Sample chapter: Do content mills count as exposure? (from Will Work For Exposure)

Intro and disclaimer: This is a sample chapter from my new ebook, Will Work For Exposure. It’s up on Amazon now, and of course I’m trying to boost my book sales. But this sample chapter gives you a detailed tour of some of the content-mill sites cluttering the Internet. Writing this chapter was spanking good fun; I got to name names and everything. If I put ideas in your head and encourage you to act on them, I won’t mind a bit. That’s why I’m here.

Enjoy. By the way, if you stop by Amazon anytime between June 1 and June 5, you’ll find this ebook is free for that period. Grab it, because its regular price is $3.99.

* * *

Do content mills count as exposure?

This is your brain … this is your brain on content mills. Any questions?

I mentioned content mills (aka “content farms”) earlier, along with the disclosure that I occasionally work for one.

Now, my content-mill work will not help me at all as far as exposure, even though my work shows up in highly-credible sites like the Houston Chronicle and Arizona Republic.

Here’s why:

Directly below the byline, where you would find something like “staff writer” or “contributing writer,” you’ll find the name of the content provider. Bam. There goes my credibility, right out the window.

You might as well say this article emerged from the slush pile only on a pass. Association with a content mill probably does my credibility more harm than good.

Besides, the writing is no great shakes anyway. It’s quick and dirty work, the kind I would not want to number among my best clips. Hey, I really do have standards.

Because of all this, my content-mill work shows up under an assumed name that I will not disclose in this ebook. Just call him John Doe for all I care.

Despite my misgivings I’m able to approach this assumed-name thing with some humor.

John Doe (or whatever his name is) has his very own email address under my business domain.

He’s an actual independent contractor with all the necessary paperwork (read: independent contractors require none).

John even has an official title — ghostwriter. Appropriate, considering he’s just a ghost anyway.

Even better, I don’t have to pay John because, well, he’s a ghost. What do ghosts eat anyway?

Although this sounds frivolous, maybe even my own sick imagination working overtime again, there’s a point to all this. My nonexistent contractor John Doe allows me to mentally detach myself from the work I consider objectionable or just plain lousy.

For me, that’s important.

I’ll say this about content-mill work. They pay on schedule, there’s always some work for me, and most of it is easy. I could do it in my sleep. In fact, sometimes I think I do. Or at least John does. It makes a nice supplement when nothing else is going on.

But content-mill work is not sustainable, and it’s just too easy to get all comfortable and get locked into something where you don’t have to hustle.

Pitching your work is a big part of writing, of any other art. You have to get your stuff out there, and if you’re interested in finding a real buyer paying real rates, you have to pitch it. Warm up the email program, make a few calls, hammer together a cover letter and get your clips in order.

Content mills take away that edge. It’s a surreal world where you pick titles from an online dashboard instead of engaging in the real world of writing.

So approach content mills with eyes wide open. They are what they are — a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

* * *

Here are some of the biggest content mills around, and what they pay at this writing:

Demand Studios: Payment is upon acceptance, and is forwarded directly into your PayPal account. In the business and finance section (where my ghostwriter John Doe works), they’ll pay around $25 for an article of 400 to 500 words. Pick your titles from the dashboard and hope you’re thinking of the same angle as your copy editor. You get one chance at a rewrite, but acceptance after that is iffy. You may not get the same copy editor for the rewrite as you did for your original piece, so that’s a risk. Until recently, the writer never knew who edited the piece.

Demand Studios makes a decent backup income source for those feast-or-famine times, but there’s still no substitute for pitching your work elsewhere and making better money from it.

* * *

Yahoo: According to the company via a recent employment ad: “Payment is provided on a performance basis, at $1.10 per every 1,000 page views. Contributors may also qualify for occasional Upfront Payment on a per-submission basis. Only the highest-quality submissions will qualify for publication on Yahoo …”

The writer is also expected to be active on social media, strive to build his audience, and despoil his hard-won online reputation with work for a third-rate content provider that won’t really pay you anyway. Read: You’re on your own for promoting your work. And at that pay rate, do they really expect quality?

No wonder Yahoo is hurting.

* * *

AOL has several outlets for writers, including the ubiquitous Huffington Post that became mega-profitable (AOL bought it for more than $300) while paying most writers in exposure.

Then there’s AOL Seed, which I think is still around though no one’s sure why. Seed offered decent payment (for online content-mill writing, that is), but there was a catch: Many assignments go to more than one writer. The best submission wins while the others get … nothing. I submitted one to Seed, got nosed out in the so-called competition and never wrote for them again.

I’ve looked into the hyperlocal AOL Patch, which was supposed to be the answer for out-of-work journalists. They have yet to make a profit. In fact, they’re inventing new ways to lose your butt. Recent news indicates they’ll be laying off more staff fairly soon. I’m betting they won’t be around in 2016, which is kind of a drag because then I’ll have to update this ebook.

