This blog was born from my hatred of low-paying content mills and their habit of writer exploitation.
I thought if I could shine a light, and show writers there are real clients and professional pay rates elsewhere, mills might dry up and blow away.
Yes, I can hear you laughing from here.
Instead, over the past five years, mills have sprung up like toxic mushrooms under every shady, damp spot on the Internet. I get an invite to sign up for some new “great opportunity for exposure” from a startup mill nearly every week.
This week, I was in a unique position in my quest for fair writer pay.
At NMX (a/k/a BlogWorld) in Las Vegas, as I cruised the trade-show booths, I noticed something: Many of these companies were promising to develop content for blogs — lots and lots of content. Cheaply, too.
Slowly, it dawned: They were content mills.
Most weren’t big names (I gather Textbroker was lurking somewhere, but didn’t seem to have a booth.) But there they were.
Real, live content mill owners. I thought I’d go have a chat with them about their rates.
(The names of these mills have been omitted to avoid promoting in any way the very thing I aim to destroy.)
Content mill owners in the flesh
So I went to talk to them and find out what they charged, and how they felt about their rates. I got a couple of them to really talk to me and answer my questions.
You’ll be proud of me to know that I resisted the urge to shout and/or strangle anyone. Keepin’ it pro, folks.
“Are you looking for writers?” I’d ask. “I run a community with more than 600 writers.”
“Sure,” they invariably replied.
“What sort of rates do you pay writers?”
I got two basic responses from here:
Type #1: Unrepentant ripoff artist
One owner, a young Asian man, told me he was looking for web content writers. He’d pay, like, $100 for a multi-page website, he proudly related.
When I said I get three times that often for just one page, he looked baffled. “That’s way too much,” he asserted.
He was looking at me like I’d arrived from an alternative universe. I think he was right.
Maybe in the Philippines those kind of rates work, bud, but it’s hard to live off that in the First World.
“We’re always looking for quality writers,” he told me.
At those rates, I just bet you are, I thought.
“Best of luck with it,” I said with a big smile.
Type #2 Even I’m embarrassed
The second mill had a couple of women owners.
“We have a staff of 22 writers we work with,” they told me proudly.
“And what do you pay per blog post?” I asked.
“Twelve dollars,” one responded.
And then it happened.
As she said that pay rate, she winced.
Even she knew that was a ridiculous, untenable rate. She couldn’t even say it to me with a straight face.
And in that moment, I realized mill owners know what they’re doing is unconscionable — at least some of them do, anyway.
They keep doing it because it keeps money in their pockets. They do it because they can.
Why? It’s simple — the desperation and low self-esteem of writers makes their business model possible.
Content mills aren’t going anywhere
So. There you have it.
After five years of fighting for better pay for writers, and after looking content-mill owners right in the eye, here’s what I’ve learned:
Content mills aren’t going away.
As long as there are suckers — and I gather there’s one born every minute, just like P.T. Barnum said — and entrepreneurs hoping to exploit them for low-cost labor, mills will continue.
They may not thrive — have you seen Demand Media’s stock lately? — but mills will be around.
As one dies, another is born. Bet on it.
What you can do about content mills
Given that it’s unlikely our outrage will crumble all content mills into pixel-dust, there’s only one question on the line: Are you willing to work for mills, or not?
Mill rates will always suck, because the mill business model is failing. SEO junk content put against ad clicks doesn’t bring in enough to pay writers a fair wage. That’s unlikely to change.
I’ve learned there are only two things you can do about content mills — vent uselessly as you continue to earn slave wages, or opt out. Refuse to play their game.
Think of mills as The Underworld of freelance writing. You don’t have to stay in that dark place, earning pennies.
Instead, do it the way all freelance writers did in the many decades before content mills were ever invented — market yourself and find clients that sell a real product or service.
Once you start looking, you won’t believe how many great companies are out there that need your writing help.
These proven businesses have real money to pay writers. Content mills never will.
What would you say to content-mill owners if you met them in person? Share it in the comments.