Fiverr Buys ClearVoice: Their CEO On the Future of Online Writing Jobs

Carol Tice

Fiverr Buys ClearVoice: The Future of Online Writing Jobs. Makealivingwriting.comIf you missed the news this week, there was a major development in the world of online writing jobs. Better-paying, fixed-rate writer platform ClearVoice is being acquired by Fiverr. The price was undisclosed.

Stated plans are for ClearVoice to retain its identity as a separate brand, platform, and talent pool. “In the near term,” at least.

My take: This sale may actually be a good sign.

Do you think I’m crazy? One of the few great premium platforms for writers — I’ve written for ClearVoice myself — being absorbed by race-to-the-bottom bid site Fiverr. How can it be a positive thing?

Let’s say after a nearly hour-long chat this week with one of ClearVoice’s co-CEOs about why they chose Fiverr as their buyer, I feel…hopeful.

I will explain. Buckle up, this is a long, detailed post.

But first, a little quick background on what I know about these players, and about corporate mergers in our space. That way, you know where I’m coming from when I tell you what I think this merger signals for writers, and for the future of platforms that offer online writing jobs.

Writer-site mergers & their meaning

Besides writing this-here blog for a decade, I am a longtime business reporter who’s covered mergers and acquisitions, for many years. That includes covering M&A in our space before — when oDesk and Elance merged in 2014, to form the online-writing-platform gorilla that would become Upwork.

If you read that post, you’ll see I made some grim predictions about how much this was gonna suck for writers on the better of those two platforms, oDesk. Sad to say, my forecast proved dead-on, as those writers were eventually compelled to either leave or become part of the new Upwork platform.

I also noted that the need to merge was driven by the fact that there wasn’t enough low-rate business to go around. There needed to be fewer platforms offering that. Hang onto that thought for later.

Fiverr buying ClearVoice however, is quite different than oDesk-Elance. That was a merger of two similar players, with similar business models.

This time, on one side, we have a big Kahuna — Fiverr — which is a huge competitive-bidding site offering mostly very low writer pay rates. And it’s buying a small provider of high-quality, decently paid content (Phoenix-based ClearVoice has 22 employees).

The question is why. Why would Fiverr want to buy a business with a model so different from its own? Within the answer to that is why this merger may signal good news for working freelance writers.

Hint: Demand for better content is exploding. Both Fiverr and ClearVoice report they’ve seen explosive growth in client interest. ClearVoice has grown its talent roster 500% last year, and Fiverr says revenue in its ‘professional writing’ category grew 220% in the same period.

To learn more about why ClearVoice was selling — and what Fiverr might do with its new prize — I reached out to their management with my questions.

I was able to hop on a call with co-CEO Joe Griffin later that day. Here are highlights of that interview, edited for length and clarity:

ClearVoice’s CEO shares his insights

Carol: Why were you interested to sell to Fiverr?

Joe: We saw them starting to go upstream. They made some interesting moves in the past 2 years — they acquired And Co [which builds freelancer tools], and, a video marketplace that had some high quality creators.

Then, they were doing a lot of things we wanted to do. We wanted to create a really strong education center for freelancers, and they launched Fiverr Learn a year ago. Then Fiverr Elevate, where you can find health insurance and other benefits. They’re evolving quickly.

They came to us wanting to go upstream in better servicing freelancers. They want to be the Amazon of digital services, to the extent they can.

And they see this trend, that brands want high quality. Industry changes have come, where brands see they have to create original, high-quality content, or it won’t be shared, or appear on search.

Carol: Do you worry that Fiverr’s reputation for low pay might negatively impact ClearVoice?

Joe: I don’t think so. They know they’ve got [reputation] baggage out there. But we were convinced that they truly do want to be able to provide high-quality content.

Carol: So you’re not worried Fiverr is just going to absorb ClearVoice into the Borg, so to speak, and the flat-rate, pro pricing disappears? They just convince enterprise companies to get $20 posts on Fiverr instead?

Joe: No. It’s not a good acquisition for them if they absorb us into their model. They want to make us their premium brand.

Our platform is going to remain independent. We have a product roadmap that is 18 months long right now, and adding [competitive bidding capability] isn’t on there. We want to be a place where freelancers earn a living on an ongoing basis, developing long-term relationships with brands. We have no plans to add bidding software. We match people with the role they want.

