates my experience as a writer. You won’t get that by writing for mills. I can actually build my portfolio so that I can grow my career. I’m glad I didn’t go the mill route.
          Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Zora Neale Hurston Born and Read

    • art williams says:

      I really feel Veronica’s pain. I write on one of the best know content mills but only because I’m not otherwise fully employed at the other ‘place’ that passes for a job. It might get better in the near future though so I’m hanging around.

      Veronica is right though…about where are we supposed to find jobs?

      I’ve come to the conclusion that there are enough businesses who need content and want writers and actually don’t know how cheap they can get cheap content (even though most of it is crap). As soon as I can clear my desk from some of these cheap jobs, I’m going to start making some calls and sending out some inquires. I’ve just been hoping CAROL would open up the Writers Den so I can enroll and not have to reinvent the wheel myself.

      One good story from my el-cheepo gig though…I actually got the job I’ve got now through an article I wrote there. I slipped a personal contact number into my response :-) . And….I’ve currently got another ongoing free-lance contact from that site where they contacted me after I slipped in my about.me/artwilliams URL . Yeah…bad ol’ puddy tat!

      And I got another client, a semi retired Hollywood actor I still blog for occasionally, in California who’s actually become a good friend of mine too.

      So….I think everything can be turned to some sort of positive purpose as long as you can ferret out the ‘angle’ on it. Still….I can’t wait for CAROL to open the Writers Den again.

      Regards,
      Art
      art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think the “we all have to start somewhere so it’s OK to be ripped off” mentality is extremely common. And while it’s true we all start at the bottom, no one HAS to start their writing career at mills.

      Think of this: Before about 15 years ago, all writers started their careers without mills. We never, ever were paid $1 an article to write SEO crap from a keyword-generated topic dashboard!

      However did we manage it? By marketing our business. There was no Craigslist — we developed lists of prospects and we queried or called them.

      It still works, and gets you better clients. Ones that don’t pay you $15 for 2000 words…except that they don’t really pay you, they just stiff you. Trust me, there are better clients out there if you take the time to look. If you’re serious about a writing career, stop falling for online scams and start looking for offline clients.

      • Amy says:

        I think the difference is that 15+ years ago, there wasn’t the need for all the crappy content that’s out there today. Good writers were paid good rates and the rest, well, they did other things, because newspapers, magazines and other publishers wouldn’t publish generic, poorly written work.

        Nowadays, anyone can go on Elance, Odesk or any of the content mills and write everything from blog comments to Facebook posts and everything in between. Not to mention the fact that due to self publishing, anyone can write and publish a book for sale on Amazon or the like.

        I write about food and recipes, and I get invitations everyday on these sites from someone wanting to sell a 200 page cookbook but they only want to pay $100 for the book. They have no idea how much marketing and research it takes to sell these books, they only know that it’s easy to publish them. The problem? They are just regular people who think they will cash in on the next big thing.

        One thing I’ve learned about finding high paying clients is to stay away from individuals and seek out businesses. They have likely done the research necessary to make sure the content works and want quality content. They’re also likely to have budgeted for professional content instead of some poor sap who’s paying for blog posts or ebooks. For him, $20 makes a big difference.

      • Amen! My first client 7 months ago was a small business in Berkeley, CA. A friend of mine connected us, they read my blog to check out my writing skills, and I started at $25 for 500 word posts, which I soon learned to write in 30 min. That was my first gig, no professional experience, and because they were a small business, I understood that their budget was more limited than a larger client’s might be. If I can start there, then no one has to settle for $1 for 300 words or $15 for 2,000 words.

        I would like to acknowledge the idea that if you can honestly charge a little less because you have extremely low overhead, that’s great. But don’t settle for less just because you think you don’t deserve more. No matter how inexperienced you are, you deserve to work for a decent wage so that you can at least feed yourself.
        Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Zora Neale Hurston Born and Read

        • Carol Tice says:

          No — so you can feed yourself, take a vacation, feed a retirement account. So you can flourish, not just scrape by.

          Let’s say I read Peter Bowerman’s “The Well-Fed Writer” at an impressionable age. ;-) And it is my mentality as well. We DON’T have to be starving artists. We offer something that has value…to the right sort of clients.

  6. Amy says:

    I haven’t been writing for a living for long, but I’ve always been told I am a good writer. After a few months of writing, I got a job working for a small company that does SEO work. It was great for a few reasons: steady work, steady pay, and because the company’s clients often didn’t know what they wanted or didn’t care as long as the keywords were correct, it was pretty easy. They sent me a spreadsheet every Monday with the list of work I needed, I turned it in every day and they paid me promptly on Friday. I could work ahead and be done with the week’s work in a day or two and I learned to write it really fast so it was easy money. I was working part time for the same amount of money I made working full time elsewhere. For someone who had only worked hourly wage jobs in the past (often across town), this was a dream come true.

    Until I realized that I was tired of writing crap content about stuff I didn’t care about. After reading some of the work of some of the other writers on the team (we had to edit someone else’s work), I came to the realization that this was a good option for those who could string a few sentences together, but if you’re a great writer, there are way better opportunities out there if you can find them. Unfortunately (or fortunately, however you want to look at it), most people don’t have the motivation to find it if they can make easy money sitting in their pajamas. Especially if the alternative is going to a low paying retail job where someone else dictates your schedule and you have to deal with transportation issues, the public, etc.

    Personally, I would not do this kind of work again. After doing it awhile however, I realize why a lot of folks do it. Not everyone has the skills or desire to be a professional writer that gets paid professional rates, but a lot of people can spell and write (or rewrite) a few paragraphs about anything they can Google. For them it works out, and if they want to do it, more power to them. I learned a while back that if I spend too much time worrying about what other people do, I’ll never get any work done.

    • art williams says:

      That sounds like a great experience, Amy. You know, there’s a lot of retired and semi-retired people living abroad who would love to have a job like that. Not to stressful…..work half a day….spend the rest of the day sitting on the beach or chasing elephants in the jungle :-)

      Regards,
      Art
      art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

      • Amy says:

        Like I said, I’d probably never do it again as I’ve found many higher paying clients and write about what I want, but it was a good experience. If several people hadn’t told me I’m a good writer or I hadn’t been paid higher rates for better content, I would much rather do that than work another meaningless hourly job. At least this way, I didn’t have to get up at a certain time or deal with traffic or bad weather :)

    • Carol Tice says:

      I agree with you — if you’re happy writing SEO stuff for low pay, more power to ya. Those are actually the people mills imagine are their writers — part-timers who need a little extra cash.

      But the problem with writing for mills is the clips are useless for moving up. If you want to go anywhere, the faster you find legit clients, the faster you can build a viable portfolio and start earning real money.

      People always make the mistake of comparing what they earn freelance to their previous job hourly rate — the two bear no relationship. You have many more costs as a freelancer, and many of your work hours aren’t billable hours. That’s why your hourly rate needs to be far higher for it to be sustainable.

      People think, “Oh, I’m doing great, making twice as much an hour!” Then they have to pay for healthcare or their hard drive dies, and they realize they have no cash and they’re going down the drain…and ending up needing another low-pay day job to make ends meet.

  7. Neil Heater says:

    What would I say? I would say you owe me $243.52 for work completed in the summer of 2010. Yes, I did the actual mill content for a party (tempted to give their name) that went into litigation with about 20+ other people. Yet, to hear anything on it.

