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Associated Content Writers: You Are Trying To Unionize What, Now?

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Yesterday, Michelle Rafter Tweeted this little gem:

More on #Yahoo #AssociatedContent deal - AC writers attempting to unionize to have more say post acquisition. Details: http://bit.ly/dcV6Gw

Say what? Associated Content writers are trying to unionize? Yes. According to the pro-union article (which, ironically, is published on AC), AC writers feel as though they have rights that are being ignored. They also think that they should be at the table for negotiations about what they are going to get out of the deal.

Yes AC writers, you are correct—you do have rights. You have the right to stop writing for AC. You are not an AC employee. You willingly give them your content in exchange for a few pennies and, sorry to break it to you, that does not entitle you to negotiate with Yahoo or any other entity that AC partners with.

But you are also correct when you observe that your rights are being ignored, because they are. But not by AC—your rights are being ignored by YOU. As a self-employed individual, you work for you. YOU are your employer. YOU are the one who decides what “rights” you have and YOU are the one is ignoring your own rights.


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This is why, for years now, so many of us have urged you to move away from sites like Demand Studios, AC, HubPages, Helium, etc. They are making an inversely proportionate amount of money from your articles—and you are letting them. By writing for them you encourage this behavior and YOU tell them that it is okay to treat you this way.

No, this isn’t about how the rich just keep getting richer and you are a victim—this is about how YOU as a BUSINESS OWNER are victimizing yourself and looking for a scapegoat. Well go grab a mirror folks, because your scapegoat is you.

And this doesn’t even touch on the completely delusional idea that AC writers even CAN unionize. The post states that they will start working on appointing officers for the union and consider there to be "serious" interest once they reach 5,000 members. 5,000—out of the 380,000 writers who already write for AC. What is that, like 1.5% of the writers? Um… yeah… that sounds like a plan. Give us more money or 1.5% of your writers will leave. Wow. If you got 100% of the writers to leave and made new writers (excited by what they think is a great opportunity to get a byline on Yahoo) to stop signing up you may have some negotiating power—but the thing is—you won’t get that many.

And why is it that you are mad right now? Why is it that for the last few years whenever anyone tried to tell you not to keep letting AC take your work for pennies when you could be making so much more you got angry and defensive and accusatory—but now, all of the sudden, you understand what you’ve done and you want to get what you FINALLY realize that you deserved all along? Well, sorry but this is not a post-nuptial agreement. You gave them the cow and they didn’t buy the milk.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to appreciate this apparently effective wake up call and change your business plan, change your marketing approach, decide what your rights are and commit to ensuring them, and don't stay on the penny writing hamster wheel.

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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.

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29 Comments

  1. Cathy Miller May 21, 2010 Reply

    Great article, Yo! I hadn’t heard about AC writers trying to unionize. That’s a head scratcher.

    Ask about every freelancer why they began to freelance & almost to the pen (or keyboard), the answer is the freedom of it. So, go grab it, but know it means you’re the boss & only you can decide how you want to work.

    P.S. I hadn’t heard about Carol-that link isn’t working-I think it was bought. :-)

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

      Thanks Cathy :) I think I fixed the link.

  2. Michelle Rafter May 21, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the shout out Yo. I’m not sure AC writers could unionize, since technically they’re not AC employees. However, they could join a union, such as the National Writers Union, and have that organization represent them in a situation where they felt they where being exploited. Have to agree with you though, that maybe the best solution is for them to vote with their feet, as they say, and walk out of the situation and into better paying opportunities. And with the economy picking up, there are more of those every day.

    Michelle Rafter
    WordCount: Freelancing in the digital age

    • Jennifer Mattern May 21, 2010 Reply

      Based on US rules regarding legal labor unions, I’m not seeing anything that justifies AC writers trying to form one. There are other kinds of unions — ones that simply support members or try to get people to collectively agree to certain policies or practices. But that’s not the same as a labor union where union reps have a right to negotiate with employers on behalf of the group for employment contracts. This isn’t even a case of employees. It’s nice that people are waking up and wanting better, but as independent business owners it’s their responsibility to go out there and do better for themselves by taking on better gigs. If one of my clients were to sell one of their Web properties I write for, I don’t get a say in those negotiations. That’s not the way things work in the freelance world, and it’s a risk they took when they chose to make a mill / network / or whatever you want to call AC a significant part of their business model. Hence the problem of relying on a single 3rd party too much.