I understand most Patch outposts have one editor (though he’s often juggling several hyperlocal editions) and a few stringers. I hear several different things about those contributing writers, too. Some sources say they’re not paid at all, while others say they get up to $50 per article. I guess it’s up to the editor or AOL’s budget.

From what I hear, the editors do everything and put in a whole lot of work for their paychecks. Patch is getting its money’s worth from the editors, and mimics the old 60-hours-of-work-for-a-40-hour-paycheck business model that old print journalists so fondly remember. Well, since Patch basically intended to replace local print journalism, it looks like they’re leaving many things just as they were.

* * *

Helium: Like I can say in my Facebook relationship status, “it’s complicated.” They’re mostly revenue-share with some restrictions and a couple of additional carrots thrown in. I signed on with them several years ago and never submitted anything. An old newsroom buddy of mine posted a few articles on Helium but I haven’t seen anything from him since. If his work with Helium brought him anything, it was the chance to reconnect with someone from his past.

* * *

Examiner: Another revenue-share site. I think I wrote four or five articles for the Examiner, and that’s probably four or five too many. I think I earned about two bucks from them. I remember they ran a mini-background check on prospective writers, though I’m not sure why. Some folks say they make decent money on Examiner, though you’d have to write a lot of stuff to reach that tipping point.

Just for grins, I glanced over my old Examiner pieces, which are still there and supposedly drawing page views. A couple of them are quite impressive; good enough for me to put in my clips. But I probably won’t. Any points I gain for good reporting and writing are immediately canceled by that brand’s reputation as a content mill.

When I did my time with the Examiner, they paid writers a few bucks to recruit other writers. Now, I’m not about to call that company a multilevel marketing scheme, but did they have to make it look so much like one?

* * *

Hubpages: Admittedly, I like Hubpages. I still have an active account with that company, though it’s been more than a year since I submitted something. Hubpages offers 60 percent of any ad revenue your pages generate. That’s not bad as far as revenue share goes, but I’d rather post in my own blog. Hubpages generates pretty good traffic on its own, but it’s empty traffic. It seems I get very few clicks from there to my own sites. Probably the biggest thing Hubpages has going for it is that anything I write is mine. I keep all rights and can edit or take anything down whenever I want. As far as content farms that really don’t pay you, it’s not half bad.

* * *

Squidoo: The brainchild of Seth Godin (one of the great modern thinkers and a man I respect), Squidoo’s business model is similar to Hubpages.

* * *

EHow, then and now: Back in the Wild Wild West of the Internet, eHow was a really popular revenue-share site. Some writers swore they made good money via this site, only I never met one. Much of eHow’s content from back then was really bad, though. Demand Studios since took that over, cleaned out the garbage (much to the chagrin of the writers of said garbage), diluted the revenue-share scheme and went primarily with up-front payment.

Since Demand Studios took over the eHow operation and did the cleanup the site’s probably a bit more reliable for Web surfers who want to know how to do something. In the past eHow should have run a do-not-try-this-at-home disclaimer.

Another revenue-sharing site for how-to pieces, called Fire How, exists but it’s not going to knock eHow off the block anytime soon.

* * *

Textbroker: They’re pretty much a commercial content site where businesses and others post copy requests and they’re filled to order. Up-front payment, but it’s miniscule. Writers submit a sample to determine what pay rate they’ll get, and they can work their way up the scale. I have an account there, but I’ve never used it. Writers I’ve talked to say it’s an easy way to snag a few bucks from the low-hanging fruit.

* * *

Plus you have the usual suspects that I haven’t really tried: Constant Content, Associated Content (since taken over by Yahoo), Break Studios, and a fistful of others. They all have different business models, though most are similar to at least some I’ve already outlined.

* * *

I know this is just a short list, as content sites come and go all the time. Recent changes in Google’s search algorithms really nailed most of these sites, which prompted Demand Media to clean up eHow and tighten its own editorial requirements. Many content writers, especially those with the revenue-share sites, saw their earnings plummet with each Google change. OK, so maybe Google is the spawn of Satan, but at least they’re trying to hide the thin content, total BS and unreadable, keyword-stuffed writing you usually find on the Internet.

Many of these content sites have since changed things up a little, but the info I have here is still remarkably current. Only the names have changed, you know how that goes.

* * *

I’ve checked out some of the bid sites like Odesk, but I don’t think they’re worth the trouble. You’re going against international competition which keeps most of the rates really low. It’s another race to the bottom.

Plus, some Odesk customers actually monitor the time you spend on one of their projects. They’ll know if you’re farting around on Facebook. They’ll know if you step away from the keyboard (which I often do when I need to untangle a fuzzy phrase in my mind). If you’re not at the terminal typing away like a deranged beaver, they’ll know that too.

I’ll pass, thank you.

# # #

That’s a preview. The book itself is on Amazon, formatted for your Kindle. During the launch period (June 1-5) it’s free. After that, you can grab it for $3.99. But whatever the price is, it’s still worth it.


Author: Eric Pulsifer

Eric Pulsifer is a veteran wordsmith with experience as a journalist, editor, musician, and freelance writer.

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