Content Mill Update: What Demand Studios’ Implosion Means for Writers

Businessman With Sales ChartRemember what it was like to write online content in 2006? Back then, there was a ton of opportunity for writers willing to crank out boatloads of hastily written, low-paid content for content mills.

These sites got a ton of traffic off the key words in their posts. Visitors would click the ads they put on those pages, and the sites could make a fortune.

One of the most successful pioneers of this mass-content model was Demand Studios. When its parent company, Demand Media, went public in 2011, there was a brief moment when Demand was worth more than the New York Times.

Those days are long gone. Google soon got hip to the lack of value to online readers of most content-mill writing. It started changing its algorithm to exclude such sites from its search results. (When’s the last time you got a link to eHow on page one of a Google search? Yeah.)

The company’s founder and CEO quit in October 2013, having pocketed his millions from the stock offering.

If you’ve been wondering what’s happened since, let me give you a content mill update here.

The short version: Mass SEO-focused content sites are in a death spiral. If you earn much of your money writing for mills or big revenue-share sites, you need a new game plan.

The shift from quantity to quality

In its fight to stay the top search engine, Google has moved aggressively to make sure its search results remain highly useful. That’s created a sea change in what’s important in online writing.

Now, you can have huge traffic on your site and a ton of content, but if that content isn’t highly useful, you may still not end up with a profitable site. Readers don’t stay, and they increasingly don’t click on ads, anyway.

All the websites that depend on this model — mass content to get ad clicks — are in terrible trouble. If you’ve noticed a downturn in how many mill assignments are available, or that pay is getting smaller, there’s a reason.

Content mills don’t make money, so they can’t pay you any, either.

Charting the decreasing Demand

Let’s look at what’s happened to investors’ feelings about Demand Media since it went public in fall 2011 at $17 a share. Yes, it’s just one content mill, but one of the biggest survivors (Associated Content merged into Yahoo! and then shut down last year, for instance). You can extrapolate that if things are going wrong at Demand, other mills with a similar business model are experiencing the same thing.

Back when, Demand investors thought this was an exciting, disruptive business that was going to transform publishing forever. On its debut, the stock shot up. But here’s what their stock has done in the past six months:

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.51.07 PM

Why is Demand worth so much less than before? Because traffic is shrinking, and revenue and profits are vaporizing as a result. As of the end of September (freshest data available), Demand had made $108 million in 2014 — and declared a loss on that of nearly $250 million.

By contrast, Demand made over $158 million in the same period in 2013, and its loss was under $9 million. It was a struggling company then. Now, it’s an imploding company.

Why the impressive losses? Simple: Less traffic.

Here are traffic charts for Demand Studios and its eHow site from Alexa:

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 1.25.43 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.42.29 PM

(Yes, I know Alexa isn’t super-accurate, but these charts are looking similar on SEMRush and other tools, too.)

Notice how those declining traffic curves resemble the stock-price chart? That’s because as traffic goes down on an ad-based site, less money comes in. A lot less. That means the stock is worth less, too.

To sum up, if you cleared $100 from your blog last year, you netted more than Demand Studios. If you ever wondered why content mills don’t pay writers more, it’s because even paying you a pittance, they’re not making a profit.

Closing time

What happens when a company loses that much money? Cutbacks and desertions. At Demand, a couple months after the bad loss news came out last fall, it meant the company closed all their foreign offices and stopped assigning articles for their non-English websites.

And this month, more executives jumped ship to other, more stable companies. When people with inside information, who’re earning a good salary inside a company, are stampeding out the door — leaving a company that probably gave them stock options — you know the outlook isn’t good.

Look back far enough, and you’ll see this was always a pipe dream. Demand only made a profit in one of the past five years, and it was a pittance compared to the losses they’ve racked up. Masses of garbage content driving ad revenue was never a business — it was a theory that didn’t pan out.

And Demand knows it. That’s why they now own ecommerce marketplaces Society6, Pluck, and Saatchi Art.

They’re diversifying. Moving on to other types of business that make money. Are you?

It’s not just Demand

In case you think plummeting traffic is just a problem at this particular content mill, and you could simply flee to some other mass-content platform that’s still doing well, let me show you a couple other traffic charts.

These sites aren’t mills, but also make their revenue off ads placed on masses of quickie content:

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.42.42 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 1.38.13 PM

An era is ending here, both for these sites, and for writers reliant on income from them.

Quickly written articles that are mostly SEO fodder for search-engine robots to read don’t work anymore.Β  In the future, you can expect there to be less and less opportunity to write these, and less and less pay for whatever assignments of this type remain.

The main takeaway: This downturn in traffic on mass quick-content sites is not a fad, a fluke, or a momentary aberration. It’s a downward spiral that will not be reversed. Google continues to update its algorithms, on a mission to exclude these sorts of sites from search results.