Fiverr recognizes that good-quality content marketing is exploding, and they want to be part of that. They don’t want to just serve the smaller [clients]. When you talk about pro writers who want to get paid up to $1 a word — which great writers should get paid — they need to work with established, mid-market and larger enterprise companies. And Fiverr wants to get into that.

Carol: What about Fiverr’s paid Fiverr Pro level? Might ClearVoice end up part of that?

Joe: There’s no plans to converge us with Fiverr Pro. That’s the top 1% of talent inside Fiverr. And our talent list is our list.

Carol: ClearVoice also has collaboration and workflow automation technology Fiverr was interested in, yes? Might this deal mostly be just about that?

Joe: They’re definitely very interested in our technology — but they also like our talent network and portfolios. We have machine learning to identify who has the most work on the biggest site — to identify the voices of the best writers out there. We support 200 different categories…so we can say, ‘There are 3,400 writers with ‘cloud computing’ visible among the top digital publishers,’ for instance.

Carol: What’s the benefit of this merger to current ClearVoice writers?

Joe: We have 30,000 writers in our talent network — and we’re not keeping them all busy. To keep them busy, we need to have explosive growth — and we need a heavyweight in our corner to help us grow. It’s structured into the deal, that they will help us achieve our vision. [Plans are to double or triple staff at ClearVoice by year-end.]

Carol: Will ClearVoice writers’ profiles be visible on Fiverr, or will ClearVoice writers have to accept different terms now?

Joe: No. Our site remains totally independent.

Carol: So ClearVoice writers shouldn’t worry that they’ll wake up soon, and ClearVoice will be just another low-paid content mill?

Joe: We don’t want to be in the content-mill conversation. We’re going to double down on our value proposition. We’re trying to retain the trust of the freelance community and be a quality source for work.

What could go wrong?

So. That’s what ClearVoice has to say about why this deal is happening, why Fiverr was interested to buy them, and what will happen next for ClearVoice writers. It sounds good on paper, yes?

Of course, there’s always a possibility that’s all spin. And there’s another agenda here instead. One where possibly, writers get shafted.

Big thing to know: ClearVoice has raised just over $3 million in venture capital money. (Fiverr has raised $110 million.)

Once you raise VC money, you have to sell the business at some point, or go public, in order to pay off those investors. Somewhere in here, ClearVoice needed to do that.

This may just be about…that. A payday for the owners and the investors. They built it, they got offers, they sold to the highest bidder. Just business.

Griffin portrays Fiverr as interested in the ClearVoice model, rather than interested in dismantling their model. But we’ve all seen acquiring companies that buy rivals to put them out of business, or to strip-mine them for their technology or talent.

That’s the other possibility here.That would be a very bad thing for freelance writers everywhere. But it’s not smelling like that’s where this is going.

My forecast for online writing jobs

Based on what’s going on in the marketplace and the boom in quality content needs, Griffin’s scenario makes sense. I’ve interviewed a lot of CEOs in my career, and I think I know when I’m being snowed.

Obviously, only time will tell, but I tend to believe Griffin. It’s more likely Fiverr doesn’t want to kill ClearVoice.

Fiverr wants to become ClearVoice.

Maybe Fiverr execs watched Demand Media’s implosion, and how the company was whittled away until (too late) they realized premium content was the future. And they don’t want to see that happen in their content division.

The same trend that drove the Elance-oDesk merger 5 years ago is still playing out today: Short, cheap, junk content is on the way out. So there needs to be consolidation…and survivors need to move upscale. To capture what recent surveys have shown is a booming market in longer, better-quality content.

Perhaps Fiverr has figured out the cash-cow opportunity in content marketing is in midwifing better, longer content. Bringing together top writers with great brands where managers understand our value.

Fiverr can surely do the math and see there are bigger commissions for them on $500 blog posts than $5 ones. And quality is what’s seeing booming demand — my recent writer pay survey showed that trend, too — while short, junk content is fading away.

And that’s good news for freelance writers.

What do you think about Fiverr buying ClearVoice? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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  1. Tara

    Okay, Carol. I trust you, so I’ll try to be optimistic.

    But I still feel like drowning in drink after hearing this merger news.

    • Carol Tice

      That was definitely my initial reaction too, Tara! But seeing it in the context of the Elance-oDesk, and what happened to Demand, I see a pattern. $5 content is going away. This is a move Fiverr is making so it has a lifeboat to survive on in its content division, I believe. Hopefully Fiverr’s contacts mean it will bring in more brands and grow the CV caliber work — and create more pro-rate opportunity for us. We’ll see!