    The point is mill writing does not promote a person’s self-worth in writing. Yes, I was raised to believe you get paid what you agree upon, but I have also learned that a person needs to see their value at a higher price. That will promote confidence from the client and a quality written product from the freelancer. “The workman is worthy of his hire” is an adage I live by and that means I have to see my abilities, experience and value as worthy of a good pay.

    Thanks for this post. Good to see my direction in writing being confirmed.

    Neil

    • art williams says:

      Sorry but I don’t think Neil recognizes the realities of the market. As marketers ourselves, we can’t just ignore it because we choose to.

      We can, however, work around it OR turn it, in other ways, to our favor.

      In my case, I can and do use the positive reviews I get from my cheepO-gig site on my other blog posts where I solicit work from some of my contacts in the dancing industry. Plus it’s obvious to me that all the blogging I’ve done over the years has at least helped my typing speed and also probably enhanced other writing related skills.

      Regards,
      Art
      art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

      • Content mills aren’t “the writing market.” There are thousands of “writers’ markets.” I got sucked into the content mill trap, thinking I was living the “good life.” Years later, I had no portfolio to show for my efforts.

        Imagine if I had done one tenth of the “gigs” I’ve completed over the past five years – except that these were real businesses with real products.

        I’d have years’ worth of proof to show clients what I could do for them. I would have made more money in that time, too. Carol, where were you in 2007? :)
        Jesse Lanclos recently posted..How to Increase the Sales of Your Product – Without Being Sneaky or Pushy

        • Carol Tice says:

          Just freelancing writing along, minding my own business! I didn’t know mills existed and I thought life was great…until I started meeting writers who were declaring bankruptcy and losing their homes because they didn’t know how to freelance and find good clients.

          And then it was like something just exploded in my brain and I needed to go into my phone booth and change into a blogger ;-)

          • SuperCarol to the rescue!

            You said yesterday that you started the Den because there was nothing quite like it. You’re right.

            Everywhere I go, it’s either “the pit,” where everything’s terrible and nobody makes more than $1 for 500 words, or it’s people who have been doing this for 30 years.

            The Den was the sweet spot I needed.

            Feel free to use that, by the way. Or I can write a better one. :)
            Jesse Lanclos recently posted..How Much Are Testimonials Costing Your Company?

      • Neil Heater says:

        Art

        Don’t think I said I ignore the market, but I am not going to succumb to the mindset that the prevailing winds of content mills will dictate my direction.

        Carol has made good points that the mills prey on the “need work now so as not starve” freelance writers and use that to justify paying low grade wages. If I pick and choose what to go after, that is far from ignoring the market place. It’s research marketing. Guess all types of marketing fall into this.

  8. Way to kick some content mill hiney Carol! I wish someone would have recorded it so we could all share it as our mantra – good work costs money no matter what line of business you’re in (photography, virtual assistants, website design or graphic designer.)

    I just got offered a blog article writing gig via oDesk. I was a tad excited. Until I saw the hoops they wanted me to jump through for just $7.50 for 500-750 words IF they liked what you wrote. Seriously? Gah!

    Funny thing is before I found your blog, I would have taken the work because I didn’t have confidence in my writing or my ability to put my big girl panties on and stand up for myself.

    Keep up the great work (and the butt kicking.) We need you out there.

    • art williams says:

      I respect Colleen for sticking to her guns but I still say that for some people, at a certain stage in their career (and before they’ve had a chance to enroll in the Writers Den :-), the el-cheep-O gigs serve a purpose.

      I have plenty of time to spare on most days over here so that’s maybe why I gig on the site that I do. Plus, it gives me money to put in my PayPal account that I use for other things. Over here in Manila it’s definitely fifthe world…even the banking system.

      But, I had a guy the other day query me on the gig site. His language reminded me of my English teacher in high school (I hated English too). I wrote him back and told him sure I could do the basic work but he had to be crazy if he thought I would accept it with all those childish conditions. I specifically told him, “Do you think you’re going to get William Buckley Jr. for this kind of money?”

      Of course…didn’t hear from him again. I stay up all night crying about it too.

      Regards,
      Art
      art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks Colleen!

      You’ve got to be real selective if you hang out on places like oDesk. And realize when they’re offering $7.50, that they don’t deserve you. They’re not even really trying to get someone like you. The problem is that writers don’t figure that out.

      At those kind of rates, every hour you work you’re actually LOSING money, since your expenses of living that hour are likely more than that.

  9. diane says:

    I think the real question to ask if not what they pay their content writers, we already know that is low, but what do they charge their clients. They might pay $12 for a blog post but are receiving $50 from a client….that is what is putting the $ in their pocket and I would be curious to know since that is the rate we should all be charging. Good investigation Carol.

    • art williams says:

      Good point Diane but you and I both knew they’re not going to tell us that. We eventually discover it’s the fact though, right? Thanks especially to Carol and the (perhaps) few others somewhat similar to her (imitated but never equaled, right Carol?)

      The positive take-way is that at least we know the market is out there. I’d much rather be a better prospector than a master salesperson and have no pool of prospects to fish in. That’s why I’m excited about eventually learning how to dredge the market better…..when CAROL eventually opens up the Writers Den again……..someday…..one day….

      Regards,
      Art
      art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, the Asian guy was pretty upfront that they take a huge markup, and that was one of the reasons they needed to pay writers so little — gave me a big wink when he said that, too.

      Pretty much all agencies are keeping a big hunk of the fee on projects. You can count on that. Assume they’re marking up 50-200% on what they pay you.

      Which is why I only work through agencies to gain access to a top-drawer client that doesn’t work with freelance writers individually, where you HAVE to use one of their agencies. Otherwise, I want to find my own clients.

    • I’d be shocked if these mills were getting anywhere close to $50 a post. I know Carol said at one point that Demand Media was getting around $54 an article (that went right through the hole in their pockets), but that wasn’t from clients. That was from ads. That earning power has, of course, evaporated.
      Jesse Lanclos recently posted..Don’t Know What to Say? Try These 4 Words

  10. Content mills are kind of like the Walmart of the writing world. Seems like a good idea for the consumers. Who doesn’t like cheap? But like you said, you get what you pay for. And, the cost is extremely high to specialists and professionals who are undermined.

    I haven’t been to Walmart in three years and I won’t write for content mills, either.
    Carrie Schmeck recently posted..Shuck status quo and go big.

  11. Nida Sea says:

    Wow, that is awful. Having worked for content mills for four years, I know they are aware of what they are doing. There is a company I rarely work for now, I will not name, that wants to be bigger than a content mill. But, their rates are so low for the work they expect. My opinion? They’re just another content mill. Love this post, Carol! Keep ‘em comin’!

    - Nita

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Nida –

      Yeah, you wouldn’t believe how many reach-outs I get where the pitch is, “We’re the new, different, better platform for writers!” And I ask, “What’s different?” And there’s really nothing. The rates aren’t better.

      They just all want to be the next Demand Studios — build it up, get a fat IPO stock payout, and be millionaires. But I’ve got bad news for them — given how poorly Demand has done, it’ll probably be along time if ever when another one of these can tap the public stock markets for cash. With the changes at Google, investors have become painfully aware this model is kind of sinking into the sunset.

      Remember, Demand made $54 a post and paid you $15 — AND THEY STILL COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO TURN A PROFIT. It’s because their model is broken. Ad-clicks against crap content isn’t a viable business model. But people do keep trying to make it pencil out…which they can do because the poor self-esteem of writers makes it all possible. It’s like in Monsters Inc, where children’s screams are the power source. Writer insecurity powers the mill world.

  12. Carol, you read my mind.

    Content mills are the McDonalds of content while real writers serve to be fine dining establishments.