Writing for content mills is a dying occupation.

The good news for writers

This may be upsetting news, if you are currently earning a decent portion of your income from content mills.

But there is an enormous silver lining.

With the fall of junk mass content comes the rise of in-depth, high-quality content that readers find super-useful. Companies will still use content to get visitors to their sites, because it’s way cheaper and more effective than traditional advertising.

If you can write it, there is going to be ample opportunity to earn well online in the coming years. Coming up, companies will be competing to post the most valuable content possible on their sites. Because that’s how businesses get traffic, find new customers and make sales.

It’s time to stop signing into a content-mill dashboard, and learn how to prospect and find better clients. They’re the ones who’ll be hiring writers for fat, better-paying content projects in the months and years to come.

What’s your prediction for the future of content mills? Share your take in the comments.

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70 comments on “Content Mill Update: What Demand Studios’ Implosion Means for Writers
  1. Linda H says:

    I agree with Carol that trolling Craigslist won’t get your well-paying jobs, at least 98% of the time it won’t. I don’t even troll anymore. My key marketing tools are my LinkedIn profile, which needs updating, and my website, which is also in need of a tune up. Yet from both those resources I’ve recently landed a website content writing gig and a ghostwriting gig that are both going to be great opportunities and will pay well. I often get calls from people demanding quick turnarounds on their “typing needs” where they offer me $50 for the job. I say my hourly rate is $65 and if they scoff and repeat the $50/hr figure I make sure they’re aware I charge $65/hr. They often hang up. They want a lot for little and I don’t work that way.

    Job seekers are given the same advice–don’t troll job boards, research your markets and find the place you want to work then approach them. This lands clients better paying jobs that are of higher quality than those they find trolling job boards.

    I probably lose a lot of work because my website is weak, but at the same time I land a lot of work because of it–and the jobs pay well, not a little. My goal is to earn what Carol describes that she earns. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there. It comes from researching my markets and working the findings. You can’t earn the same kind of money from trolling job boards, people listing those jobs aren’t interested in paying good wages they are interested in finding someone who’ll dole out for little so they can reap the rewards.

    Market smart and earn, it’s what differentiates well-paid successful freelancers from those who enjoy writing but can’t survive.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks β€” Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  2. Sean says:

    I am so glad that I didn’t fall for the content mills site. I just can’t see how you can make a living that way at a cut throat wage. People need to eat.
    Sean recently posted…Thoughts on the Ferguson AmbushMy Profile

  3. Gary Cunnane says:

    Thanks Carol, for the encouraging news. I am finding two trends as I search daily for new opportunities. First, there are far less ads in Craigslist, Indeed and other sites, placed by obvious content mills. That is a good thing. I also feel that their are a great many former content writers to compete with when a real potential client posts an ad for a writer. I used to get a response, with much higher frequency, two years ago, than I do today. I feel that is because standing out among the hoards is becoming more difficult. Many content writers are applying for positions that they may not be qualified for, but think they are, creating a myriad where the shining stars are harder to spot for those who seek quality writers. In addition many former and current mill writers are still willing to work at a lower rate tightening the competition and lowering the average rate in the US.

    • Carol Tice says:

      The trend of more writers competing on ads…just means it’s time to stop looking at ads and find your own clients. Most good writing gigs are never advertised. I think many former mill writers are going to move on to doing something else entirely for a living, if they only had basic “SEO article writing” skills.

      • Gary Cunnane says:

        That is not necessarily true. If I am a lawyer or roofing company and need a writer for articles to improve my SEO I will advertise for one. That is how I found two of my best clients, from an ad. Here is a writer who substantiates this and gives some great advice. http://creativegenius.hubpages.com/hub/Search-for-Freelance-Writing-Jobs
        My own client needed more than just me to fill the needs of his multiple websites. He ran a couple ads and received replies from over one hundred “experienced” writers. More than he could deal with. After tweaking his requirements, that number was reduced by 50 percent, but still overwhelming. My advice to him was to look on LinkedIn.
        Ignoring ads for a freelance content writer is ignoring a valuable resource. Granted, I have acquired clients from recommendations and at least a couple by approaching them directly. I am not and never have been a mill writer. I did start out working for mini mills which call themselves web developers or marketing companies, but they are not mills per se.
        People who have made money in the past as writers are not going to walk away easily if a source dries up. They do it because they like it, in many cases, and will try keep up. If I quit when things dried up, as they did at least once, I would simply be a quitter and not a writer.
        Gary Cunnane recently posted…Ten Days of St Patrick’s Day at the New Asbury Park BiergartenMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Well, I certainly agree with that writer you linked to that if you ARE going to spend time trolling Craigslist, you have to learn to do it in a very efficient way that cuts right to the gigs you want.