  2. Beth Casey

    I just started using ClearVoice off and on last year. I haven’t gotten much work there. So, it’d be nice to see more decently paid opportunities coming down the pipes, but while I have hopes, especially after reading your thoughts, I agree with you on one thing, we’ll have to see how this plays out in the end. In a way, it’s like being cautiously optimistic. Here’s to hoping this is indeed a good sign. Yet, I don’t believe in “putting all of my eggs in one basket,” though either and never have. It’s far better to spread your proverbial writer’s wings in various directions and fly, Baby, fly.

    • Carol Tice

      Beth, I set my rate on there at $200 or $300, as I recall…and rarely see an email from them. So I get the sense the volume of better work isn’t THAT great. But I do get some notices, of course they’re tailored to my areas of expertise also, so not the whole volume of their better-paid work gets me a notice.

      I sure hope they continue to operate independent of Fiverr, and we don’t see Fiverr absorb them in some way 18 months out or something…which is typically the timeframe to when they consolidate an acquisition in M&A deals. Let’s hope it’s that Fiverr wants to learn how to be CV, rather than it wants to kill CV, or make it part of its brand, which most writers I know wouldn’t go anywhere near.

  3. Jerry Nelson

    Thanks for the peek behind the curtain.

  4. Cassie Journigan

    Thank you, Carol, for going directly to ClearVoice to interview their CEO. I haven’t registered on their site yet but I had intended to once I got my writer website up with a few clips posted. So the merger news was quite disappointing. Now, after reading your article, I feel encouraged that there may be no noticeable changes for us freelancers. I liked your interview and your whole article. Nicely done!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks, Cassie — let’s say I haven’t deleted my ClearVoice profile YET. I’m intrigued that Fiverr may move in a better direction in its content division – let’s hope that IS what this signals.

  5. Pattie Pace

    Thanks for your analysis and insight into this breaking news. Trust (but verify) that this merger will shake out on the upside for writers.

    • Carol Tice

      CV wanted money to grow, and to find more clients for its writer stable – and found that partner in Fiverr. We’ll see if Fiverr fulfills on its promises to help them build more pro-rate relationships for writers!

  6. Janeen

    Well I think Fiverr itself has been moving away from $5 content. People have been selling higher rate services. $5 is minimal and you have to pay for a bunch of addons to get what you really want. A lot of freelancers on there use it as an advertising tool to build their business. Merging with CV seems like it’s a good business move for Fiverr maybe to move for a $5 to a $500 platform (well not quite).

    • Carol Tice

      Guess I’m doubtful the mass volume of their work goes way up in price…but it gives Fiverr a business unit that will survive the implosion of cheap, junk content as it continues. Hopefully they’ll build it up!

  7. Florie Barry

    Aloha Carol, thank you for your post on Fiverr and ClearVoice, I was not familiar with either, but I am now. I feel leadership and ownership styles are changing, and hopefully companies are aiming for quality. As in the Japanese business philosophy of Kaizen, “Take care of your employees/freelancers, and they’ll take care of you.” Thank you Carol for all your helpful and educational advice, tips and suggestions.
    Florie Barry

    • Carol Tice

      Well, that’s never a rule Fiverr was interested in before, Florie…but CV is. So we’ll see whose culture influences whose here. Can’t wait to see how it plays out!

  8. Chris

    Looking at where the trend is going when it comes to Content online. I have to agree with you that, this is just a smart move to join two house together.

    One house will deal with the low rate writing jobs.
    One house to deal in High end rates.
    Simple plan.
    Smart play!

  9. Clara

    I received an email from them about the merger and was worried about how this would affect why types of writing jobs they would continue to offer.

    Thanks so much for the details on the ClearVoice merger.

    • Carol Tice

      My pleasure! Was glad they were willing to chat.

  10. Shoshanah

    Thanks for sharing Carol

    I was just looking at Fiverr for a logo for my website. It’s not all $5 any longer. There are many creatives on there charging higher rates.

    It’s also not so easy to get into the Fiverr Pro section.

    Interested to hear of this development. I prefer to wait and see how this pans out.

  11. Kimberly Rotter

    It’s all spin. “They want to be the Amazon of digital services.” What does that tell you? Is Amazon known for sticking up for its highest quality vendors and helping them command top dollar in the marketplace? No. Amazon forces its vendors to work harder for less.

    Clearvoice might not become Fiverr and Fiverr certainly will never become Clearvoice, but it’s downhill from this point forward for writers on Clearvoice. I absolutely believe that.