    I refuse to work with them, abide by their rules, or be paid a low wage for my skill.

    Just last month on a freelance site I was contacted to write a series of technical articles. I could sense their jaw drop when I quoted my price.

    “‘But we just want a few blog articles written’, the client explained, ‘and then post them on a few of our sites!’”. He was expecting my price to come down.

    Instead, I replied that my price would go up based on the administrative work he expected of me. I never heard from them again.

    Regrets?

    Nope. They just lost a great writer. It’s unfortunate that their business isn’t healthy enough to afford me.

    So what would I say to a content mill owner? On a good day, I might give them the time of day if they asked.

    Might.
    David Goldstein recently posted..My Story Behind Tech Productivity

    • Carol Tice says:

      “It’s unfortunate your business isn’t healthy enough to afford me.”

      I’m stealing that line! Sums it up beautifully.

      When dysfunctional, failing businesses contact writers, it seems like confusion often ensues that it means you ought to jump in and turn their problem into your problem. My reaction is, “Let me know when you have a marketing budget to afford a pro like me.”

      I get a lot of that jaw-drop when I quote rates too, David. And have the same reaction — sorry you can’t afford the marketing help you really need.

    • “It’s unfortunate your business isn’t healthy enough to afford me.”

      This is awesome.

      I was recently approached to write blog posts for a company. “How much do you charge?”

      Well, of course it depends on the assignment. But if the first question is price, it’s time to get your umbrella.

      After I quoted my price, he told me he was surprised. American writers write 500 word blog posts for $15, he said. So why did you come looking for me?

      If I need the work, what am I going to fill my workday with? Writing these articles? Or marketing my business so I can earn a living?

      If I applied for a brick and mortar job, and they told me they’d hire me for $2.50 an hour, would I take that job? But I don’t have other work lined up…
      Jesse Lanclos recently posted..How to Find Hundreds of Content Ideas in Less Than 10 Minutes

  13. Tom Schiavon says:

    I am just getting started, and sometimes it stinks trying to get jobs without much in the way of clips. I had thought about writing for mills just to get a few clips, but after reading FWD I decided not to start out prostituting myself. I want to start out seeking decent clients rather than getting frustrated and burned out on crappy ones.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Tom -

      Great attitude! Trust me, you’re not missing anything except wasted time and hits to your self-esteem. You CAN skip over the mill level. Somewhere in your town are small businesses that would LOVE to pay you peanuts or have you volunteer for a small project and help you get really quality, viable first clips.

  14. Amandah says:

    This was an awesome post! I love exposés.

    I would have asked questions such as:

    1. On a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest score, how would you rate the quality of writing?

    2. How many rewrites do you receive per month?

    3. Where are the majority of writers located?

    4. What is the turnover rate of writers?

    5. “You get what you pay for.” Do you or do you not believe this statement?

    Finally, I would tell content mill owners that they’re doing a disservice to clients who are paying for a service, but have a great chance of receiving low quality content that could get them blacklisted on Google.
    Amandah recently posted..One Simple Lesson Will Boost Your Non-Profit Organization’s Donations and Support

    • Carol Tice says:

      I did ask the Asian guy where the writers were, and he indicated his were in the U.S. I got that vibe from the other one too.

      It’s not all the fault of outsourcing abroad. Plenty of US writers I think are happy to jump in and get paid Third World rates.

      I can remember when I thought an improving economy would make mills vaporize…but we’re substantially better off now than we were in 2009…and no end in sight to the creation of new content mills.

  15. Wow, they even have the nerve to show up in person at BlogWorld? Honestly, I wouldn’t have been as professional as you were, Carol. Those people really burn my biscuits!

    I agree with you, though. Content mills aren’t going to go away unless writers refuse to work for them, and continue to seek out quality writing work. Seriously, writers: even searching Craigslist for legitimate gigs is better than writing for a content mill. Even working part-time (or full-time) at a minimum wage job, and writing on the side is better than working in a content mill. Don’t let them seduce you with their BS. Stick to your dreams, keep writing, keep querying, and eventually you will get there.
    Laura Roberts recently posted..Naked Montreal: Excerpt 1

    • Michelle says:

      Right! But sadly, the seduction of $10 a post (or worse) isn’t very sexy!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m with you, Laura…all the way.

      Except I’ve accepted that mills won’t go away, no matter how many writers wise up to them. There always more suckers. But I’m here to help anyone who wants to get out of the cesspool and have a real, legit freelance writing career and get paid more.

      When I was a songwriter, I worked as a secretary. I know people who’ve pumped gas and worked as a bar back to support their solopreneur/creative dreams. I think there’s no shame in it…and it doesn’t kill your soul like writing 200 SEO articles about how to unclog a drain or whatever.

  16. Diane #2 says:

    I started writing for the content mills 4 years ago. After learning the ropes of the business and gaining some experience working with editors, I started branching out on my own. Today I have a few private clients but have stayed semi-active at 1 mill for those times when the client pays late or does not provide enough work. The mill pays $25-35 for a 400 word article that does not take much research since I know the topic thoroughly, so it makes up for any cash shortfall. I would rather spend a few days working for lower pay than to dip into the savings account. I do recommend a pseudonym.

    With that said, there are some mills where I signed up and almost croaked at the rate. Several of the popular ones pay 1.4 cents per word to their level 4 writers. Level 5 writers earn 5 cents a word, but most clients place orders at level 4. You would have to write more than 7,000 words to make $100. No thanks, I’ll pass.

    • Carol Tice says:

      So you recommend writers write for clients where they’ll be so ashamed of their work that they’ll need to use a fake name?

      I’d hope that’s a red flag that it’s something to stay away from!

    • Diane #2 says:

      Carol, it has nothing to do with shame. The quality of work is identical as that produced for private clients. I chose two niches that I thoroughly enjoy and only want that work as part of my branding.

      Once a writer consistently earns a better amount and has a comfortable savings cushion, then he/she can work on personal projects during down time. I have not yet reached that stage due to family obligations (college tuition, etc.).

  17. Jayne says:

    While I agree with many of the issues in this post, please see my reply to Veronica.

    I’d like to alert you to the other side of the coin that is not discussed here. I have advertised on job boards, I searched for top quality writers, (emphasized quality) on sites like Elance, ODesk, and others, offering reasonable compensation to the right person, (and steady assignments), but I am sorry to tell you that most applicants’ writing samples were not even near to “top quality.”

    These writers were asking for compensation associated with high quality work, but the work was not there.

    So the lesson is this:

    Make sure that you are training yourself to be the top quality writer (and it is not you that make the determination)

    Perhaps you should lower your expectation and accept assignments with compensation below your requirements from sites that you can learn, gain experience in subject matters of interest to you and perhaps they even volunteer to enhance your knowledge and/or the quality of your writing by sending you their comments and critiques.

    You should always edit your work multiple times; let it rest and go back to it later, the next day and so on….If you have a friend that is good in writing, you should ask him/her to review your work before submitting it.

    Look out for sites, such as Carol’s and register to any courses/tutorials they offer. Remember we learn throughout our lives. I have over 25 years of experience in certain professional writing, yet you will meet me in many different educational programs. You should never feel uncomfortable being a student

  18. art williams says:

    Hi Carol:

    Interesting article. The title got me right away because I happen to be gigging on of of the types of sites you refer too. The ones you mentioned probably pay more than I’m making on the one I’m on.

    Regardless, I wish you’d open up Writers Den again. I know I could use improve in many of the areas you’ve mentioned in your various article but how can I do it if I can’t get into ‘the Den’?