          Gary, I’d wager that your idea of a ‘best’ client and mine are very different. For instance, I got offered $500 a blog post this week, which is roughly what I’m averaging these days, $3500 for short business-plan projects, and I get more than $1 a word for articles. None of these clients come from ads.

          Yes, every once in a while someone great wanders onto Craigslist because they haven’t heard it’s a cesspit. But it’s so rare. Your time is usually more productively spent doing your own prospecting — or that’s what I found in my analysis of my own marketing back in 2010. I got some OK clients, but they were never my best clients, from mass ads. Niche online job boards were better. But ultimately, strong inbound marketing (great writer website and LinkedIn profile, people seeing my post on big blogs) and prospecting yielded better-paying work for better companies and more enjoyable projects.

          Try it, you’ll like it!

  4. Ian Marshall says:

    This is a very interesting post, I’ve only dipped my toes in the Content Mill world but it never really seemed to offer value for time. However, a few of the smaller sites I write for have a slightly unclear approach to making revenues from their content so I hope they don’t get caught up in the same way in the future (although I think the content is generally a little bit more helpful than your average “mill”

    Thanks for the useful information

  5. Stacey says:

    As frustrating as it is, I’ve had content mills approach me recently seeking content for free and who’ll tell me they will pay me if I get enough clicks. They’re not making money and they think it’s the writers fault? Ah, okay.

    I am looking forward to the days of creating valuable content that is actually valued. Bring it on!
    Stacey recently posted…How much travel planning should you do?My Profile

  6. Sue Masaracchia-Roberts says:

    Carol, your information, as always, is very encouraging and helpful. I am in the “Den” – always trying to improve my craft but must admit I have written for Examiner for about three or four years just to show recent clips. Since I had not written professionally for several years, this was my impetus. I am ashamed to say I seldom make more than pennies per month, posting an article/month. I put a lot of work into producing quality articles and meeting their photo requirements, plus getting things onto YouTube — just as a would for a better paying client. It takes me at least five hours per article which is certainly not worth the pay; as a result, I am about to abandon working for them. It’s a rip-off when it comes to my time, which is worth more to me than the pay I receive. I hope all the content mills go down in flames! Keep up the great service you provide, Carol!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sue, I’m sorry to hear you slogged along on Examiner for so many years earning pennies. It’s not even a great source of clips because of the platform’s poor reputation.

      I look forward to hearing about you landing some clients that pay guaranteed cash!

  7. First, I feel the need to say that I’m glad Demand got theirs. I wrote for them for about 3 weeks, kept having problems with them accepting my stuff and finally I decided to move on, frustrated.

    Content mills… well, I think there’s still a place for them, only they call themselves things like Huffington Post. It’s interesting to try to figure out what they do that’s different, since at least half of what you see on that site is opinion and not fact.

    Thus, it’s proof that Google doesn’t really care about facts as much as popularity, even if they don’t tell you that’s what the issue is. In that case, there are, and will be others, who follow a model like that, maybe finding a niche like entertainment (where we all know lots of lies are born) because it attracts visitors who aren’t necessarily looking for truth but scuttlebutt.

    Sounds kind of cynical I know but maybe there are sites, like Search Engine Land, that will find topics they can write on that people will actually use to help them. Heck, now you’ve got me thinking… πŸ™‚
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…Blogging DedicationMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know…HuffPo’s traffic is way down, too. But it’s still one of the biggest sites in the US. I think they have enough writers with cred and an editorial staff…clearly, Google has penalized it, but still thinks its content has value to some.

      This made me curious to run my own client, Forbes, which does mass content but has a lot of trained journalists, including me, writing for the blog, as well as trainings for the bloggers…and its traffic and rankings are actually up over the past six months. Looks like it took a hit last fall — believe Google did another big change then? — but it’s recovered nicely.

      So. If you can put up masses of fairly quality, fresh content, you can still get a lot of traffic from Google. And Forbes serves up custom-sold, highly relevant ads that I think they do well with.

      But the real secret is how much you can earn *without* mass traffic, just helping a niche audience. As you see me doing here. πŸ˜‰

  8. Uh, one anomoly here – I still write for and sell articles at constantcontent.com… my last sale was in January, 2015… if you spell it wrong, or leave a space between the 2 words, you will be sent to a “this site is available” error message…

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s interesting to know, Marc. I see from Alexa that their traffic is now too small to be measured by the site — it’s ranked at less than the top 100,000 sites. Not exactly impressive.

      While they may exist still, it doesn’t mean they’re a very happening platform at this point. I actually have a *lot* more monthly traffic here on this blog.

  9. Chelsea says:

    When I was fresh out of college in 2010, I was thrilled to get hired as a writer for Demand Studios. It was so easy to write 8 or so articles a day and earn far more money than my unemployed classmates who couldn’t get a job for the life of them.

