If 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 Veed.me, 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.