Ink-Dipped Advice: The New Face of An Old Problem

Content mills are back. They’ve never really left, but most freelancers who actually want to establish a real career in this professon turned their backs on these mills.

However, they’ve returned. Rebranded as agencies that provide content to help small companies grow.

Perhaps some of them actually do this. But the ones I’ve researched thus far (because it sounded like they were legitimately hiring freelance writers for a variety of interesting projects) have this in common:

They GROSSLY underpay writers.

One of them gave me a per-piece quote. The price seemed low unless it was a REALLY short piece. So I asked about word count. They wanted a word count that turned the per-word rate for the piece into .03/word.

No, thanks.

They also wanted a commitment of 5-6 articles per week, at 1.5-3K/article.

At a rate that works out to .03/word.

Oh, there’s more: they have to approve a certain number of sources per article. Which, to me, echoes a publication I quit when they told me I could only mention ad buyers in my articles.

That’s not how it works, people.

Article sources aren’t tied to the advertising budget of the publication. Sources are relevant to the veracity of the article.

Then there’s the agency supposedly “hiring” freelancers. Yet when they put out a call for an assignment, they will “submit” you (but only if you have project specific samples) and then you have to do the negotiation with the client. Why do I need someone to submit me if the rate we discussed and agreed upon for me to come and work under your company’s banner has nothing to do with any of the assignments?

“You have to work your way up to our agreed rates through a series of client-managed assignments.”

No, actually, I don’t.

I can pitch directly to clients with whom I think I’d be a good fit. Cut out the middle man. No worries about the agreed-upon rate being changed.

Many of these companies have slick websites that look and sound good until you break down the market-speak. One of these even made one of the local lists about being a one of the top local companies. Yet when you strip away Adobe Flash, it’s still a content mill.

Needless to say, run for the hills when they try to lure in the business by saying they provide content at low rates. Red flag. Right there.

Be careful. Beware. Trust your instincts. Go directly to the companies that need writers. Avoid “agencies” who want to pimp you out cheaply while they profit.

UPDATE: There’s a a problem with the reCaptcha — my host is working on it. In the meantime, freelancer Paula Hendrickson had this to add:

“I was talking about this exact thing this morning—how content mills that paid $5 per “article” seem to have been replaced by content agencies that might pay $50 per “article,” often for an undefined scope or length. They tout how much you can earn per month by writing 10 articles per week, while glossing over the fact that they’re probably keeping more than half what their clients are paying them while you’re working full time for less than minimum wage.  That doesn’t allow  you time to seek out better-paying clients on your own, which perpetuates the cycle.
They might call themselves “agencies” now. They may have realized that they can’t get decent copy at $5 a pop, and increased their rates from pathetically low to super low. But it’s still a mill system: pay providers the smallest amount of money possible, demand a high output of product, then sell their product for as much as you can milk out of it and keep the profits for yourself.”

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