    I had read online that I was writing for a content mill & would have to get my stuff together before the business totally tanked… I accepted it & kept my career moving forward with different internships & other opportunities, and I’m so glad I did. Now I make at least 10x the price of what Demand paid per article, and I’m not in a race against the clock or trying to people-please sub-par, self-inflated editors.

    I can’t imagine scrambling to get through 8 posts a day anymore… especially since the quality of my writing has increased so much & the posts take more time to put together.
    Chelsea recently posted…Keep the Valentine Glow: 4 Money Talks to Boost Your LibidoMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You point out one of the big problems with mill writing — it’s not sustainable. Yes, you could write 8 posts a day real fast for a few months perhaps, but do you see yourself doing it 5 years from now? Most of us would say no.

  10. It’s nice to read an article about content mills in this day of age, Carol, thanks for keeping us updated.

    I was recently working with a client a few weeks ago, and part of my job is coming up with good title ideas that fit with their niche.

    Two our of three ideas were promptly rejected because, according to the client, those titles are too difficult to rank on the search engines.

    I know the client makes the rules, but it saddened me seeing him put so much emphasis on search engine results. Instead of focusing on more powerful tactics (building a quality email list and social media following) he instead chooses to throw away such potentially great ideas.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that your article reminded me of this. One should never place so much focus on search engines.

    Enjoy your night.
    Elvis – long-time lurker.
    Elvis Michael recently posted…Self-published Book Authors: Tired of High Word Count? Here’s What to Do…My Profile

  11. Linda H says:

    I’ve never written for a content mill but I’ve been approached by what I call “content mill resume organizations” who seek out resume writers for $40-$60/resume. I recently got an email from a resume organization out of the U.K. asking if I was interested in writing C-level resumes for that amount. I didn’t even think twice, I charge $450-$800 and up for C-level resumes and have international clients who contact me through LinkedIn or my website.

    New resume writers may think it’s a great opportunity when starting out, but you have to write at least 800-1,000 words per resume. You conduct interviews, do research, and spend a minimum 2 hrs writing the resume and cover letter. Your average ROI is about $3-$5/hr with that amount of work. I average much more working solo. But it’s work and you need a solid website, a strong LinkedIn profile, and to get your name out there.

    I believe it’s the same in freelance writing. It’s work, and it can be daunting.

    Demand Studio’s demise may cull the herd of wannabe writers and those truly professional writers. If you want to make a living writing, I agree with Angie and others’ check out Carol’s book on “How To Get Great Freelance Clients.” She has several other books available through Amazon or her website that are equally helpful.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks β€” Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad you found ‘Get Great Clients’ helpful, Linda!

      • Linda H says:

        Carol,

        All the books you’ve written and offered as e-books have been great. I’ve learned from every one of them even if it’s just a tweak to an idea, a better process for business operations, or marketing. I use those ideas to help my clients find jobs by improvising the theme. So your materials have helped more than me just from one resource. I’m starting to get better at my work/life balance and one of those is to include time to relisten to the podcasts, do the reading and homework for the various bootcamps, and get into the Den more to read more posts and comment. I recommend your books and training often.
        Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks β€” Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  12. Carol, you’ve touched on some very clear issues here. Thank-you for such an informative post.

    I had plans of joining a content mill at one point, but after seeing the prices offered — I realised that while I could make some quick cash there, it wouldn’t be much and would never pay-off long-term.

    Clients have been hard to come by, but the learning to find consistent clients is a much more valuable long-term skill, in my opinion.

    I see the ending of content mills to be something of benefit.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Obviously, so do I — and not just to writers, but to Internet researchers everywhere, looking for valid information.

      I personally have never read a post on eHow that seemed accurate. The world is well rid of junk content.

  13. MattRiddle says:

    In light of this article, I was reminded of a nagging juvenile thought and I put it up in the [Den] forum because I just had to. Any takers?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Matt, most of my readers aren’t Den members, so I’ve removed the link — would just be frustrating to folks. But I think there’s plenty of chat in the Den about it!

  14. Steph Weber says:

    You’re right, Carol. For years, newbie writers thought that was the only way “in.” And for all those who have come out on the other side, they’re seeing that was more a diversion than a straight path to success.

    I haggled with the mills on and off for about six months starting out. I’ve never used those clips in my portfolio and I was paid pennies. It sooo wasn’t worth the time.

    Now, thank to writers like you and Linda, you’re starting to chip away at that facade, and writers are seeing the light.

  15. Steph Weber says:

    This may sound horrible, but content mills can’t disappear fast enough. Too many writers get bogged down by them when they should be earning a fair wage.

    I’ve gotten much better at screening prospective clients, but every once in a while, I come across someone who thinks paying $.05 a word is generous.

    Yeah, those are fun conversations πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know, I keep hearing, “But they’re a good place to start, gain confidence, and get a portfolio.”

