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A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Bright Hub (a content mill I used to write for) inviting me to help them write some 60 titles for a private client commission for about $20 a pop. Another content mill, Demand Studios, recently partnered with USA Today to start providing travel tips for their website. To some writers, these partnerships and commissions are clearly a sign that the freelance writing sky is falling and we are all going to have to be happy working for pennies before you know it.
I have always been surprised by the writers who argue that cheap writers, cheap clients and mills are pulling down the pay that everyone in the industry receives. As someone who has been lucky enough to manage a comfortable transition from content mill writer to full time writer with clients who pay well, I have a different take on the situation—I think the content mills, low paying gigs and the writers who take on these gigs are actually helping your business.
Reason 1: Client Differentiation
The existence of low paying clients has made it easier than ever to define your market. I fully realized this last week when I got the invitation from Bright Hub. The content they were commissioned to create was for a website that has a forum dedicated to discussion of a certain popular movie that is about to come out on DVD. All the article titles had the name of the movie in them and were very repetitive. The site owner was obviously trying to create SEO fodder.
Writing just a few of these 500 word articles at $20 a pop would have been monotonous and terrible. But I also realized that it is exactly the type of assignment I would never take on within my current business model. No matter what kind of topic I write about, I take on gigs that need articles with intrinsic value. Articles that teach, entertain and promote authority--not articles that simply bring in clicks--and that is what gives your articles a value that cheap clients can't afford, which is why they are not your target market.
Reason 2: Some Good Writers are Out of Your Pool
These low paying gigs keep the hobbyists and uncommitted busy which means they aren't competing with you. I'm not saying that content mill writers aren't real writers or that they don't have a burning desire to create--I'm saying that they are not business people. Many of them don't know how or where to market themselves, but if you are going to run a successful business you have to either figure out how to do this or hire someone who can do it for you.
Now, I've read enough of your blog posts to know that many of you think that "cheap" writers are bad writers and are, therefore, not competition. This is incorrect. They are not competition because many of them don't know just how much they could be making or how to get there--not because they suck. That's why blogs like this one are so important--there are good writers out there who need to stop being coddled and instead need a life preserver. We are that life preserver.
Reason 3: It's Hard To Make It
Let's say you need to gross at least $55,000 per year to live comfortably. If you were to try to make this working for an average of .04 per word (which is more than many content mills and low paying clients pay) then you would need to write an average of 52 articles per week every week of the year (which means no vacation or sick time). I don’t know about you, but if I had to write about 10 articles every day 5 days per week with no break ever I wouldn’t last very long. That means that not only are the writers who are doing this not out there competing with you but they will probably give up sooner than they would if they found the same success as you, which again keeps them from ever reaching your market.
What You Should be Worried About
Just because your business is safe, that doesn't mean that content mills, low paying clients and the writers who encourage them aren't damaging the industry in some form or another. The net is filled with crap content that somehow manages to rank highly, all-purpose websites like Ehow show up in Google search results as though they are topic experts while they bury real authority content, article writers are using Wiki or some other single source to create their own derivative (and basically plagiarized) content, there is little fact checking going on, and traditional journalistic standards are not being followed. (As an example of this, one Demand-produced USA Today piece featured a health and technology writer writing about getting hotel upgrades. This could have been saved by the addition of in-article citations, interviews or something kind of , oh, journalism-y). These are things that I personally think more of us should be upset about and complaining about. But that's just me.