  3. Yo Prinzel Author
    Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

    You’re right Michelle–since they aren’t employees of AC the best they could do is create a union that is for AC writers. But that doesn’t mean that AC would have to recognize the union or allow the officers to represent the workers. When employees unionize, then the employer has no choice. As independent contractors, it’s different.

    As far as NWU–I can’t see them doing anything. I’m a member and they definitely stand up for writers and provide contract assistance and pursue possible copyright infringement issues, but I can’t imagine them saying, “Oh, you agreed to give them a 500 word article for $5, found out they made $1,000 on it and now you want your dues? Right on, we’ve got your back!” Or even, “So AC just got purchased by Yahoo and now you may no longer get residuals. Of course, your contract already spelled out that AC could change your residual agreement at any time but you just figured that wouldn’t happen (or didn’t actually read the contract) so, yeah–let’s get them suckas!”

    That is why it is so important that each of us learn that we hold all the power, all the bargaining chips and all the rights. We have to balance principals, goals and financial needs in order to come up with the fairest treatment of ourselves.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

      Ironically, here’s an article on AC about how employees can unionize. I haven’t fact checked it though :) http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/247521/how_to_create_a_union_at_work.html?cat=17

  4. jen May 21, 2010 Reply

    People are so freaking afraid of change that they can’t even think straight. I think many of these same people are those who were “burned” by eHow. I am interested, though, to see how this whole thing plays out. Do you think that Yahoo even has a plan, yet?

  5. Cyndi L May 21, 2010 Reply

    Wow. Just wow. I’m not wowing about the idea of unionizing (yeah, good luck with that), but about the acquisition. I’m one of the bloggers that got dumped this spring by b5media, and I felt cheated and used even though I got paid pretty well to write for them. I can’t even imagine the outrage of those who’ve written for this particular mill.

    When b5 terminated all of us, my immediate reaction was to look for writing work…any writing work. I explored all the mills, and decided against them. Not because I’m so smart, but just because I couldn’t step back that far in income and self-respect. The temptation, as you’re all aware, is to write for them because “something is better than nothing”. Well bull.

    I was fortunate enough to stumble into the middle of Jennifer’s e-book challenge, and I decided that was going to be my path. I’ve written the first chapter and released it for free to all my readers. The reaction has been great, and I plan to release subsequent chapters for a small fee. I may not make a whole lot off of it, but at least I’m not helping to bolster the seo and traffic of someone else’s site so they can sell it out from under me. Never again.

    Thanks for all you do here.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

      Good for you Cyndi! And your e-book probably makes a much better portfolio piece than an AC article would. Also, you could consider doing an e-book or white paper geared toward your target client as a free giveaway.

      • Cyndi L May 22, 2010 Reply

        That’s what I have done :-) My target clients are my readers. I’m not looking to get picked up by a publisher…I have a wonderful readership because thankfully I never gave up doing my own gig too during the time I was blogging for others.

  6. Mike May 21, 2010 Reply

    I’ve thought about doing work for the mills like Demand to “fill in the gaps” between decent writing gigs, but this is giving me pause. The money just doesn’t seem worth it.

  7. Carol Tice May 21, 2010 Reply

    Hi Yo –

    Thanks for the shout-out!

    I believe Jenn is correct that as freelancers, AC writers do not have the legal standing (which is too bad!) to form an effective union, one Yahoo would have to recognize, though they could join NWU. But maybe writers at other mills could use this as their wake-up call to organize and try to get better terms from their masters elsewhere.