      All lies. The kind of writing they teach you isn’t like anything that pays well, the editors I gather are quite capricious so it’s not necessarily a confidence builder, and often you can’t use anything you wrote for the mill in your portfolio.”

      What mills are is a dead end. If their pay works for you, enjoy it while you can. But this is not the foundation of a lucrative freelance-writing career.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I thought they were going to disappear a couple years back…but it takes a long time to die. They have to exhaust their capital and realize the model is never going to turn around.

      Many mills will tinker with what they’re doing in hopes of finding a new winning formula. We’ll see if any can succeed at that. I know Demand was one of the first to start down that road, and they’re just losing a fortune. No sign there is a better mass-junk model that makes a profit.

      I know it must be ironic to writers to see that they’re so underpaid, and the company *still* can’t turn a profit off their backs! But it’s true. It’s a lose-lose business situation.

  16. Kinya says:

    Carol, your advice is always spot on. When I search for something in the search engines, and eHow shows up as a result, I skip right over it. Their content never helps me. It just makes me mad that I clicked on it.

    I read an ebook a couple of weeks ago about affiliate marketing. It suggested that I use places like iWriter to get my articles written. “You can quality writers who are willing to work for $5 an article,” it said. I just shook my head and stopped reading.

    By quality, they mean quickly researched garbage. As a writer, I know how much research actually goes into a quality article. I have to find my approach, get several authoritive sources, make an outline for my article, find out what kind of quotes I want to use, do a rough draft, proofread like crazy, and then send it in to an editor. At best this takes me 6 hours to complete; maybe 4 if I’m super familiar with the subject.

    You’re not getting that kind of work for $5. Not from anybody.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yes, the word “quality” has completely lost its meaning, hasn’t it? I gather it means “passes Copyscape.”

      We’ll have to coin another word for what we mean — I’m thinking “super-useful” works. πŸ˜‰

    • Christine says:

      I feel that, Kinya! Sometimes it takes even longer if you are able to get an interview with an expert. I was listening to one of Carol’s audios where she mentioned how important it was to interview real people who are experts in their fields, have written a recent book, etc. and actually talk to them…it gives you more than just what they or someone else has already put out there… That was one thing that really stuck with me. Sometimes it can take a couple days up to a week to hear back from someone you pitch to to get an interview! But it’s well worth it, I think. Of course, then there’s your writing (which for me takes about eh same length of time as you) and then determining what’s valuable from the interview and what isn’t. It makes for far better quality articles.
      Christine recently posted…Seven Months In Business & 7 Things I LearnedMy Profile

      • Kinya says:

        Exactly Christine. But, as Carol mentioned, the people who pay you what you’re worth know what well-written content is worth. $1 per word is actually really cheap compared to what the article I’m writing does for that company. It brings in sales, it boosts their authority in that niche, and it helps with traffic on their website and search engine rankings. That is why their business is successful though: they know that investing in it properly pays off. If you’re cheap with your marketing (focusing on cost instead of quality), and you keep cutting corners just to line your pockets, eventually it’s going to catch up with you.

        • Christine says:

          I completely agree, Kinya. Even so, knowing that you need to have reasonable rates vs actually implementing them can feel a bit daunting. I find that I can get wrapped up in anxieties and “what if it’s not really worth that and I’m just fooling myself” thoughts. I feel like you really have to get objective about what you’re doing and what you’re offering and get out of your head to really stand behind your rates. This is just an example that just because you ‘know’ doesn’t mean you feel you can do.
          Christine recently posted…Wanderlust vs SettledMy Profile

  17. Tony Lopes says:

    Thank you for this excellent article, Carol. It’s an example of the quality content that will always so well.

    What are your thoughts on sites that are mainly curated content? Will these go the same way?
    Tony Lopes recently posted…Loskop DamMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad you asked, and yes I do, Tony. The Scoop.its of the world serve no real purpose except to create duplicate content…which Google doesn’t like.

      I know a few people who use them for research…but when have you ever seen them at the top of a search result? Doomed.

  18. Christine says:

    I recently read an ebook someone wrote about how to make money online as a writer and the number one suggestion she had to create an ‘easy’ income was signing up for a content mill and doing several articles per week. The thing is, I discovered this AFTER I’d encountered your blog so I was already informed that content mills was not the way to earn a good income.

    I also think that companies ought to expect they need to pay for the value you provide as a content writer. Perhaps it’s not the worst thing to accept an assignment from a content mill if only to build up something that looks like a portfolio, but to attempt to make a living off it and getting upset because it doesn’t pay enough is silly.