    Waiting,
    Art Williams
    art williams recently posted..Where Have All the Preachers Gone? – The Daily Rant: Black Conservative Mychal Massie’s Hard Hitting Commentary on Race, Obama and Politics

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Art -

      I get many questions about why the Den isn’t always open. It’s like this: I need to focus on serving members. And I’ve learned that being open constantly did not serve the membership best.

      I discovered that new members need a lot of orientation ramp time. They need help getting up and running in the community. And if I’m helping 100 new people do that, I don’t have any time to develop content to serve the existing members. Which isn’t cool.

      So I learned that opening for one week occasionally is what works. It means people realize they need to join now if they want in. And it allows me to spend a week focused on orientation and getting all those members set up to maximize use of the Den resources and skyrocket their earnings.

      It also has other benefits, as the new group comes in together and bonds — they pair up in writer buddies and masterminds, and find each other for support. It didn’t work as well when it was always open, at the beginning…I think the resource was actually less useful.

      We are never open during a bootcamp, as I am crazed developing 4 Webinars for each bootcamp!

      I am also trying to cut the time I spend marketing the Den in favor of more time developing Den content. So in 2013, we will be officially open less often than ever…probably just a few times in the whole year.

      But if you’re on the waitlist, you will get additional opportunities to join, when I do no marketing except letting people on the list know it’s open. So long story short, to get in the door at the next possible opportunity, just make sure you’re on the waiting list! You can sign up right on the freelancewritersden.com home page.

  19. Early Conner says:

    Carol,
    I am so proud of you. Not just for confronting the enemy on the battlefield and being so cool about it as well, but for you whole quest in general.
    I am not sure if I have ever commented here before but I am a long time reader and enjoy your content and assistance to the struggling writers in this world.
    Thank you for what you are doing and keep up the fight!

    Early Bird

  20. YAY Carol – I always admire those that are willing to stand and defend! Keep up the excellent work

  21. Ben Gran says:

    I have never worked for a content mill. Fortunately their model will fail in the long term because Google no longer rewards crap content and low quality back links. The winners of the future in SEO will be people and companies that create sincere, useful content that real people actually want to read and share. Great article, Carol!
    Ben Gran recently posted..Year in Review: Ben Gran’s best moments of 2012

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Ben –

      It’s so true. I think mill writers are smart to start learning about how to reach better quality markets…because that’s where the growth is, the better pay, and the demand for real creativity.

  22. Ohhhhhh, how I wish I could remember his name! In the NMX exhibit hall I talked to an exhibitor who had something about SEO services on his display. I mentioned that I write keyword-targeted blog posts. He asked my rate and didn’t bat an eyelash when I told him. Maybe he was just being polite, but he said he’d follow up after the conference. I will dig through all my business cards and try to figure out what company he’s from, and I’ll keep an eye on my email. Even if he’s for real, it’s sad that he was so vastly outnumbered.

    • Carol Tice says:

      There were a couple of more legit platforms at NMX too, Kim — stay tuned for a post on them coming up on the blog. I’m seeing the emergence of sort of a move-up market in the $100-$200 article range…and I’ll be reporting on that soon.

  23. And P.S. GREAT job calling them on the carpet.

  24. I really do not understand all this fuss.

    Nobody is going to point a gun at your head and ask you to write for 1$/300 word rates. If you cant get clients, or you can live with such low pay, take it. If not, just leave the opportunity and pursue better ones.

    I am from India and yet, I charge 100$/article these days (I started with 3$/ article a few years back). I am not a native writer nor is my writing perfect. However, I have marketed myself and positioned myself as an expert. That’s what writers need to do. Build a brand for yourself.

    Now, I just take one or two writing assignment each month. Bulk of my time, I devote to my full time job and building my brand through my blog.

    I have hired a lot of writers and have payed anywhere between 1$/100 words to 5$/100 words. The quality varied vastly. However, I have found that there are some absolute gems in the 1$/100 word range who should be charging way more than they are. The problem with most of these writers is that they do not know how to generate clients via inbound marketing. So they get stuck bidding on odesk or freelancer for the lowest pay or posting on forums where people faint if they hear rates above 2$/100 words.
    Adarsh Thampy recently posted..The Ultimate Link Building Guide for Small Businesses

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Adarsh — congrats on marketing yourself up to better pay! You can do it, no matter where you live. ;-)

      You’ve totally hit the nut of it — inbound and proactive marketing to find clients changes the whole game, and leads to better pay. But most writers can’t be bothered. It is easier to vent about how you’re being exploited and how poor you are than it is to take action to change it.

      But I hope writers realize that they CAN! (insert picture of WWII factory-worker woman flexing arm muscle here!)

  25. Michelle says:

    I’ve always begged on any writer’s site I’ve been on – pleaded with people to NOT write for them no matter what. That way if content is needed they’d have to pay a fair rate. It’s about supply and demand. They NEED what we have, if we don’t give it away, they’ll have to pay for it.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, that used to be how I thought — I could convince all the writers of the world to stop writing for mills. Ain’t gonna happen.

      But I’m here to help anyone who wants to get out there and find better clients. I can only save those who reach for the life preserver.

  26. Sandra says:

    Wow, what a great post. Thank you for standing up for all of us, Carol.

    Just last week I answered a question on LinkedIn from someone whose client (mill) was looking for a writer. The poster was hesitant about using elance or oDesk because he wasn’t sure he could find a quality writer who “wasn’t from overseas” :S. In other words, he knew that his $5 payout for a 500-word article was a joke, but he still thought that his client should get away with finding a good writer and pay him slave wages.

    Needless to say, he got spanked more than a few times and the kicker: many respondents weren’t even writers – they were other professionals who simply shook their heads and laughed at him.
    Sandra recently posted..Escaping to Cuba? Here’s How to Survive “Bad Food”

  27. Dino Dogan says:

    Don’t worry, Carol. Content mills’ days are numbered.

    The only reason they still exist is because companies dont know about Triberr’s reblog feature.

    Sorry to plug my own startup, but as a content creator myself, I’ve experienced slave labour involved in churning out posts for content warehouses.

    Anyways…I’m glad you took a stand and aren’t afraid to polarize people with this issue. Good work, as always :-)
    Dino Dogan recently posted..3 Pronged Strategy to Launch @Cemmerce Into the Stratosphere

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hey thanks Dino! For those who don’t know about Triberr, it’s a platform worth checking out…I signed up after seeing Dino present at NMX. I’m just starting to explore it, but I’m intrigued!

  28. Hermine says:

    Carol, your post has inspired me – in part because it makes me angry that these people think that what they are doing is ok, even right! And also because I’m just tired of dealing with these kinds of potential customers. I say “potential” because once I quote my rates I invariably get the same response “you’re too expensive” (Ha! And those aren’t even the rates published on my site, I’m quoting a discount for the mills).

    As part of my new years goals, I took the time to reposition my business and branding and am now a specialist in what I do. I’m demanding much higher rates and your post has finally inspired me to stop wasting my time with those content mills completely. I don’t want to be chained to my computer writing content for even $30 or $40 bucks a page, let alone $12…. We as writers deserve better!

    Today,my mission: contact my clients that I still have on the content mills and let then know what my new rates are, then close those accounts. I’m not counting on them staying on board at the new rates, but hey – that will just mean that I will have more time to focus on the clients that I didn’t find through those channels who pay me more and will leave me open to better opportunities. Thank you Carol!
    Hermine recently posted..Is Your Business Making This One Marketing Mistake?