    But maybe once the AC writers get together on their union drive, they’ll do something else to help their careers…maybe start their own site and share all the profits with the writers who do the work, instead of just a couple people at the top getting rich! Now THAT would be a great thing to see come out of this sale.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

      Absolutely Carol–not employees, no union–unless they do an independent union. As for NWU, like I said before, there’s nothing really unfair about the AC contract and these folks agreed to it so…

      Personally, I think organizing to try to get better terms is a waste. Instead, invest in yourself and create your business.

    • Jennifer Mattern May 22, 2010 Reply

      Something similar was tried years ago by a few writers in the UK. Last I heard they had to officially shut down the network — wasn’t sustainable on the independent front with so many involved as it is for the “big guys” I guess.

  8. Jessie Haynes May 21, 2010 Reply

    The formation of a union for AC writers…color me befuddled. I needn’t reiterate the points you’ve made, but I do want to discuss why I use AC.

    I use AC as an article marketing website, not as a primary source of freelance writing income. I schedule any writing I do for AC during my marketing, not my billable, time, and I write unique works “inspired by” client work that I’ve done for full rights. I write quick articles with keywords and I make sure that I’m not just rewriting the works I no longer own. I get my $2 of upfront pay and add it to my marketing budget. Granted, I don’t do this a lot, but to get some ranking and exposure and a penny of income for article marketing works for me. I just don’t like Ezines for article marketing, so I use AC. Article marketing isn’t a big, primary piece of my strategy but something I do when my morning sickness is preventing me from doing other things, like write high-quality guest posts for professional organizers (my target market).

    That AC has been purchased by Yahoo means very little to me, and I certainly haven’t grabbed my pitchfork.

    Ugh, this AC crap is all so ridiculous.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

      Yeah, these folks weren’t using it for article marketing–something that could be useful (although I haven’t tested it for that personally so I’m not sure)–and that would be for YOUR bottom line and not theirs.

  9. Lori May 21, 2010 Reply

    It’s why I adore you, Yo. You get to the point. We are freelancers, not employees. And maybe that’s where these people who write for these places screw up in the first place – they assume it’s a position. It’s not – it’s a project. A gig. An assignment. Okay, it’s still a wad of crap, but it’s certainly not indicative of a job in which the client owes these people any kind of compensation beyond the pennies they’ve already scrounged up.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

      It is exactly where. There were some Demand Studios writers complaining around tax time about how Demand doesn’t pay a portion of their SS taxes when every other employer they’ve ever had did. Seriously, some people think they have a work-at-home job and not a business. Hopefully they’ll get it.

      • Yo Prinzel Author
        Yo Prinzel May 21, 2010 Reply

        Wow–too much sun today. First sentence should read:

        “It is exactly what they think.”

  10. Wendy S. Johnson May 21, 2010 Reply

    I’ve heard people say that this is a great way to get started in Writing. Publish a few articles on the site and you got some clips to use for future gigs. In a lot of cases that’s true, but there are some clients that refuse to accept any links to these kinds of sites as clips. That’s the reason I decided not to go that route.

    • Jessie Haynes May 21, 2010 Reply

      Wendy, I have definitely heard of people saying that they use these sites to get clips, but there are so many better ways. Mockups. Guest blog posts. Your own blog. Working for free for a nonprofit (but NOT working for free for a member of your target market). But using eHow, Hubpages, DS, Bukisa, and similar MFA sites for clips majorly lacks credibilty. A little business since should tell a freelancer that, but sometimes you don’t know that going in.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel May 22, 2010 Reply

      I used to think the same thing when I was stuck in the content mill rut. One of the reasons this rumor starts is because you can easily land more content mill jobs with your content mill clips. When you don’t know enough to separate content mill work from major pubs, websites, and high paying clients–you are left thinking that the mills helped you out.

      I will say that writing a couple of pieces for a mill can help you get used to web writing. It’s definitely not necessary but if you have a confidence issue that is going to hurt your ability to approach clients, a little “training” with the mills under a pan name is not a terrible thing. By a little, I mean like a couple of pieces max.