    I recently submitted an application to a content writing position I found being advertised on Craigslist (I know, not the best quality place to look for jobs…but when you’re feeling desperate for work, you just do some things you regret later), and I was offered $15 per article (250 word articles)… I charge about .85 a word as a freelancer when a company or individual asks me my rates and I haven’t had anyone say that it was completely unreasonable… So I laughed at the $15 and just scrolled on by.

    I think the key is to really look at the value you’re providing the company/individual and determine that your efforts are worth the money they’ll spend on you. Sticking to your guns is key and being up front–a good communicator really–is super important because it also makes you seem more professional too.

    If an accountant was wishy-washy about what they charged, I’d wonder if they were any good. If they said, “Well, it took this much time to do this (and I charge x dollars for this per hour/per package), so here is my invoice which must be paid on such and such a date.” I’d feel more at ease. I think building those relationships, building the trust, and ensuring you’ve assigned value to what you’re offering–perhaps you negotiate a price by saying “well the price will remain the same, however, I can add this service on for you if you sign up today.”

    I apologise if I’ve gone on a bit of ramble…but I feel like those are the main keys to making a good living writing, which every writer deserves, and I don’t feel like content mills respect that.
    Christine recently posted…Exciting New Ways to Help YOU Write Your Book!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Christine, you spotlight one big reason mills don’t pay much — it’s because the content doesn’t really matter, just the key words in it.

      Clients pay more when what you write matters urgently for building the reputation of the company, and has to be engaging, info-packed, and super-valuable.

      • I think this is going to be the quotable moment of the week, “Demand Media–when content doesn’t matter.” πŸ™‚

        • Carol Tice says:

          Well, useful content *does* matter, Daisy — but junk content no longer has value. Or maybe you meant, *where* content doesn’t matter?

          Increasingly, I think you’ll see the content side of their business become less important to Demand. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them spin off, sell off, or shut down that end of it in the next year or two.

  19. I’ve been writing for a content mill (although not one of those named) for quite a while now. The pay isn’t great but most of the time I’d managed to find fairly regular work. Since the start of this year I’ve been working hard to try and break away, and I’ve spent a lot more time focusing on trying to find clients independently. So far I’ve had little success and I can’t afford to give up my income from the content mill, but I’ve found the advice here and some of Carol’s books very helpful. So I’m not giving up – I’m determined that this will be the year I finally get to make and independent living writing. I’ll definitely be following ‘Make a Living Writing’ very closely!
    Elizabeth Manneh recently posted…Helping Your Child Grow Food for Packed LunchesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I never recommend people give up one kind of writer income before they find the next. You might want to check out the ebook banner at the bottom if you don’t know how to find good clients that would pay far more than mills.

  20. Ann says:

    This article is not surprising. As an experienced communications professional and writer, I always felt the pay being offered from content mills was insulting and that there had to be a better way to find writing assignments, so I sought out work elsewhere. I’m having more success networking and meeting people who want quality and well written material. It’s taking some time to grow, but this approach is better than feeling devalued because you are just giving your talent and writing away.
    Ann recently posted…The Power of the PitchMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      The thing most writers miss, Ann, is that mills were never set up to benefit writers. They were set up to earn money for the site owners.

      When I interviewed mill owners, they’d tell me their typical writer is a housewife who wants an extra $50 a month to go dine out with their spouse. They were never meant to be a way to try to make a living — it’s only writers who got that idea in their head. And then they wrote and wrote, and for the most part, starved.

  21. Genevieve says:

    I have written for content mills off and on, when I could not find better clients. I have done that sort of work at times when even the few pennies I picked up through those sites were worth the time and trouble to get them. The work is the equivalent of begging out on the street. I have a feeling that going out with my little tin cup could actually be more profitable than writing for those sites.

    What I have found, and that is scary, is that is getting harder to find good private clients, because few people have the money to spend now. I had been specializing in ghostwriting memoirs and novels for a number of years. Excellent experience, and it gave me a chance to develop my craft while being paid for it.

    Now, I need to seriously rethink the writing services that I offer; looking for services that the local businesses would find attractive, and be willing to pay for, and ways to get the word out that I do this for a living.

    In the meantime, I am looking at blogs that pay a better rate, and working to build relationships with some of these blog owners, so that I can use them as references for better paying jobs, and possibly break into the print market.

    • Angie Mansfield says:

      Genevieve, I recommend the e-book in the banner at the end of Carol’s post – ‘How to Get Great Freelance Clients.” It’ll be a huge help to you in finding those businesses that can and will pay professional rates.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Thanks for the testimonial, Angie! And I guess that *is* an example of how I sell here on the blog.

        That e-book takes you step-by-step through how to qualify the kind of freelance clients that have good-paying, ongoing work for you. That’s what writers should be doing if they want to build a truly valuable business.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Genevieve, unless you’re ghosting memoirs for major-company CEOs or wealthy individuals, that’s a niche that doesn’t pay enough. You need a different client to make that a good business.