    I deleted my profile on Clearvoice the minute I got the announcement.
    Even if I’m proven wrong, which would be fantastic, I don’t want to have any association with Fiverr, the world’s most exploitative online slave marketplace.

    • Carol Tice

      I feel you on the Fiverr association…so much. I almost did exactly what you did, just instant delete.

      For now, I’m going to hang in and see what develops. As long as the platform is completely separate from Fiverr, my profile isn’t visible on there, I want to see if their promise that Fiverr will power more high-end business for them, help build their model up. Because that would truly be sweet, if Fiverr profits were plowed into growing a premium platform that pays better than…Fiverr.

  12. Meg

    Unfortunately, I don’t see ClearVoice as paying all that well. I’m an experienced writer with hundreds of bylined pieces posted on multiple different sites.

    When I provided feedback on ClearVoice survey indicating that I was disappointed with the lack of opportunities that were coming my way, I was told I needed to only include articles in my portfolio that were the same topic. I did that. After still getting few offers, I asked again about opportunities. I was told the second time that it was because my minimum pricing was set to .30 cents per word.

    I was told by a ClearVoice employee in an email that if lowered my minimum rate per word I would see a lot more opportunities. So I did, just to test it. Still crickets as far as offers.

    Most of the offers I’ve seen are from Esurance or Cox communications and are technical in topic. Definitely not something I would write for .30 cents a word.

    So I’m not sure Fiverr getting in bed with ClearVoice is good at all. But time will tell.

    • Carol Tice

      Interesting — I think mine is set at $200 a post, and I’ll say I get a few notices but not tons. And yes, if you lower your rates on there, you often will see more deals. Also depends on your areas of industry knowledge, I think.

  13. Michael

    Hi all,

    I think Carol’s first hunch is very plausible.

    In a podcast (OK Dork) I heard w the founder of Fiverr, he said the original business idea was simply to make online job transactions possible (“X for Y” w/o friction).

    $5 (Fiverr) was the starting point b/c it was low enough that customers would risk buying an unknown task from a stranger. He did a lot of the jobs himself in the early days. The goal, he said, was always to price up. Now, he wants freelancers doing $100, 200, 500 work on his site.

    (Change the name to Fivehundredrr???)

    The CEO of Upworks spoke similarly on CNBC when the company went public last Fall. They want to incentivize freelancers to work through their platform b/c it benefits them w steady work. They do that by offering lower fees according to project milestones, providing top-producers access to enterprise clients, etc.

    In sum, despite the scary changes in technology (AI, machine learning), the many available writers, etc., quality writing is still a valuable asset. Upwork and Fiverr know this. Good writing drives revenue for thousands of businesses/organizations. It’s not cheap to produce and can’t be sold as such. Don’t lowball yourself!

    • Carol Tice

      Well, definitely. Maybe just knowing these big platforms are looking at going upscale will help writers understand their value!

  14. Marc Hayot

    I am actually unfamiliar with both companies and plan to look up ClearVoice when I get home. Like you I don’t want ClearVoice to devolve into a site devoted to cheap content. I guess only time will tell.

    I would like to get your thoughts on the company that I currently write for but I don’t want to post their name in a public setting. So if there is a way that we can discuss it privately I would love to get your thoughts

    • Carol Tice

      Unless their name is Contently, eByline or maybe Skyword, they’re probably not a good place to hang out, Marc. Most mass platforms for writers aggregate very low rates by pitting writers against each other in a race to the bottom on price. They’re built to benefit the site owners and client businesses…to the detriment of writers. ClearVoice HAS been something different…and hopefully will remain so. We’ll see!

      The place I chat privately with people is called Freelance Writers Den: – if you’re a member, PM me!

  15. DKendra Francesco

    I wish I shared your optimism, Carol. And maybe for writer sites, it happens occasionally. (Although oDesk-Elance-UpWork didn’t.) However, after 30+ years in retail, I admit I’m jaded on mergers. In all that time, the small stores acquired by larger chains closed within a year. Or looked exactly like the mother company. I hope, for all writers on ClearVoice, that it remains its own entity, and isn’t mined to death.

  16. Kevin L Smith

    This is great Carol! Thank you.

    A lot of great detail and great information; I am more informed.

    Great work!

    • Carol Tice

      My pleasure — a lot of writers I know are watching this situation closely, as they contemplate whether to sign up or continue with ClearVoice.


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