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Writing for Content Mills: Did You Pick the Wrong One?

Carol Tice

Many choices in content millsMany 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 are sending me emails like this one:

“I’m a new writer and I was thinking about signing up for Textbroker. What do you think about them?

“I also registered for Demand Studios — waiting for approval — and created a Fiverr profile. I was wondering what your opinion is of those, or if there is a better site I should join?”

The myth of the better content mill

Aah, the worry that maybe you’ve chosen the wrong content mill.

Hope springs eternal within writers’ hearts, that somewhere on our vast interwebs, there could be a content mill that pays great. Or a revenue-share site where your posts would earn you a small fortune in affiliate ad revenue, or a mass bidding platform where prices won’t be nearly nil.

You think maybe, it’s just a matter of looking harder. Because there must be some mistake, right? You’re making a pittance here!

Insecure writers tend to blame themselves when things go wrong. It must be me, we think. If only I were a better writer or researcher, I could discover the Valhalla where you write keyword-stuffed quickie content on any topic you like, that doesn’t require interviews, expertise, or much research — but it still pays terrific.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much reporting I do on why content mills’ business model is failing and won’t ever offer a living wage to writers. (Have you checked out what’s happened to the stock of Demand Studios‘ parent Demand Media lately, since they spun off their domain-name business and have only the content mills left? Investors get it.)

Still comes the question: “Which is the best content mill for me to join?”

I don’t like to be the person who bursts writers’ bubbles, but there is no best content mill. Wish there was…but no.

Taking bad advice

It’s easy to see how writers get sucked into this dream, that a better content mill is out there, somewhere.

After all, there so many posts online about the best content mills to join! I did a Google search recently, and found “best content mills” gets 106 million results.

I turned up insightful advice, such as that the secret is to “join as many as you can.” As if trying to keep up with one mill’s arcane rules, editor demands, and weird topic requests isn’t enough.

Scan these “best content mill” posts, and you’ll often learn their recommended, best, top mills pay $3 an article. So much better than the ones that only pay $1!

I always hope that alarm bells will ring for writers as they see these rates…that there’ll be a “wait a minute” gut-check, and they’ll move on and look for decent-paying clients. But for many, the lure of easy money is too great.

Changing your vision

Soon, these same writers are asking me if I can teach them how to write fast enough to crank out ten articles a day — because that’s the only way they’ll earn enough to survive at a mill. And mills are all many writers know.

It’s a crisis of lack of vision. If you can’t conceive that there is any better writing gig out there, content mills are where you write.

I heard just this week from one writer who wanted to know if $25 was a good article rate or not. She’d recently moved up from a $10 article mill, and her editor was telling her she was lucky to repeatedly revise her articles for him at this magnificent rate. That this was pretty much the top rate.

I told her the last article I wrote paid $2,000. When I got paid for my first essay in the late 1980s, I got $200.

If a raise from $10 to $25 is super-exciting to you, and you can feed your family on that, then ignore this whole article and write for mills.

But from where I sit, it’s not going to make a meaningful difference for anyone writing in any first world country. Writing for content mills will never get you in the ballpark of replacing your day-job income.

There’s a whole alternative universe of great-paying writing markets out there. But you have to believe they exist — and then you have to be willing to expend some effort to find them.

5 Basic laws of writing online

Given how often I’m getting asked which content mill is best, I thought it might be helpful to put together a concise list of basics to know when looking for writing gigs online. Consider these my five business laws for freelance writers:

  1. Content mills, by definition, must underpay writers. Whenever mass content is needed, prices must be low, or the mill won’t turn a profit for its owners.
  2. Revenue share sites can only pay based on your traffic — which will mostly be tiny. Don’t write for them without at least some guaranteed revenue.
  3. Mass job bidding sites will always offer mostly rock-bottom prices.
  4. Anywhere thousands of writers are present, market forces will drive prices down, down, down. It will be difficult to earn professional rates.
  5. The only proven approach for building a lucrative freelance income is proactively prospecting to find your own clients.

To sum up, it’s not you — it’s the business model of mass writing and bidding platforms. Trying to find a better content mill is like trying to find a spot on the Earth where there isn’t gravity. It doesn’t exist.

So don’t waste your time switching from one content mill or big freelance-gig website to another, or signing up for many sites in hopes that one will be a winner. That’s time you could spend finding great clients who respect the value you bring, and pay you appropriately.

What’s the best website you’ve written for? Share your experience in the comments.

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