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Time For Writers To Rise Up And Unite

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We’ve all seen it at least once in our life. A down-on-his-luck person standing on a street corner holding a sign that reads “Will work for food.” Since finding employment in the past has been difficult, that phrase has jovially translated to us wordsmiths in the freelance industry as “Will write for food.”

Many years ago writing was considered a hobby, a pastime, that only the lucky and elite authors actually made a living from. While alluding to the fact that we’d actually give up our time and talents to create content simply to feed ourselves is an ongoing joke among writers, it was no laughing matter trying to find work.

That was until the invention of the Internet. Because of the overwhelming online presence and the myriad websites on the world wide web, the need for article, company description, press release, technology data sheet, and other company PR and marketing material content skyrocketed. Throw in the more recent popularity explosion in Web 2.0 and social networking to promote a certain person, company, product, or cause on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and even more freelance writing opportunities have emerged.

And while one would think this is reason for all writers to pop the champagne and celebrate – it’s not. Mostly because many still can’t afford champagne. While it’s nice to see the advancement in technology open these new doors, when a writer steps through to receive his or her paycheck it is but a pittance of what it should be.

Perhaps it’s the fact that there is a flood of new jobs out there that leads employers to believe they can charge near nothing. Maybe the overflow of employment has brought with it a deluge of writers, which in turn drown perspective employers with resumes and responses.

Whatever the case – it’s time for writers to stand up and say no more. It’s time to get up on that table – Norma Rae style – grab that bullhorn, and shout out to each and every writer that it’s time to unite! Unite against the tyranny of unfair wages and comical compensation thrusted our way.

Jump on Craigslist or any other online freelance employment website and you’ll see a whole job board full of both long-term and short-term projects. Bloggers needed – $2 per post. Website writer needed – $5 per page. Articles needed – $.01 per word (after editing). And the best: Daily articles needed, no pay, but we give you a byline.

Just today on Craigslist’s SF Bay Area section there is this advertisement for a “Freelance Article Writer:”

“Web-based business seeks freelance writer to create high-quality, original articles of 500-700 words in length. Requirements: excellent writing skills, ability to rapidly assimilate information gathered from multiple sources then turn around into high-quality original content, ability to meet tight deadlines.”

Sounds ideal – especially to former reporters and journalists. That is until one sees the compensation for such work: $15 per article. Researching, organizing, composing, editing, rewriting – all for just enough money to buy a nice lunch. By yourself. Oh, and the ad calls for high-quality content, so the business is hoping to land a “talented” writer.

While it is understandable to see low pay or even trade from folks that have little to no money – like students needing help with their thesis or someone starting up a blog – it’s an outrage to see real-life, profit-making companies placing posts for near scraps in return.

Maybe they truly believe that it’s easy to write – simple to sit down, slam a few keys on a computer, and put meaningful sentences together. Maybe they just don’t understand that quality writing takes time, effort, talent, and passion. Whether it’s a short blog entry, product description, or a lengthy newsworthy article – every piece of work is more than just a bunch of words linked together – it’s artwork.

Until writers unite and start demanding to get paid accordingly, and employers respectively respond, we’ll continue to be starving artists – working just to put food on the table.

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About BizarroGuy

  • http://Brandi-AnnUyemura.com Brandi

    I think I saw that same ad on Craigslist. And a few other ones that I got all too excited about and then quickly discouraged when I saw either ridiculously low or nonexistent pay. I’m quite surprised that businesses think that they can get quality writing when they offer to pay so little. Doesn’t the term, “You get what you pay for?” mean anything these days?

  • Star

    Our friends the cheeseball bottomfeeders. Ah, yes, I have been railing against them for what, 3 yrs now? Yet, writers still rationalize making these idiots rich by saying they can write 20 400-word articles a minute and are feeling the love. The whole business is circling in the bowl now. Let humorously non-English speaking types take this work. Whatever! I loved one article that advised writers to have a financial cushion–only it said, “Pillow of money.” Yeah, that’s what we need–a pillowCASE of money.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    yessir, this bizarre $15/article thing has been brought to you by Demand Media.

    it creeps me out.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    I’m always amused when self-styled “writers” take to the soap box to proclaim how unfair is their plight, and in so doing demonstrate their own incompetence at the very craft for which they insist on being paid.