  29. I remember in the way-back-when, the very first time I read what professional freelance copywriters charge for projects… MY jaw dropped! I just could not believe that those annoying won’t-you-buy-our-products brochures that cluttered my mailbox were worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

    In the interest of full disclosure (and I know I’m “telling my age” here) this was when the average citizen-on-the-street had never even heard of chat rooms or the Internet, let alone content mills.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted..On Not Stepping on People’s Toes

  30. asrai devin says:

    I thought about freelancing and looked into how to start with no experience and so many people suggest those freelance sites, and I looked and I looked at the prices people are offering. I have no experience freelancing, I cried at those prices that people are offering themselves at. I couldn’t spend the time at those prices.
    asrai devin recently posted..Do you want to feel really smart and really dumb?

  31. As a professional writer, I wholeheartedly thank you for being an advocate for our livelihood! It’s too bad there isn’t a union for writers. It’s only when we all demand quality pay for quality work that these content mills will disappear. When I first started out, about four years ago, I wrote a few articles for Demand Media but outgrew them…FAST! Then I began to get clients who were willing to pay good rates for good work and I realized I felt used by that content mill.

    I have attended many of your webinars and heard you preach for demanding my value with my work and it is one of the best lessons I’ve learned as a full-time freelancer. I provide an excellent service. I invest in my ongoing education and stay on top of marketing writing trends. I deserve a living wage!

    Additionally, I dabbled in elance.com for a while, before I realized that legit, good-paying jobs are few and far between on that site. Also, I perused Craig’s List a couple times (I know you’re not a fan of writing jobs on Craig’s List) and my last foray into that market place was when I saw a job posting for a writer in which the poster complained about his trouble finding a good, professional writer who would abide by a laundry list of requirements he posted, including an advanced degree, several drafts, lots of research and many skills, such as SEO, and knowledge of several computer programs and promotional tactics. He wanted a series of press releases and, at the end of the post, I could see why he was having so much trouble: He wanted to pay $12 per release. I responded to his ad telling him that I would be happy to provide him all the quality and professionalism he needed, for $200 per two-page release, which I think is a very, very competitive rate. I never heard back :)
    Kimberly Jones recently posted..Warning: Your Grammar Mistakes are Killing your Traffic

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re welcome…but on the union thing, um…there is…the National Writer’s Union ?

      Glad I’ve been able to help you stay away from low-payers! Sounds like you’ve got good natural instincts on that, too. ;-)

    • Probably had parents who gave him everything he wanted and required almost no effort from him to earn it. Some people never learn that no one is born with an innate superior value the world in general is obliged to dote on.

      Incidentally, some *writers* are like that too. I do a lot of networking with editors from major publishing houses, and whenever there’s a state-of-submissions discussion, someone invariably mentions multiple examples of clients who send material that the publisher openly disavows (“I’m sure you’ll find my novel worthy of the first exception to your ‘no fiction’ policy”), claim divine sanction for their work (seriously), and take any suggestions of revision as a personal insult.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted..On Not Stepping on People’s Toes

  32. I must disagree with you Carol, that content mills are exploiting writers. I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility — those writers who work for pennies are not victims, rather, they are exploiting themselves.

  33. Tiffany says:

    I don’t think I could say much to them. It’s easy to think of them as exploiting people, but you also have to consider that there are people willing to be exploited. Many online writers start out at content mills (like me), and then somehow they learn that they should be earning a lot more than they do. Some seek out these higher paying clients, and some convince themselves that no one would hire them; that somehow the content mill is where they belong. It took a long time before I got up enough nerve to start sending out queries, even though I’d been making peanuts for years. I know firsthand that low self esteem and self doubt are serious plagues to writers. But if an online writer knows that they can be making more and they simply don’t act on that information, then they just have to live with that decision. Just like the person who keeps eating junk food after their doctor warns them to lower their cholesterol.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great analogy Tiffany!

    • Or like someone who clings desperately to an abusive “love” relationship because “anything’s better than being alone and who knows how long it’ll take to find someone else who’d want me”?

      I think self-esteem is a prime example of the law of attraction: 90% of people sense, on some level, what you think of yourself, and treat you exactly the way *you* believe you deserve. In romance OR business.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted..On Not Stepping on People’s Toes

      • Carol Tice says:

        I think that’s a really apt analogy, Katherine…mills are like a bad relationship. It impoverishes you and robs you of marketing time, and yet so many writers can’t stop talking about how great it is to have the reliable income.

  34. Ronna says:

    I refuse to work for content mills. I started doing that years ago and it was pathetic what they were paying. I had friends in my writing group who were making a good living, but they were doing so much legwork and they were writing about specific airlines and airports. Everyone else was making next to nothing. I am doing other freelance work and looking for serious bidders. I am very picky about the clients I work for now. I have a few good clients and stay with them. I’ll add to them when I feel comfortable about the new person or entity.
    Content mills attract people who cannot write, along with many people who can. By and large, the reason the rates are so low is that some writers are thankful they’re getting paid to write anything. Most of these people cannot write. I resigned from one content mill because people were writing (I kid you not) like this!!!! and like this!!!!!!!!!! and didn’t know basic grammar. I was embarrassed every time I said which online mill I wrote for — I took it off my resume. Don’t want it there — too embarassing. I’m glad I’m no longer involved in the content mill business. I think at one point it might have been a good thing for me, but after a year, I realized I had made very little and had put so much more into it. Not worth it. I agree that the content mills reward low self-esteem with low pay. Take that content mills!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

    • Carol Tice says:

      You point up yet another major drawback of writing for mills.

      I’ve known accomplished journalists who’ve done it…but the problem is, you’re still tarred with the sticky black brush of that mill’s reputation. The stuff YOU wrote for them might be great…but everyone still thinks you must be a substandard writer if that’s where you write.

  35. Phil says:

    Wow, a hot topic going here. Good job engaging an audience Carol!

    As I see it, the problem is that writers are writers, and not salesmen.

    If the way to escape content mill prison is to sell oneself to big businesses, most writers are going to stay in jail, for the simple reason that we are not sales people by nature.

    Quality instruction can surely assist some, and I applaud Carol for helping those that can be helped.

    But the fact remains that the thoughtful hermit writer personality and the life of the party networked salesman personality are usually quite different kinds of people, opposites even.

    As example, I LOVE forums, but um, hate Twitter and Facebook. The reason is simple.

    You can actually write on forums.

    On Twitter and Facebook all you can do is type, press the flesh, fire off quip zingers, and otherwise do the networking salesman dance. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and there is true skill in doing it right, but it’s not writing.

    Carol hooked me when she told us to think of ourselves as writers. Yes, great insight, the game is won or lost inside our minds, in how we define ourselves.

    If we take Carol’s wise advice seriously, then maybe we should be looking for agents, and not for ways to become salesmen? Be who we are, and not who we aren’t?

    Teach us how to partner with agents?

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, there ARE marketing agents out there that work with writers…I’ve been approached by them. Maybe for some that’s an idea!

      I DON’T say to think of yourself as a writer. (Hopefully everybody on here already does!)

      You have to think of yourself as operating a BUSINESS. That’s the big mental gap.

      Ultimately, if you have strong branding, as BEING a business. Or as Chris Brogan said at a SOBCon talk, “I love LL Cool J because he’s not a businessman…he’s a business, man.”

      I think my secret weapon going into freelancing was that my beat had been business. So I instinctively understood that I needed to learn marketing to survive.

      You’re so right that many writers are never going to market themselves. They are why mills continue to be created…there is a ready audience of writers excited for any crumb, and just to see a byline online. Which is fine if that’s all you need.

