If you missed the big news this past week: The Huffington Post (now officially known as HuffPo) ended its free-contributor channel, which had over 100,000 participating writers. Many writers online have bemoaned the death of free HuffPo posts, but I have a different reaction.
The end of unpaid HuffPo articles is part of a trend we’ll likely see more of this year — and I think it’s a good thing.
Yes, a tiny handful of writers seemed to get good clients through their unpaid HuffPo bylines, though the value of HuffPo exposure declined over time.
And quite a few writers were earning good money ghostwriting free HuffPo posts for thought leader/speaker/CEO types who didn’t have time to write their own authority-building pieces. So it wasn’t all bad.
But in the main, hordes of writers writing for free isn’t good.
Whether you’re happy or sad about the end of free HuffPo content, it’s important to understand what this change signifies in the marketplace. There are plenty of ways writers can benefit from these changing tides.
Here are seven key action items for freelance writers as the free HuffPo contributor channel fades away:
This is a hard letter to write. But I get letters from you every day, ESL writer, and I feel you deserve an answer.
You email me or hit me on Facebook, from Pakistan, or Kenya, or other points around the globe.
You’re not the rare ESL writer who’s impressively fluent, and whom I only learn from in-depth conversation wasn’t born speaking English.
No, you’re a writer who seems to think you’re fluent in English, but you aren’t. Not even close.
Despite your shaky grasp of English, you’ve fixed on the idea that freelance writing for English-speaking clients is the career for you. And you’re writing me because you want me to help you get paid writing gigs.
I’ve been working to spread hope to writers about the opportunities to earn from their craft for 8 years now. But I’m afraid today, I’m the bearer of bad news.
You probably don’t have the skills to earn a living writing in English. And I want you to encourage you to stop banging your head against this brick wall before you starve.
Are you trying to break free from writing for content mills?
You’re not alone. How to quit content mills and earn more than their rock-bottom rates is probably the single question I get asked the most.
It can be so easy to get sucked into content mill work, but it takes so much time and effort to write enough articles — and deal with the often contradictory edits — that it sucks up all your time, and you never can market yourself to find better paying work.
I’m doing a survey about content mill writing right now, and the pay rates writers report are appalling. We’re still collecting results, but with 300 in the can, I can report nearly half say they earn $5 an hour or less writing for mills, or for mill-type quickie-article gigs on the bid sites.
Man, that makes me mad to hear.
I’ve done quite a few posts on how to escape content mills, so I thought it was time to pull them together into one useful guide to help you move out of content mills and into better paying freelance writing gigs.
Remember 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.
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.
Many new writers looking to find that first place they can break in and start earning money from their craft end up signing up for a content mill.
Either that, or they end up discovering a revenue-share site like Examiner or Guardian Liberty Voice, or bidding for gigs on Elance.
Soon after, many of these writers send me emails like this one:
You may have missed it in the holiday crush, but a big deal went down right at the end of the year: oDesk announced it is merging with Elance. Yes, I spend most of my time discouraging writers from hanging…