    To wit:
    ¶5 – “… which in turn drown perspective [sic] employers with resumes and responses.”
    ¶6 – “… the tyranny of unfair wages and comical compensation thrusted [sic] our way.”

    But let me ask you this, BizarroGuy. Why are you writing for Blogcritics? Last I heard, BC pays its bloggers nothing. Isn’t there an element of hypocrisy here? If you honestly believe “it’s time for writers to stand up and say no more,” and if you’re advocating that “writers unite and start demanding to get paid accordingly,” then why not start here?

    Technorati acquired Blogcritics in August 2008. Speculation was that Technorati paid $1 million for a site drawing a million unique monthly visitors. As part of the deal, Eric Olsen and Phillip Winn became full-time Technorati employees. Eric is presently listed as Publisher, Technorati.com. Eric’s wife, Dawn Olsen, is billed as Senior Editor and Entertainment Channel Editor at Technorati. So BC’s founders split $1 million and each got a full-time job out of selling Blogcritics to Technorati.

    Surely Technorati wouldn’t have acquired BC if it were not a sound commercial venture. As a Technorati subsidiary, BC runs advertising, including some from big-name corporations. Plus BC gets a modest commission from Amazon on products purchased as the result of BC links. Combined, that must generate respectable monthly revenue.

    So where does that money go? BC doesn’t pay its writers. As I understand it, with one or two exceptions, BC doesn’t pay its editors. And today’s web technology has lowered service provider fees to practically nothing. What other operating costs would BC have?

    It seems to me that Blogcritics is a fairly good cash cow for Technorati. But of course that all depends on BC continuing to exploit its nonprofessional editors and writers.

    What I’m getting at, BizarroGuy, is it’s time for you to put up or shut up.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I’ve been able to make a fairly decent living freelancing because I realize that there’s a difference between the “artwork” side of writing and the mundane blogging that goes on.

    You simply have to decide how best to allocate your time and, given the right circumstances, you can actually make quite a bit of coin for relatively little effort.

    Freelancers have been standing up for higher rates of pay for for ages, but nothing’s going to change as long as those who hire can outsource to India or China for 50 cents for a 500 word article. It’s just the nature of the beast. Luckily, I’ve been able to get some nice long-term work that pays well because I try to deliver quality work. It can be like finding a needle in a haystack, sure, and it’s hard to make a living wage as a freelancer right out of the box, but it can be done.

    I would suggest, too, that if you’re taking an hour or more to write a blog entry, you’re taking too long. Today’s media demands efficiency and speed and that’s where the money is, so you either follow the angles or leave it to others who will.

    Save the “artwork” for a field that deserves it. Freelance writing is less about “artwork” and more about getting things done quickly and cheaply. It’s the nature of most industries that outsourcing drives the money downward, not upward.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Good points, Alan. For me, Blogcritics and my own sites are havens of real self-expression. I don’t really think of compensation, but rather consider them a break from the ordinary of my day of writing on some rather uninteresting (to me, anyways) topics. So in a way, that’s what I get out of it.

    Nobody’s going to “get rich” freelancing, but it can lead to other things and long-term contracts and the like. It’s a matter of plugging away, day after day, and staying on top of (or preferably ahead of) the trends. If you think you’re “worth” more money, prove it and you’ll eventually find those willing to pay for your quality of work. But if you slip up and prove your command of the English language to be only slightly more advanced than those who don’t actually speak it, good luck getting the work you think you “deserve.”

    Oh, and there were no “glory days” of freelancing, either. This is a relatively new profession, at least in terms of the internet’s role in it, and it’s something that requires a lot more work. Things haven’t “gotten” bad; they started here at the bottom.

  • Jordan Richardson

    One more thing, I would highly recommend against using Craigslist or other sites like it for getting work. Sure, there are a few gems there, but it’s mostly like a garage sale to pick through.

