In Which I Confront Content Mill Owners About Their Rates…In Person

Carol Tice

Confrontation

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.

155 Comments

  1. Gina

    I am exhausted by the constant chasing of content mills. I have written extensively for free, to promote my own aspect of academia, business and etc. of topics. Additionally, I am a PhD student so research in writing is just a common theme for me. I enjoy it and enjoy writing but honestly? It is hard to promote and I self-promote like a mini maniac. It drives me insane the lower pay rates and just when I think it is legit? Bam! Here’s some really embarrassing pay rate. I have long time writers telling me it exists, but unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate it.

    • Carol Tice

      I’ve heard that one before…which is why I’ve cooked up quite a few classes we’ve got in Freelance Writers Den, such as the Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success, and the Get Great Clients bootcamp, to help writers learn how to find and qualify legit prospects.

      No one should need to write “extensively” for free. If you have 3-4 samples, you’re ready to pitch good clients for good pay. Hint: They’re not usually found on a mill dashboard, a bid site, or a Craigslist job ad.

    • Gina

      Carol, lo’ and behold as I opened my email this morning? A response from a legit outlet I had submitted a writing sample to some months ago. I am submitting my first content and wela! The article content allows my name byline and the pay is quite beautiful! Yes, Craigslist is a joke! I fell into the Odesk, Elance, etc. etc. you name it. It’s like finding the perfect diet lol

    • Carol Tice

      That’s awesome!

  2. Kurt Franz

    Get a freakin real job. All this phony baloney about writing and making money is a crock of fecal matter. I love the way the owner of this site is taking advantage of people and making money on ads and the fact that content mills are a farce.

    A big joke.

    • Carol Tice

      Hey Kurt —

      “Owner of this site” here.

      One thing’s for sure…if you don’t believe you can make a living as a writer, then you won’t be able to. That’s sort of a first step.

      So you’ll be one of the people who’ll need that “real job,” while writers with the drive to market their work can create the life they want, where they can make their own schedule and control their own destiny.

      Freelancing is growing every year, and the people who learn how to do it successfully will be the secure ones in the future.

  3. Pkumar

    Well, This is what most established writers would say ” never to go with content mills” I am a new to writing world. I want to improve writing skills also make small income learning, I met a guy who runs a content mill, and I found him helpful ( you may say , he was exploiting) but that’s a choice for a newbie, to start small, write for content mills, build a portfolio, rather writing for free, (some have advised me to write for free, I was offered to write for a blog, when I asked him what am I going to get in turn, he stopped communicating with me) or setting up a blog, writing for content mills, though they pay low, I guess would help me improve my writing skills, at the same time would help me make part time income.

    In fact I am looking for a list of such companies, I would really appreciate, if anyone here can help me with a list, Google does provide you with a list, but which ones of them are credible, is a perennial question.

  4. Shape

    What do you suggest for someone looking for writers?

    Searches usually send me to content mills or similar sites where you might get a bunch of spun articles. I would love a resource to find qualified writers.

    • Carol Tice

      You can email me your job listing — I run a Junk-Free Job Board for quality job listings for my 700+ member writer community, Freelance Writers Den. We put it out 2x a week. Would love to have you if you’re paying over $50 a blog post or $100 an article.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why hiring a freelance writer is like hiring a mechanic - […] to a content mill like oDesk or Elance might seem fiscally smart, but it can hurt you in the…

Related Posts

How to End A Blog Post: 6 Easy Options

How to End A Blog Post: 6 Easy Options

If you're wondering how to end a blog post, there are a few things you should keep in mind. What should you say? Should you do a call to action? Should you write a conclusion? Should you pitch a product? All of these answers might be correct, depending on what your...

Ghostwriting 101: What You Need to Know

Ghostwriting 101: What You Need to Know

At some point in your freelance writing career, you'll come across ghostwriting gigs. You might be wondering what they entail, how they work, and if they're worth pursuing while you're building your writing career. While ghostwriting gigs can be fun and pay well,...