      Local small business doesn’t have the money, either. Think bigger.

      There are plenty of good-paying corporate blogging gigs out there. You don’t need to break into print necessarily — there are a ton of good-paying online writing opportunities, if you know how to qualify and pitch the right clients.

      • Christine says:

        Thanks for the tip, Carol. I’m also in ghostwriting but I’ve broken into coaching as well as many people cannot afford a fully ghostwritten book. I have to charge a reasonable amount for them as they are very time consuming and quite a lot of work–of course, this took some time to learn! Now I’m offering writing coaching and I’ll do the odd article on the side. I’d definitely like to figure out how to get more regular clients for content writing–whether it’s for copywriting, blogging, or other promotional material. I find a lot of people expect that something like that should be done for free or for barter-exchange. Normally I don’t mind doing some bartering, but at the end of the day, bills still have to be paid. The grocery doesn’t accept “good energy” in exchange for food unfortunately.
        Christine recently posted…Exciting New Ways to Help YOU Write Your Book!My Profile

  22. Cari says:

    I was turned away from Demand as a food writer because I didn’t have enough “expertise” (evidently my freelance work for The Washington Post Food Section was not enough). It was indeed a blessing in disguise. Writer friends who do write for them have entertained me with tales of inconsistent writing standards and ill-informed editors. Glad I dodged the bullet and that the sun is setting on their model.

  23. Michelle says:

    Yeah, I wrote for content mills back when I started freelancing in 2011. Classic newbie mistake. Even back then, Demand’s amount of available work was all over the place. Ques for assignments would dry up overnight. No work available, then they culled the herd, claiming “my writing wasn’t up to their standards.” Then I got a job doing staff writing for a magazine, now I’m on pace to gross my staff income in freelancing pay (knock on wood). Not up to standard, indeed…

    • Carol Tice says:

      What a great story, Michelle! Love hearing about writers freelancing for good pay. I too, replaced my staff writer income — and then blew it away. πŸ˜‰ Hopefully that’s next for you!

      I think 2011 is when Demand started tinkering with their model in hopes of making it profitable. But they’ve never found a mode that works, obviously.

  24. Wow, Carol, I remember you writing a post about Demand a year or so ago predicting this very thing! I used to write for a mill and I think I got payout twice: once because someone I recommended got accepted and once because I churned out a lot of content. Altogether it was less than $100.

    I don’t mind working hard, but I do like to be compensated fairly. The high earners appeared to be the ones in celebrity news or politics, which weren’t my beat.

    I’m grateful that you keep us posted on these kinds of things. I’ll keep working on the decent paying markets, thank you very much!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks, Brenda.

      I try to do regular updates on what’s going on in the mill world so writers know what the reality is, and was a little mad at myself to see it had been more than a year since I’d done one! Not sure how that happened.

      I follow Demand stock and get news alerts, and I’ve been getting nearly daily notices triggered because of how Demand’s stock keeps hitting new 12-month lows, practically every day. I will try to stay on top of this more!

      Obviously, Demand can’t lose this much money for long before going bust. Their net assets have shrunk substantially, and if they keep losing at this rate, I’d forecast they can’t go more than a year or two longer, at most.

      They have other businesses at this point, and spun off their domain name biz into a separate entity. So they decide to simply shut down their content business, any day now, to preserve cash. I won’t be surprised if that’s the way it goes.

  25. I think that the mindset of content mills is an unfortunat legacy in the marketplace. If you look at some freelancing sites there are still oodles of jobs on offer with rates that professional writers would find impossible to live on. The demise of the content mill mentality – and exploitation of writers – is disruptive but ultimately positive. The next challenge may be educating businesses about the value of good writing.
    Derek Thompson recently posted…All For One – AnthologiesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I totally agree with you — it is disruptive but positive in the end. I get emails from writers in India, Pakistan, and elsewhere who’re semi-literate in English, asking what they do next, now that rates for mill work are crashing and demand is drying up. I tell them to learn to code, because if you’re not fluent, the writing opportunity in English is going to vanish. Those who can write sophisticated material are going to do well, though.

  26. John Coutts says:

    I wrote for a content mill once, many years ago now. I submitted my first article. only to have it rejected and be told that I needed to correct the “spelling errors”.

    I went over that article with a fine tooth comb, but couldn’t find a single spelling error, so I sent it back saying there were no spelling errors.

    The editor replied saying that I had written “lose” when I should have written “loose”. Unfortunately, the editor was wrong and didn’t seem to understand that to suffer a loss is to lose; he was telling me that I should have used a word meaning not tight to describe a loss.

    I decided he was an idiot, which was actually a good thing as I went from there to finding well-paid writing work with sensible clients. I never wrote for a content mill again, and I never will.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ll always be glad that my husband was turned down for the video side of Demand, even though he has a degree in motion picture/TV from UCLA! Mill rules seem to be pretty random, and as you found, editorial standards are pretty spotty. I thought it might be an opportunity for him, but as I learned more, I became glad we didn’t waste any time there.