    There are some good sites that traffic in a lot of business, including some real high-end stuff. I use Constant Content regularly, as they allow me to publish and try to sell articles on ANY topic, and I also use Elance because of their escrow and wealth of job opportunities.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    What am I missing, Jordan? Your page on Constant Content says you’re written 17 articles, sold 8 usage licenses, and one each unique license and full rights license. Is it possible to make money with those kind of numbers?

  • Jordan Richardson

    That’s my personal page, yep. I also had a business page for a freelancing venture a friend and I had (that has since gone south for personal reasons), so I was sorting that out.

    I haven’t written for CC in a while though, either personally or through the business.

    But yes, to answer your question it is possible to make money with those digits. I set the pricing on my articles, so that enables me to sell those articles for some rather good coin relative to how long it took me to write them. Some of those, too, were for specific client requests.

    Depending on the rights, you can re-sell other articles elsewhere.

    You can’t just have one line in the water, though, and nobody will make that much money at Constant Content or any single site. But if you put your wares out at various “tables,” your chances go up and your income can flow rather nicely considering the time you put in and the sheer joy of working out in the backyard on the laptop enjoying the weather.

    For us (Jen and I), it’s well worth it.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Another thing is that I’ve dropped the value on some of my articles after I’ve sold them for usage licenses. You have to feel it out; if you set high prices out of the box, the likelihood of moving units is not great.

    If I sell for usage rights, that enables me to sell that article over and over and over again. I can keep making money off of the same article.

  • Jordan Richardson

    See, take a more prolific writer from CC like

  • Jordan Richardson

    Grrr. It happened again, must be doing something wrong with links.

    Anyways, I was going to say that a look at some of the more prolific writers there reveals that some can make some good money at it.

    Factor in that they, like me, probably also do the same thing at other sites and have individual clients as well and you’re looking at a pretty decent amount of money for the time and effort that goes in.

    Another reason, personally, is more medical. I have ulcerative colitis and it can get pretty severe at times, so working from home in this capacity enables me to contribute in a fairly reasonable way while I take care of my health. Throw the housework on top and it’s a pretty decent set-up for us.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Elance posted 30,482 in the last 30 days. It lists 160,911 providers. That’s more than five providers competing for each new job. Doesn’t sound promising.

  • Jordan Richardson

    How many “providers” do you think are competing for each new job in ANY field, Alan?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Point taken.

  • Jordan Richardson

    From my experience on Elance, I usually submit my proposal for a typical job and end up competing with around 10 other writers or writing companies.

    Comparing that with my experience applying for my last job as a chef and I was among over 100 applicants.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    “Writing companies?” What on earth on those?

  • Jordan Richardson

    Oh Christ, they’re everywhere.

    I’ve worked for a few over the last few years, some better than others. The idea behind them is that having a group of writers will enable greater volumes of work (in freelancing, especially this kind of freelancing, volume is everything – content is king) to be produced over relatively short periods of time.

    The companies will bid on work from Elance and hundreds of other similar sites, then they’ll divvy up the work between their “staff” of writers. They usually pocket a “finder’s fee,” usually a percentage, and pay the writers out of the rest. It can work out to be pretty lucrative for some, but many are just middle agents to getting work. I’ve earned some clients that I still work for from writing companies, but I’ve an independent contractor now.

  • Jordan Richardson

    A few examples from Elance:

    There’s Words You Want, Creative Lipi, Jane Content, CreativeWords, WV Writing Services, etc.

    WV boasts a writing team of 58 writers and they claim to crank out 2000 pieces a week. Their rates are obscenely low, like $3.50 for 350 words or less. Ugh.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Thanks, Jordan. You’ve opened a lot of new windows for me tonight. I had no idea any of this stuff exists.

  • Jordan Richardson

    One of the best reasons to going with a company or going into a site like Elance to get work is that you’re not on your own without any process of recourse in case a client decides not to pay.