      I’m here to help the people who need to feed their families with their craft. Most of those need to find better clients than mills to make it.

  36. Jovell says:

    Hi Carol,

    It’s true the rates the content mills are offering work for many Filipino freelance writers today. Sad but true. It worked for me when I was starting.

    But as a writer, when you develop your craft, you eventually see that, the country you came from should not matter and should not be the basis for the rates you ask for or receive. (I have also realized this from following your blog in the past months. Thanks!)

    Writing high-quality content is not a piece of cake. Upon finding better paying clients, especially those who appreciate high-quality work, I’ve stayed away from content mills, even if it meant only working with 1 or 2 clients who agree with my rates.

    Though I still can’t blame my fellow Filipino freelance writers who still accept jobs from content mills, especially when they feel they’re not “good enough” yet. Mostly true for newbies.
    Jovell recently posted..Are You Afraid Of Blogging?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, you bring up another side of it, and so does Phil — it’s a fact that there are plenty of ‘writers’ out there who aren’t really very skilled at this, or interested in getting better…just want to earn a quick few bucks. Mills may be the best they can do. And if they’re happy with that extra income, I say great. Glad mills exist to give you that.

      But many of the writers working on mills could earn more if they found better clients. I hear from so many writers who report they research for hours to write mill clips, even though they know it’s crazy hourly-rate-wise. They have that drive to hone their craft and excel, and they can do much better away from mills.

  37. D Writer says:

    Carol, great post. At the time of this writing, I occasionally submit content to DemandStudios as a freelance writer. A few years ago, their highest rate was roughly $15 per article. These days, it varies between $18 and $25 for 400-word articles. I personally consider that pretty good— but that’s just my opinion. What do you think of such rate?

    However, websites like TextBroker are a huge turn off. While their guidelines are more simplistic and approvals happen more often, I still can’t help but to hate the average payments offered by their clients.

    But I guess the world will always depend on these mills as long as the economy continues this way.
    D Writer recently posted..Earn Money to Write: Freelance Websites That Pay Upfront updated Mon Dec 10 2012 4:31 pm EST

    • Carol Tice says:

      Since you ask, I think those rates are appalling, D. APPALLING.

      I feel sad when writers get into this sort of conversation: “Wow, I love Demand, $25 instead of $5!”

      From the point of view of a pro writer, I think, $400 instead of $25. I usually get paid nearly $1 a word for my work, or more.

      So many writers don’t know professional rates, or if they do, they believe they’re a myth. I’ve gotten called a liar more than once for stating my rates.

      But I just signed a contract for six $700 articles that are 800 words…mills have not erased the world of real writing work. Last year, I did seven 1200-word articles at $2000, for one client.

      The world does NOT depend on mills, D. There is one, certain type of client — mostly that wants SEO content and doesn’t have a high-value product or service to sell and isn’t looking for leads and building a client base — that mill content works for.

      Everyone else continues to hire qualified professionals based on their portfolio of work. And given the changes at Google, more and more websites are realizing they need to get out of the junk-SEO content game and into developing truly valuable content for readers. Demand for really strong writers is only growing…but you can’t get those gigs with mill clips. That’s the conundrum…and why I developed the Den’s Step by Step Guide to Freelance Success bootcamp, to take people from only mill clips to having a legit portfolio, quickly, so they can start pitching legit clients.

      The world of pro writing has not disappeared…it’s just that an Underworld has grown up beneath it now that confuses a lot of writers.

      When you’ve never seen the sun, sometimes it’s hard to imagine it’s real. But it is.

  38. Anne Grant says:

    You are right, Carol.
    There will always be two more content mills to replace the one that broke down, but that doesn’t prevent writers from working with “the right client”. If writers hang out in the dark alleys, they are going to find the shady characters, but there is a better neighborhood just around the corner as they move away from this mess.
    There are many industries facing this same dilemma.
    The sad part is that even after you have exposed how the mills devalue the work of a writer and even after people have experienced it themselves, they are still supporting that part of the industry by saying, “I know… it sucks, but I was broke and needed the money.”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Another terrific analogy — it’s amazing how impactful the crowd you hang out with is.

      I think a lot of writers hang around mill chat boards…and it normalizes the experience of being ripped off. It seems OK, because after all, look at all the writers it’s happening to! This must be how it is. This is the world.

      I get a lot of feedback from Den members about how one of the big advantages of membership is how much your mindset changes when you hang out only with other writers who’re serious about earning real money.

      • Carol,
        You’re right on the money. The writers’ chat rooms are blinders that limit your vision. You see less than 1% of the writing world there.

        I realized that some people make much more money writing, live comfortably, and enjoy their work. I needed to ask: “What are they doing that I’m not doing? Am I willing to do what they’re doing, to get those results?”

        Some aren’t. If you’re writing “on the side,” or as a second income, you can do whatever makes you feel comfortable. I do this for a living, and I want to be the best I can be at doing the right things.

        Dany Iny said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. If you keep practicing the wrong things, you’ll get very good at doing the wrong things.” That’s why the Den is great. People that have walked the walk show you what they’ve done to get where they are.
        Jesse Lanclos recently posted..How to Increase the Sales of Your Product – Without Being Sneaky or Pushy

        • Carol Tice says:

          You get it, Jesse!

          When I read Your Money Or Your Life, one of the best pieces of advice I got was, “If you feel like you can’t live on $50,000 a year…somewhere near you, there’s probably a family living on $20,000. Visit them, and learn how they do it.”

          You want to study and hang out with the people who have the habit you want, whether it’s frugality or better marketing.

  39. Phil says:

    >>I know… it sucks, but I was broke and needed the money.

    To be a bit more precise, I think they’re saying…

    “I know… it sucks, but I can’t, won’t or don’t want to sell myself to better clients.”

    Yes, content mills pay less than many other kinds of clients. That seems to be a widely agreed upon fact.

    But they also seem to cut out a huge expense, a year or two of pounding on closed doors and having the majority of prospects ignore you, blow you off, reject your pitch, tell you to get lost, call you a spammer, hint at a maybe someday that never comes, endless days invested in to mindless social media marketing and so on etc etc.

    I don’t think we can fairly evaluate the content mills unless we weigh their low pay against the costs involved in finding better clients.

    And no, I don’t own a content mill, and am not a content mill lobbyist in Washington. :-) Just trying to play fair here, that’s all.

    • Perhaps “you get what you pay for” also applies to the dues the writer pays in the form of time and effort seeking out clients. Also, if more than one prospect has been so offended as to reply “Get lost, spammer,” maybe it’s time to examine the tone, wording, and avenue of approach. I once had someone tell me frankly, “You come across as difficult to work with”–several years later I don’t remember the exact reasons he gave, but they had a lot to do with sounding desperate to have things my way and quickly.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted..On Not Stepping on People’s Toes

      • Phil says:

        Hi Katherine,

        Agreed, having one’s own clients is the ideal. That’s a real business, requiring a business investment.

        That does seem to require the writer to become a salesman though, a skill that many or most writers are probably not going to master, as selling and writing often involve rather different psychologies.

        Instead of trying to turn writers in to salesman, it might be a good alternative to explore ways writers can partner with real salesmen, people who love selling and are good at it. I’d be interested in articles on that topic.

        Being an agent could be a great career for the right people, as the agent would be earning recurring income on multiple writers they represent. Working with agents would free writers to be writers.

