Like many, many writers struggling to gain experience and an online presence, I was a victim of more than one content mill. It happens to people in all industries and it’s a disgusting practice that will never go away, unfortunately.
What’s a Content Mill?
In a nutshell, content mills are basically brokers. They have the resources, online presence, and the know-how to get clients. More specifically, they have too many clients and need help with production. Instead of paying people what they are worth, they hire tons and tons of workers (in this case, writers) and pay them way below industry standards.
For example, my per-word rate is at least 15 to 25 cents. This is considered fair to good pricing for writing. Content mills pay writers between one and four cents a word! So if they quote the client 15 to 25 cents per word or more, they pocket anything over three or four cents. I don’t see this as being fair in the least.
I get it; they know how to get clients and had to learn that and build their reputation and presence, but they of all people should know writing is hard. You can’t just sit down and start writing away like you do with your personal blog or journal. You have to follow guidelines, implement keywords, do research, include specific phrases, be creative, include graphics, and on and on.
Then you have the service fees. Freelance places such as Fiverr, UpWork, Freelancer, and ClearVoice charge service fees that range from 10 to 25 percent. ClearVoice is 25 percent; Fiverr and UpWork are 20 percent; Freelancer is 10 percent. This comes out of your payment, and I’m sure they get a fee from the people who use their services to find workers, too.
PayPal also takes a fee if you use them. If you want to transfer your money from PayPal to your bank, they take another fee for instant transfers. Granted, the instant transfer fee is only one percent, but that’s on top of what they got just because you used PayPal to get paid.
Why It Works
So, I mentioned that this won’t go away, and it’s very, very true. You will always have someone who will work for less than they’re worth. Heck, I did it. I am so determined to not return to my previous career that I worked for two people and one company who shamelessly paid me way less than I should get.
I didn’t know the pay rates going in. Their hook for gaining writers is not being upfront with their pay. They will either not mention the pay rate or use the common phrase, “competitive pay.” (I hope you weren’t drinking something when you read that last sentence and did a spit-take.) On Indeed or LinkedIn Jobs, they may include a per-hour rate, which is almost always over ten dollars and closer to twenty-something.
Other writers work for less for the experience, which I get, but create your own experience. Write for yourself and throw it up on your site or in a portfolio. Most content mills don’t credit the writers anyway, so you won’t be adding by-lined pieces to your portfolio. If anyone is credited, it’s the person who’s paying you or the marketing agency that hired the person that’s paying you. It’s not gonna be you, honey.
Then there are the writers who live in other countries with a much lower cost of living. For them, three cents is great. However, that drags the rates down for everyone, including people who live in more expensive countries like Canada, the US, or the UK.
The cost-of-living difference isn’t just from country to country. I live in West Virginia, and working for 15 dollars an hour would be great for me. However, someone living in NYC and making 15 dollars an hour would be struggling a lot, if not homeless.
After all the emails and the writing assessment and anxiously awaiting their decision, they hit you with the “flat” per-word pay rate. Flat means you get that rate regardless of the assignment and how much research is involved. Emailing a ROFL emoji will not get you a higher rate and is frowned upon.
Know Your Worth
The bottom line is, writers are worth so much more than a few cents a word! We are creative and educated and hardworking! I have spent hours trying to come up with one sentence. It’s there bouncing around in my head, but usually just far enough away that I have to think how to say something just right. One of the hardest things for a writer is that first sentence or paragraph.
That’s all from me. I have no secrets or strategies to help people avoid being underpaid, but content mills really irk me. If I ever get slammed with so much work and not enough time to do it myself, there’s no reason the help I receive should not get fairly compensated for their work. I think it’s highly unethical and appalling, but that’s greed for you.