- PCN member Alexander Velky recently wrote this piece for the Guardian about his experience with content mills, which includes a brief quote from our co-founder Tom Albrighton. Since much of the material prepared for the piece was cut for reasons of space, we’re publishing the Q&A between Alex and Tom in full.
The PCN says ‘By the word pricing positions copywriting as a commodity rather than a professional service’. Do you stand by that?
Yes, that was and remains our position. By-the-word pricing skews the cost/benefit equation of copywriting by privileging quantity over quality. By ‘quality’, I mean the marketing, branding and commercial benefits delivered by a professional copywriter via a relationship of mutual understanding, collaboration and trust.
Would you agree that Copify is a more attractive proposition for aspiring writers than it is for professionals?
Yes, because you can use it to learn about responding to a brief, research, grappling with novel subjects and other useful skills, and to build up a portfolio. However, if you put in enough time to realise those benefits, your effective hourly rate will be very low indeed, and there’s little scope for career progression within the content-mill model.
One ambivalent blogger (Andy Maslen) suggested copywriting could never be a ‘profession’, but that it was a ‘trade’. Do you think this is an important distinction? (And why?)
It’s not the be-all and end-all, but descriptions can be important. Our definition of ‘professional’ is broader than Andy’s. We use it to differentiate a partner from a provider. A writer isn’t like a bricklayer; she works with her clients to add value beyond the words she’s been asked to deliver. And her price reflects that.
Would you accept material written for a client via Copify as part of a portfolio of work submitted for entry to the PCN?
Yes, because we look at the quality of the work, and we’re agnostic about the client or the source.
How quickly do you think you could satisfactorily complete a typical 1p-per-word brief?
The meaning of ‘satisfactory’ depends on many factors, including but not limited to the content’s publication channel, prominence, commercial purpose and subject matter. That’s why per-word pricing, in my opinion, doesn’t really work. Would you expect to get a killer slogan for 5p?
You have said ‘Your best chances of republication (propagating backlinks across multiple domains) come with a compelling, high-quality article.’ Are the sorts of articles Copify delivers ever likely to be read from start to finish by a human being (as opposed to a web-crawler)?
I haven’t read a huge amount of work by Copify’s writers, but I do know that my own most successful pieces were usually those that took the longest in terms of planning, drafting and revision.
A friend of mine once described SEO practitioners as ‘snake-oil salesmen’. Martin from Copify has said all SEOs but Amazon’s must be ‘a little bit grey,’ (referring to ‘black hat’/’white hat’ terminology). What do you think that tells us about Martin’s approach to web content?
The problem with any tactic that seeks to ‘game’ Google’s algorithm is that today’s grey area is tomorrow’s black hole. When Google becomes more discerning, your approach loses its value – and so does all the grey-hat content you’ve bought.
Copify have been going for a few years now: they must be doing something right. Is there a place for what they do in the market?
In terms of supply and demand, yes. And a deal agreed by all parties is fair by definition. But markets aren’t infallible, and they don’t necessarily benefit their customers. After all, supply and demand brought us the 12p beefburger.