There’s been a lot of talk about money on the PCN forum, and particularly about the poor rates offered by content mills and similar sites.
A couple of years ago, I said that I wasn’t too bothered by content mills making money out of cheap content, dismissing them as places that hire suckers to write for cheapskates. I was rather proud of that soundbite at the time but, of course, it was too simplistic.
They’re really like supermarkets in which only the store manager can earn a living wage.
The irony is that they could be useful social and commercial enterprises that drove up standards for writers, while still offering a cheap and good-value service. Let me explain why.
The real problem is in the content mills’ business model. If a mill is able to offer prices of 3p per word to its customers (as one current mill claims to), it stands to reason that it can’t pay much more than 2p to its writers.
Indeed, since I first drafted this post, it has transpired that the content mill Copify pays this particular writer 1.5p per word.
Not that he’s complaining.
So what really gets on my nerves is establish [sic] copywriters whose work pretty much comes [to] them writing about how shitty sites like Copyify [sic] are. Copify is [a] site for copywriters and content writers to find jobs and for companies to find article writers. The pay is not amazing, but the jobs are often small and simple meaning you can knock out a few before lunch while watching TV.
Established copywriters mock Copify and refer to it is [sic] a “copy mill” and suggest the quality of work is lacking and the pay too low. They guffaw at the writers being paid 8p a word as though it’s nothing. Most of my jobs earn me 1.5p a word and I’m very happy with that. That means for a 700 word article I get £10 which depending on the article, is good money.
This writer argues that the content mill gives him experience, which will then allow him to get higher paying gigs at some later point. My argument is that you shouldn’t exploit someone, just because they haven’t got experience — you should pay them fairly for the work they do (though I would worry if they kept the TV set on while working at the proper rate).
Let’s look at the maths. One of the people who commented on the writer’s article directed readers to a site that paid 2p per word — we’ll use that as our baseline.
Assuming you hired a writer at that rate (the mill giving them 2p from the 3p charged to clients), a 350-word press release would net them £7, with another £3.50 going to the mill. Given that the average salary in the UK is £26,200, the copywriter would have to churn out just over 3,742 press releases in a year (72 per week, or over 14 for every working day — assuming the writer took no holidays. Ever). That’s the kind of calculation that has made most writers froth at the mouth.
But I think there’s a more worrying dimension. Let’s go back to the 1p per word the mill might be getting out of the 3p-per-word deal. Because it is getting half the money of its writers, the mill needs to sell 7,485 press releases to get its own equivalent of the national average wage. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d be hard pushed to research and write 2 really good press releases in a day. But I’ll be generous and assume that some writers could turn out 3 top-class releases in that period. Based on that calculation, they could write 15 in a week or 705 in a working year (47 working weeks and 5 weeks of holiday time). That’s a staggering calculation. Because it means the content mill (assuming it is sourcing only top quality releases) would need to hire the equivalent of 10.6 full time writers to earn it the equivalent of the national average wage. That’s before you take any overheads into account.
And the writers? Well, they’d earn £4,935 per year. I think that’s immoral.
Of course, the content mills’ arguments run something like:
But the fact remains that, by charging 3p per word, the mills are saying that a full time writer — even a beginner — is only worth paying less than £5,000 per year. That’s plain exploitative.
One content mill recently scoffed at paying £175 for a press release. I think that’s a mistake. Imagine this scenario. The content mill abandons the 3p per word model, but retains the hypothetical split when it comes to the fee — two thirds to the writer, one third to the mill. But this time it tells clients that the minimum fee for a press release is £75. That’s £50 for the writer and £25 for the mill. Based on our figures above, a writer working full time (3 press releases per day) would earn £150 per day (£750 per week, or £35,250 per 47-week working year). The mill would earn half of that in commission — £75 per day (£375 per week, or £17,645 per working year). And even though it would be undercutting a huge number of freelance writers, the mill would earn £186,825 from the 10.6 writers it currently hires to net itself the equivalent of the national average wage. That would not only make it a tidy sum of money, but it would send out a strong message to customers that good content costs money — and can stillbe good value. And it would stop writers who are trying to get a foothold in the profession from being exploited.
There’s the question. But in the long term, I think it has to. After all, when a supermarket moves into town it might put the local butcher out of business. But if it then hires the butcher to work at its own meat counter, it has enough sense to pay that skilled individual a living wage. And not just because it’s moral — but because it’s the sound commercial thing to do.