    This has happened to a few people that I know, where they do the work and the client skips out on the bill. With Elance, there’s escrow and dispute policies that can help protect you from that. If you just take odd jobs on Craigslist, there are risks involved. In the tech age, the dishonesty of some people really can take flight.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    A better idea yet, why work for pittance if you can start your own, high-quality writing company? It’s just a matter of marketing to the right kind of audience. It’s far more exciting, besides, to be involved in a project of your own making. (I hinted at the idea in my email, Alan, remember?) Or is it the case, perhaps, that the days of the “old country newspaper” subsisting on subscription – or a dedicated blog site, to bring things up to speed, are over? Hence the mixed blessings which come with the advent of the internet: it’s great for the consumer, but you work for practically next to nothing.

    As an aside, what do you suggest the Bizzaro Guy should do? Start the writers’ revolt here on BC? We’re all dime a dozen to all those whose interests consist of making money. And as long as we do their bidding, they’ll let you post, counting on your pride in your profession while throwing you a carrot: you’ll get greater exposure. Baloney! But as soon as you buck the establishment, they’ll discard you like an old shoe.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Here is a thought.

    What do you suppose would happen if each and every singe contributor to BC, including the editors – all those, in short, who aren’t getting paid – were to go on strike? And there are good reasons for that – the most important being, yes, we’ll all being exploited.

    (Watch how soon this little germ of the idea will receive its proper attention and sharp rebuke: “If you don’t like it, don’t publish; no one’s forcing you to.” Indeed, I expect Lisa McCay to drop her little hint, along with any number of “writing stiffs” who, for some reason, feel that they’re married to the company and must stand up for it. Or they’ll tell you can make some dough by participating in Google’s advertising program. What a farce.)

    But to return to the main point, how long do you suppose it would take for BC to replenish its present contributors?

    I’d say a week at most. Meanwhile, I’d bet that Eric Olson, Dawn and Phil would get off their high seat and lower themselves to the drudgery of writing to fill in the gap.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Considering that many writers receive “compensation” in the form of review materials (books, CDs, DVDs, whatever) and quite a few have, through “writing for free,” seen book deals and other accolades arrive, I’m not too sure anyone would manage a “revolt” of any substance.

    And maybe people “stand up for the company” because they like it here and happen to enjoy publishing, learning new things, WRITING, and receiving review materials and media contacts. Just a thought, but there are things beyond financial compensation that can keep things interesting.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Of course. I’ve never written anything for profit. But I don’t believe in the “nickle ‘n dime,” penny-ante, carrot-stick approach. One of the posters made a point that’s worth reiterating. BC is a cash cow. “For no other reason that WE contribute” is my amplification of the point. So they can keep their Google advertising program and their give-aways. Sorry, not interested. I’m not a hustler when it comes to writing (though I might hustle whenever hustling is appropriate).

    But there is the system for you, Jordan, capitalism in full bloom.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Roger, I agree that staging a writers’ strike at Blogcritics or any other website would be futile. However, I’m not sure labor walkouts were what BizarroGuy had in mind. He did write, “It’s time to get up on that table – Norma Rae style – grab that bullhorn, and shout out to each and every writer that it’s time to unite!” That sounds like old-style unionist agitation, alright. But writers demanding to get paid might not necessarily involve strikes. In any case, my criticism of him is for taking such a holier-than-thou stance at Blogcritics, of all places, and failing to even mention our plight here. BC is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    Anyhow, Jordan may be on to something in comment #24, where he mentions that “many writers receive ‘compensation’ in the form of review materials (books, CDs, DVDs, whatever).” Roger, that’s where you and I and so many others who write for BC’s Politics section have been missing out. We need to explore the possibility of compensation in the form of “review materials.”

    And I don’t mean just books, etc. When you write, as you recently did, “the British pound still stands,” you deserve a shipment of those for “review” purposes. When I write, as I do in my latest BC Sci/Tech article, about jet engines, I should expect to receive one from aerospace giant McDonnell Douglas for “review” purposes.

    Just what I need for my next yard sale, damnit.