  11. Mitch May 23, 2010 Reply

    Fascinating article. I hadn’t known that the writers were going to try to unionize; that just freaks me out. Course, I’ve never wanted to write for AC, but I wondered when I heard about this deal between Yahoo & AC about the concept of having Yahoo use some of that content as “news filler”, and thought that some folks would get some nice publicity, but wouldn’t get any more money for it. Didn’t seem fair to me.

  12. Jill St. James June 7, 2010 Reply

    Writers can join a professional union, such as the Writers Guild of America, to protect your rights. Legal assistance is offered as part of regular membership. You can elect to write for any company, including content mills, and also be protected against contract violations and fraudulent practices by the company. If the majority of writers work to clean up poor working conditions, things can change. It happened in the newspaper industry and it can happen in the age of new media. Times change but poor treatment by money-hungry businesses do not. Remain a victim or organize. It’s your choice. There is power in numbers.

  13. Jill St. James June 7, 2010 Reply

    The National Writer’s Union represents freelance writers. See info at: https://nwu.org/

    I am not an organizer, but I am a member of the NWU. I’ve used NWU contract forms and asked the legal representative to write a letter when I wasn’t paid for an assignment. The contracts have worked well and I ended up with payment simply by mentioning that I was asking my legal rep to send a letter.

    The Writer’s Guild of America requires group action to force AC, DS et al. to join, but the NWU is open to all writers working in any old or new media outlet.

    I highly recommend membership. Aside from protecting your working rights, the organizations are professional associations and offer insurance, etc.

  14. Christina November 14, 2010 Reply

    I was unaware of the AC unionizing attempt which does seem a bit ridiculous. I’m curious to know if anyone writes for Examiner.com and if they would define them as a “mill”. Examiner is upfront about not using professional writers but people who are professionals in the topics they write about. They seem to pay much better then the other “mills”.

    I also think it’s about the content of your writing not who you write for. It’s also a great way to learn SEO writing. I was under the impression that the majority of the people who wrote for these online sites were doing it more as a hobby then a profession.

    I write for Examiner and I’m having great success with them and that’s due to being prolific and marketing efforts. I can write very little content and make a lot of money in little time. You CAN make a career out of “mill” writing if you make the effort.

    • Jennifer Mattern November 14, 2010 Reply

      If someone’s professional status is all about the quality of the work, then anyone with a great story sitting on their hard drive could call themselves a “professional writer.” The real distinction between professionals and hobbyists in this line of work is very often pay, whether we all like it or not.

      Being prolific is great — if you’re being compensated well for every piece, and not only per hour because you churn out a ridiculous quantity of articles. It’s never been about whether someone can make a living doing it. It’s about whether or not that’s a smart business decision when compared with other options, whether or not the high speed work is sustainable in the long run for people serious about the quality of their work, and whether or not those who want to do better can (versus feeling like it’s okay to settle rather than trying harder). If you’re happy with what you’re making with Examiner, that’s great. If they pay you a livable wage comparable to what you could earn with your skills and experience as an employer (being able to cover all of your bills and expenses, health insurance, vacation time, sick time, the extra taxes, etc.), then even better. But the simple truth is that mills, including Examiner, are not the best option for most writers serious about making a living in this line of work. If you’re one of the rare exceptions, congratulations. But most writers are not. And even if they could be they still see the benefit of earning more while working less rather than settling for what’s easy early on — working smarter, not harder — which is essential to long-term growth in freelancing.

      • Christina November 14, 2010 Reply

        Its a hobby for me, so in that context it’s fine. I could definitely live off of the income i make and i also can produce a lot of info in a short amount of time. I don’t think it’s very “hard work”. I’m an expert in my topics and it’s an easy dime.

        Is it a prestige thing? If so that’s not important to me. Many examiner’s are being quoted by the likes of CNN and MSNBC because they are experts in their fields. That kind of exposure for a professional is very smart business if you ask me.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t necessarily consider Examiner to be a place for people who are professional writers unless you use it as a resource for promoting your writing. What a great way to market yourself and get paid for it.

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