        To be clear, I know almost nothing about this myself. I’m just thinking out loud and trying to reason my way around obvious obstacles. I’d welcome corrections, rebuttals, and further education etc.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t know anyone who’s needed two years to launch their freelance business, Phil! More like a few months, if you’re serious about marketing and really get out there…and you know how to do it. That’s a big reason I created the Den, as a storehouse of marketing resources.

      When you get your query and pitch letters reviewed by pros, and you can get coached by a pro copywriter, listen to Peter Bowerman explain how to do cold calling, etc., it goes a lot faster. We’re seeing a lot of writers get assignments and new clients in their first round of marketing.

      Yes, it’s true that writing and marketing are different parts of the brain. But here’s the reality: In the future, most paid writing will be done by freelancers. Staffs are shrinking and will not grow again even when the economy booms.

      I contend that most writers CAN learn to market themselves. They can find an approach that feels comfortable for them and gets results. Nobody’s saying all writers have to learn to cold call — I personally have never done it! But there are marketing methods for everyone, and marketing is a learned skill writers can acquire. This I believe.

  40. Kellie says:

    This is such a great read! I wish that great sites would stop using content mills as well. I’m always disappointed when I search for the sites editor only to find that the content comes from a mill.
    Kellie recently posted..The Ultimate Booty-Building Membership Site Launches Today!

  41. I am incredibly impressed that you didn’t shout, strangle, or swear a blue streak at anyone. I’m not sure that I would have had the – discipline – to avoid such a thing.

    Content mills are part of the reason I opted out of pursuing being a copywriter and went into online marketing coaching instead. I just didn’t want to deal with people like them. Or more importantly, the people who would pay content mills for content.

    (Although, I wasn’t entirely successful. I still get clients who think that $500 is way too much for a custom-tailored website).
    Felicity Fields | Online Marketing Coach recently posted..Beyond a New Year’s Resolution: My Three Words for 2013

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, there is no shortage of lowballers out there. The key is to just move on, until you find the clients with higher standards and more sophisticated needs, who pay real rates. They really are out there.

  42. Amel says:

    I recently put together an e-book listing 50 markets that pay freelance writers 10 cents per word. While compiling the list, I was struck by how many editors openly state that they are willing to work with new writers, and how they are mainly looking for people with expertise in a specific area. While 10 cents per word is “low” compared to the rates many freelancers are able to command, it is a much better deal than writing for the mills. If you can write a profile or conduct simple research, you are certainly able to write for most publications that pay 10 cents per word, or even higher.
    Amel recently posted..Stop Writing for the Content Mills and Earn a Minimum of 10 Cents per Word Instead

  43. Phil says:

    Thanks for the ebook Amel, looks interesting, on my way to purchase.

  44. Writer Chick says:

    Brava! I wish I could have seen you grill these low lifes. I’ve encountered these guys in my travels, probably even lower on the food chain because they didn’t seem to have mills but still thinking $5 for a blog post or web page made sense. When I want a good laugh I check out the Craig’s List ads too – those are full of scammers who pay writers pennies for enormous amounts of work – or convince them to send them ‘samples’ to ‘apply’ for a position that doesn’t exist and then use without paying for the work.

    Oh well, you’re right – as long as writers who have low self esteem abound, so will the writer mills.
    Writer Chick recently posted..Happy New Year and Here’s What’s Gonna Happen…

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, that’s been the mindshift for me. I accept that mills are probably a permanent part of the 21st century writing landscape. But that doesn’t mean I have to write for them…or that I won’t encourage every writer I meet to find better clients and the pay they deserve.

    • I can go you one better on the Craigslist scammers examples: I once answered one that replied with promises of “high-paying writing work” (that was, literally, the extent of the job description they provided) and an “application form” that didn’t ask for a drop of information on experience or education, but did have a space for “mother’s maiden name.” MAJOR “phisher” warning. I asked them to send me a link to their website (having already done a web-surf that turned up only copies of the same ad in every conceivable place) that I might first review what their business was about–and never heard from them again.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted..On Not Stepping on People’s Toes

      • Carol Tice says:

        Mother’s maiden name! Now that’s one I hadn’t heard before.

        But it points up why we have to work so hard to build trust on our websites…the Internet is such a scammy place.

  45. Phil says:

    It’s helpful for writers to understand the history behind content mills.

    You see, after WWII a number of leading Nazis mysteriously disappeared in to South America, never to be seen again. Or so we thought.

    With the help of the Mob, Cuban intelligence officers, Mexican drug cartels, human traffickers, child molesting priests, Rush Limbaugh and the walking dead, the children of these long lost Nazis have re-emerged as leaders of the content mill industry.

    In an audacious plan said to be supervised by the Devil himself, content mills are a scheme to lure all of humanity in to working in deep underground FOR LOW WAGES in the excavation of additional torment chambers in Hell. Not only that, the Devil rarely pays on time.

    In a recent interview on CNN, the devil’s press secretary described the project this way, “Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!”

    The Pope counsels all humanity to come together in peace and stop having sex, because that is apparently where all the low esteem sucker writers fueling this project are said to come from.

    I hope this adds further context to this discussion, and illustrates the dangers posters are so rightly concerned about.

    Sincerely,

    Professor Emeritus I.B. Kidding
    Fake History Department
    University Of Sillystuff

    (PS: I will write authentic historical analysis like for your website for only a tenth of one cent per article!)

    • Carol Tice says:

      Funny…but I don’t see content mills as an evil comparable to the Nazis…speaking as someone whose entire extended family was shot or gassed by them.

      No one makes you write for mills at gunpoint. Mill owners offer a low-pay opportunity, thinking it’s a part-time, side-money situation for some housewives. It’s writers who’ve made the mistake of thinking of mills as a way to make a living.

  46. Phil says:

    Agreed Carol. Every writer working for the mills is one less writer competing for the good jobs, so god speed and good luck to them. In this way of looking at it, the mills are doing all the writers here a big favor.

    In other news, it now appears they’re not going to hire me for that comedy writer slot on the Letterman show after all. Rats! :-)

  47. Becky Baisch says:

    I have a 20-year old paralegal certificate that I never used, because the attorneys in town wanted to pay minimum wage for someone with “at least five years experience”. Ripoff artists abound everywhere. Cheapskates are cheapskates, dirtbags are dirtbags. I blow them off and move on.

  48. cassie says:

    Super post, Carol. I’ve been meaning to use it as a springboard for a post on my blog, and finally got around to it today! I have written for mills before (I tell my story/reasons in my post) but no longer do so. Good for you for confronting these folks! Wish I had your guts!

  49. How about this one: someone asked me if I was available to write articles at rates of $10-35, price based on the amount of editing THEY have to do!
    Katherine Swarts recently posted..On Not Stepping on People’s Toes

  50. I would thank them. When I first started seriously looking at making money from freelancing I signed up for Elance. I had had someone who has guest-posted on my blog say that he might be able to get me work and if I had an Elance account he could pay me through there, so I signed up.

    I had so much fun reading the ads that would come out in their weekly e-mails! Sometimes they were so funny I would read them out loud to my boys so they could have a laugh too. The idea that anyone would work for that kind of money was ludicrous, but more than that, the ad writer would be so insistent about the work needing to be high quality while offering to pay next to nothing…well, I couldn’t help but laugh.

    So I would thank those content mill owners for giving me a laugh…we all need a good laugh now and then!
    Anne Bodee-Galivan recently posted..The Battle With Fear

  51. TSilent says:

    Hi Carol. First post here, as I’m new to the blog and the world of freelance writing. Therein lies my big problem.

    After spending years working just to work, I’m finally at a point in my life where I started to wonder why I have never leveraged my strengths more. What was my greatest strength way back in those school days? Writing.

