In this series, we personally test traditional online freelance marketplaces to share first-hand experiences and honest assessments of marketplaces and resulting jobs, as many freelance writers turn to these outlets to find writing gigs. You can read all the posts in the series here.

This week, I tried Amazon Mechanical Turk. Mechanical who? Why, Mechanical Turk. Yeah, the name doesn’t make any sense to me either.

Amazon Mechanical Turk’s tagline is, “Artificial Artificial Intelligence.” They act as a middle-man to website owners and workers. On Mechanical Turk you can find HITS (which are what the individual jobs are called) that entail doing transcription work, labeling photos, and writing blog posts and articles.

Now before, in the first paragraph, when I said I “tried” Amazon Mechanical Turk this week, I lied a little. I should have said I tried to try but then got physically ill and threw up a little in my mouth and decided that trying to try to do anything on Amazon Mechanical Turk is stupid.

Once Upon a Time….

I didn’t always feel that way. When I first started out I used Amazon Mechanical Turk. After earning a whopping $5.65 by labeling photos for someone I realized the site was not for me, but felt that it was a good option for people with a little extra time on their hands who needed some cash. Having gone through many embarrassingly poor patches during childhood, I know what it’s like when you need money now and Amazon Mechanical Turk is not the worst way to get it.

When I logged in to my old account yesterday I thought that I would take some writing HITS so that I could tell you how much I earned and give you tips and stuff. Turns out it was way easier and less time consuming than I thought it would be.

Freelance Writing Tips for Using Amazon Mechanical Turk


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Don’t use Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Okay, A Little More Detail…

The first writing HIT I found was for a 400 word article for $1.55. Did you get that? $1.55. Not only was the pay bad, but the instructions for SEO and formatting were about 139 words long. I mean, it would take me 30 minutes just to go through this person’s never-ending checklist to make sure I had even written the article according to spec. This person is so delusional he’s probably holding coal up his ass crack to try and squeeze out diamonds.

So I moved on to a different HIT thinking that this was just a fluke. Found one to write three 200 word or more posts on Easter baskets for $3.00. Now, before you point out that this is actually more per word than the one above, consider this—the guidelines/instructions for doing this gig were 645 words long! 645! WTF?

The Upshot

Many inexperienced freelancers out there will take this information and say—“See, freelance writing rates are going down. Content mills like Demand Studios are really the best way to go. They even try to provide health benefits and grants for creative pursuits!” The sad part about these inexperienced freelancers is that they have the key to unscrambling the low paying rates right there in their statement and they don’t even realize it.

Content mills and low paying webmasters like those who post their gigs on Amazon Mechanical Turk are losing in the money-making game and they know it. So they either start paying less (in the case of Amazon Mechanical Turk webmasters) to try and eke out a little profit from their Adsense or affiliate sales or they try crazy gimmicks like offering non-insurance health insurance and token grants to fill their factory of writers (in the case of Demand Studios) so that they can get more and more and more content to try and maintain earnings or get a small increase. Freelancers who spend their time finding private clients understand that, if anything, rates are going up for web writers--not down. They also understand that the contraction of the print industry it not a harbinger of doom for all writers, it's an indication of the popularity of online content--which means even more opportunity for high paying web content writing gigs.

If you are a good writer, don’t get sucked in to these sites. Set your own sites a little higher, market yourself, and define your career and your possibilities yourself—don’t let someone else do it for you.

Oh and, yes, Amazon Mechanical Turk is an offshoot of the real Amazon.com--but they are just a middle man. I wouldn't blame them for the rates.

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Yo Prinzel
Yolander Prinzel is the profit monster behind the Profitable Freelancer website. She has written for a number of publications and websites such as American Express, Covestor.com, Advisor Today, Money Smart Radio and the International Travel Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Her book, Specialty Ghostwriting: A New Way to Look at an Old Career, is currently available on Amazon.