  27. C.S. Jones says:

    I certainly hope this is true: I’m very tired of the content mill model and clients who think 5 cents a word is “crazy prices.”

    However, I do have to wonder how much of this is a decline in the content mill model vs. how much is simply a loss of peoples’ will to click on ads in general. If it’s the latter, then how are those of us providing genuinely helpful content in a different boat than the click farms?

    I hope I don’t sound too cynical; this is a genuine question.
    C.S. Jones recently posted…Yume-Hime, Page 20My Profile

    • C.S.: I think the answer to your question is including properly targeted ads on your own site. If you’re writing awesome content, and then put up ads for things that relate to that content, people will still be willing to click. Provided, of course, that the ads feature things of value to them!

      Affiliate marketing, for instance, works great for lots of writers. You can sell related products — like access to Carol’s Freelance Writers Den, or any of her boot camps — on your own writing site, and anytime someone signs up, you reap the benefits.

      It’s not a pay-per-click model, and that’s why it’ll still work even after the content mill’s ship has sunk.
      Laura Roberts recently posted…Love Under Two Outcasts: An interview with Cara CovingtonMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        I’m with Laura — the whole Pay-Per-Click thing doesn’t pay off for most online sites. You need a situation like Forbes, where it’s high-value content AND mass traffic to get ads to pay. Few will achieve that.

        Sell your own products of affiliate sell items you know are quality, at 30-50% commission or more. That’s a real business model. But it depends on building authority and trust.

    • Angie says:

      Because those of us providing valuable content for real businesses are writing it for a goal other than getting people to click on ads. The goal of our content is to inform, engage readers, and build our clients’ reputation…so that when readers are ready to buy what the client offers, they’ll think of that business first.

      It’s an entirely different model from just trying to entice people to a page so they’ll click on ads.
      Angie recently posted…Want more website traffic? Inbound marketing can help.My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s a completely legit question, C.S., and an important one for bloggers to think about.

      The model that succeeds is finding a niche audience and delivery quality information that constructively helps their lives in a meaningful way. You don’t need mass traffic. Mass traffic does not equal success. That was true in the early days of the Internet, but not anymore.

      Successful websites generally use a different model than slapping a bunch of Google AdWords up.

      For instance, you’ll notice there are no ads on my site. If I’m selling one of my own classes or maybe a product I’ve used before, there might be one sidebar ad, for a limited time.

      You have to build trust and authority to get people to click and buy yourself. The problem with these mass sites is they don’t have that trust, because the content is obvious junk.

      I offer hand-selected items on subpages that I know my readers would find useful. That’s it. The visitor experience is that there’s tons of useful stuff. If they never want to hit the subpages or buy anything, that’s fine. They’re free to read without obnoxious ads coming every 5 lines.

  28. I absolutely hate content mills. I started with Content Authority and then moved to iWriter, then I realized that content mills are terrible, and I can make way more money finding clients on my own.

    I was always under the impression that these mills will die pretty soon. The push towards quality content is really making these mills have to step up their game or opt-out. In my mind, mills are the absolute last resort, if I can’t find clients anywhere, and I really need some cash, then I’ll do some work for a mill. Fortunately, I’m never THAT desperate.

    Anyways, I prefer to write quality articles anyways, I’m tired of writing quick articles about crap that nobody cares about. Most of my income doesn’t come from mills so I’m not worried about the decline. Thanks for the article!
    Timothy Torrents recently posted…5 Simple Ways to Make Money as a Freelancer in TaiwanMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Writers who have the skills to write truly useful, in-depth content are going to do well in the future, Timothy — sounds like you’re well-positioned.

      I knew mills were going down, but I was surprised to see the extent by which their traffic is evaporating. In another six months, who knows where it will be! One of the mills I checked into at this point doesn’t have much more traffic than this little blog you’re reading here, which only posts twice a week, as opposed to the hundreds of pieces of junk the mills might put up in a single day.

      • Irene Ross says:

        Carol, As always, thank you for your update on this. I’ve always hated content mills, but I hope the other “marketing companies” who try to follow this business model wake up and realize that it just doesn’t work.
        I remember I was once called to meet with the owner of a website, and the topic did seem very interesting. However, when he told me what the pay was, I must have recoiled, because he looked me straight in the eye and said, “We purposely keep the pay low, but we make up for it in quantity.” It amazes me that there are still plenty of people out there who think the answer is key-word stuffed garbage.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Yes, anywhere the client is paying $10 a post because he thinks he needs thousands of pieces of content…that’s not a good client.

          At this point, it’s a client who has no idea how to get results anymore.