    My professional writing experience, though, has been limited to writing mostly business requirements specifications when I was working as a business analyst. While my work was good, it redefined the ways to make writing a dull chore. A few months back I just decided to hop online and see if there was a way to break into making money online by writing. I was then introduced to the magical world of content mills (and one T.W. Anderson, who I think you may have been alluding to earlier).

    I signed up with Textbroker last month, got approved as a level 4 immediately and wrote two 500-600 word articles on a subject that I enjoy and am fairly knowledgeable about and they got approved the next morning. It was fun. Actually it was more than fun. I think I got a seratonin release from it. Except for the fact that those two articles yielded me only $13. Content Mills are obviously not my future, but I need something that not months away from generating income.

    Excuse me, I’m getting loquacious, so let me get to the point. Right now, I’m doing a job that, while easy, I really hate. A series of challenges and decisions in life led to this point, but I can’t stay here. I can’t. I’m trying to find a way for me to replace this piddly income that I have now with freelance writing as quickly as possible! I’d love to quit by the end of the month even! Is it that hard to generate $15+ an hour quickly if you’re reasonably good but have no professional experience or clips?

    I understand that content mills do not pay near enough for what they ask, which is one of the reasons I haven’t written any more. But I really don’t need to make much to replace my income now and start working toward my larger goal of location independent living. But I honestly don’t know how to do that at all except through … the content mills.

    As much as I’ve been encouraged by this post and the many comments to not get caught in the vicious cycle of content mills, I’ve been just as discouraged by things such as a closed Writer’s Den. I know that getting something as wild as $1 a word isn’t realistic for me anytime soon (if ever), but something as little as fairly consistent work at $.10-20 a word would change my life. I used to make $50k+ a year, but I’ve simplified my life since then. It’d mean much more making that or more, working less hours and being free to pursue some of my more fulfilling goals.

    So, after this 500 word article, what words do you have for me to cause the corners of my mouth to defy gravity?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi T– As it happens, T.W. is exactly who I was thinking of! There are a very people in unique situations, where mills work. But for most, it won’t.

      The thing I try to remind writers of is before about a decade ago, all freelance writers started their careers without mills! Amazing how we managed it.

      And $15 an hour is NOT what you want to aim for if you want to cover your nut…remember many hours aren’t billable and you have to pay many of your own expenses as a freelancer…watch for a big post I have planned coming up about that.

      If you’re signed up for the Marketing 101 course, that would get you started figuring out how to market your services to more viable clients.

      You HAVE professional experience. There are freelancers who write RFPs and annual reports and business case studies…you have expertise. Target companies that need your services, in industries you understand. Marketing 101 will go over many of the ways to do that marketing.

      Hope you hang out here…and that you’re on the Den waiting list. We may not officially reopen for a while, but folks on the waitlist will be able to find their way in the door sooner. ;-)

    • I would add, watch the “I’ve gotta get out of this lousy job and start making money another way NOW!!” attitude. That can be a quick trip to the desperation that accepts what it knows is a bad offer because “nothing can be as bad as my current situation”–and often finds out the hard way that yes, it can.

      My advice (for what it’s worth): write down a description of your *perfect* job; decide what *one* thing you can do for at least a spare hour or two a day to advance toward it; and let having that to look forward to in the evening carry you through the work day for a while–or, if you’re an early riser, do the “good stuff” first thing and ride through the morning on the momentum of that feeling of achievement. Meanwhile, put what you can into the bank and be ready to quit–with a set business plan for your next step–as soon as you have enough to live on frugally for six months while building your freelance business full time.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted..The World of Dangling Modifiers

  52. I just want to thank you for helping me get my head back on straight! After entering the freelance world a few weeks ago, I stumbled across Odesk and Elance and created profiles. I saw a few of the rates and honestly thought, I must be having visual hallucinations, I’m sure this can’t be what it looks like. So I applied for a few jobs and got hired. One job paid $7.50 for a 400-word article. For a minute or two, I thought about accepting (this after making six figures in HR), because I thought, this is how it’s done, no? No! After reading a few articles on your site, I got my sanity back and realized how ridiculous these rates are. And by the way, I want to write for PEOPLE, who have the ability to react and respond to my writing. Again, a big THANK YOU!
    Crystal Spraggins recently posted..It Sucks To Be Poor

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Crystal — Congrats to you for not making crazy bid site rates your new norm and having the sense to back away.

      My reaction to finding out about the kind of rates that were floating around online…was to start this blog. ;-)

  53. Shape says:

    What do you suggest for someone looking for writers?

    Searches usually send me to content mills or similar sites where you might get a bunch of spun articles. I would love a resource to find qualified writers.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You can email me your job listing — I run a Junk-Free Job Board for quality job listings for my 700+ member writer community, Freelance Writers Den. We put it out 2x a week. Would love to have you if you’re paying over $50 a blog post or $100 an article.

  54. Pkumar says:

    Well, This is what most established writers would say ” never to go with content mills” I am a new to writing world. I want to improve writing skills also make small income learning, I met a guy who runs a content mill, and I found him helpful ( you may say , he was exploiting) but that’s a choice for a newbie, to start small, write for content mills, build a portfolio, rather writing for free, (some have advised me to write for free, I was offered to write for a blog, when I asked him what am I going to get in turn, he stopped communicating with me) or setting up a blog, writing for content mills, though they pay low, I guess would help me improve my writing skills, at the same time would help me make part time income.

    In fact I am looking for a list of such companies, I would really appreciate, if anyone here can help me with a list, Google does provide you with a list, but which ones of them are credible, is a perennial question.

  55. Kurt Franz says:

    Get a freakin real job. All this phony baloney about writing and making money is a crock of fecal matter. I love the way the owner of this site is taking advantage of people and making money on ads and the fact that content mills are a farce.

    A big joke.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hey Kurt –

      “Owner of this site” here.

      One thing’s for sure…if you don’t believe you can make a living as a writer, then you won’t be able to. That’s sort of a first step.

      So you’ll be one of the people who’ll need that “real job,” while writers with the drive to market their work can create the life they want, where they can make their own schedule and control their own destiny.

      Freelancing is growing every year, and the people who learn how to do it successfully will be the secure ones in the future.

  56. Gina says:

    I am exhausted by the constant chasing of content mills. I have written extensively for free, to promote my own aspect of academia, business and etc. of topics. Additionally, I am a PhD student so research in writing is just a common theme for me. I enjoy it and enjoy writing but honestly? It is hard to promote and I self-promote like a mini maniac. It drives me insane the lower pay rates and just when I think it is legit? Bam! Here’s some really embarrassing pay rate. I have long time writers telling me it exists, but unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate it.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve heard that one before…which is why I’ve cooked up quite a few classes we’ve got in Freelance Writers Den, such as the Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success, and the Get Great Clients bootcamp, to help writers learn how to find and qualify legit prospects.

      No one should need to write “extensively” for free. If you have 3-4 samples, you’re ready to pitch good clients for good pay. Hint: They’re not usually found on a mill dashboard, a bid site, or a Craigslist job ad.

      • Gina says:

        Carol, lo’ and behold as I opened my email this morning? A response from a legit outlet I had submitted a writing sample to some months ago. I am submitting my first content and wela! The article content allows my name byline and the pay is quite beautiful! Yes, Craigslist is a joke! I fell into the Odesk, Elance, etc. etc. you name it. It’s like finding the perfect diet lol

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "In Which I Confront Content Mill Owners About Their Rates…In Person"
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