Over Two Dozen Writers Weighted in on My Last Blog Post’s Question About the Impact of Content Mills — Their Responses are Encouraging
After the past couple of weeks, I now know more about content mills than I ever wanted to know.
Little did I know that my last blog post would trigger a huge response, especially on one LinkedIn group where three content mill writers and a content mill operator butted into the discussion and tried to take over the conversation with their own agenda.
But all they accomplished was eliciting interesting comments from many professional freelance writers.
In fact, many of the professional writers attempted to explain to the content mill workers the difference between quality content and content mill-produced content. But it was like talking to a brick wall. Especially when it came to the founder of a content mill called BlogMutt, where “writers” earn a whopping $8 per blog post (and that’s only if someone actually purchases their posts from BM).
The professional writers even attempted to offer the content mill writers direction and tips on finding decent-paying jobs. All of our efforts fell on deaf ears. They appear to be happy cranking out poor-quality “content” — and actually attempted to justify its value.
The best part of the discussions were the comments from professional freelance writers, who uniformly stated in no uncertain terms that content mills are not in anyway a threat to the careers of professional freelance writers.
Many businesspeople know and appreciate content that elevates their companies’ SEO ranking, builds customer loyalty and respect, attracts prospects, creates brand identify, and shapes public opinion. They don’t want low-quality drivel that does the diametric opposite.
Professional Freelance Writers Share Their Thoughts on Content Mills
I’m sharing some of the many comments by professional freelance writers in this blog post. The writers’ answers will hearten other freelance writers, like me. (Note: See the note at the end of this blog post about the creation of a private group just for professional freelance writers.)
Amy S. • “Fascinating topic. My best client for about a year was an attorney who needed marketing material and a legal presentation on the topic of charitable gifts in wills to be written based on the Tennessee Code Annotated. He loaned me a half-dozen fat law books and instructions for the major points to cover. It took me a week, he was delighted with the result, and I was well compensated. I also wrote for agriculture and health magazines that required both interviews and research. Farmers do not make themselves available during working hours, so I was calling the poor guys at 11 p.m. after they had finally put the tractor away. Do content mills claim to produce in-depth content like this for specific audiences?”
Ingrid C. • “I don’t find that content mills compete with me, because I am trading on quality, responsiveness, technical understanding, experience, and knowledge of clients and their audiences. I’m not a writer-bot. I have long-term relationships with most of my clients. I work to make a living and support a family. If $8 a post were the best I could do, I’d find a different line of work. If other writers are happy to work for content mills, mazel tov. But it’s not for me, and I frankly think it’s exploitation to offer such sweatshop wages and naivete (or desperation) to accept them. Every job I’ve ever had has rewarded me in money, learning about craft, or both. It sounds to me like BlogMutt and other such operations will leave you poor in both departments.”
Wally P. • “Paige, great post! When I started freelancing I was doing short articles for practically nothing similar to what the content mills crank out, although it was for an individual. It only took one or two other jobs to realize that I was wasting time. The mills don’t bother me at all. They don’t keep clients, at least not quality clients. The amount of work that is available and advertised is mind-boggling when you start looking. I get more work than I can handle from one or two sources plus referrals. Here’s the secret, for folks who are new or worried: Establish connections and a reputation. I had three or four articles published on Mashable about a year and a half ago, and although they were ghostwritten I still used them as leverage to engage other clients. That landed me one client who has kept me around for over a year and counting, and they pay well. That’s only one of many examples. Today the vast majority of my clients come to me instead of vice-versa, and quite frankly I’ve never scratched the surface of the possibilities out there. Bottom line – if you can write well and have good relationship skills, you have nothing to worry about.”
Lori W. • “To be honest? No. My prices are well beyond what anyone cruising a content mill for writing help could afford. That weeds out the bargain shoppers. I used to think content mills were dragging down the profession. They’re not. They’re actually keeping would-be writers from building a solid career. I’ve never really had to convince a company of anything. If they hire me, they want quality work. If they don’t, they’re not my clients.”
Jonathan W. • “If I had my druthers, there would be no place in this world for content mills. I pray for a rapture-esque moment to take all of these predatory sites away. Sorry retirees and stay-at-home Moms, you’re going to have to become better writers or take that job at Wal-Mart. Either way, you will make more money. If you’re offended at me belittling — accurately assessing — your skills, good! I hope you are good and mad. I hope you get off your ass and try to prove me wrong. Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t compete against content mills. They do not affect my bank balance in the least. I don’t think they ever will. How much waiter at Golden Corral makes doesn’t affect a waiter at Ruth’s Chris’s bottom line. No, my hatred for content mills stems from moral outrage. Who doesn’t feel rage when they see images of third world sweatshops? That’s what content mills are. They are sweatshops, and just like sweatshops their business model involves the willful exploitation of the ignorant and downtrodden.”
Pete M. • “Content mills work because people believe it’s harder to get writing gigs than it is, and because people are led to believe creative industries aren’t worth such little things as a living wage (would anyone ask a painter to decorate their living room for less than a dollar, which they only ever saw once they’d painted at least $50 “worth” of rooms?). If you want to write for a few cents every 1,000 words you write that’s great – but if you invested that time honing good pitches to magazines or clients you would make more money with one commissioned article than you could make in many months of hard content mill slogging, in which you produced a torrent of hastily-produced web content that sits in kudos-free corners of the Internet and barely does you career or bank balance any good whatsoever.”
Caryn S. • “Interesting and sad. I don’t know that I’ve ever competed directly but in a similar vein: I write a monthly blog for a company that wanted me to lower my already-low fee and I explained that I was already giving them a great deal, I understood they have budget issues but I could not work for any less, given the amount of research I have to do for each post and the quality of writing they get. They never asked about further discounts again. The smart companies will realize that having access to people of our caliber, commitment, and professionalism is worth it because we burnish their reputations. I am going to guess that a lot of content mill product tarnishes those reputations over time. The Internet has indeed made it too easy to get lots of content on the cheap. But there are professionals out there who understand the value of having someone like us on their team.”
James M. • “They’re not a threat. Essentially, any prospect you ‘lose’ to a content mill is one you probably wouldn’t want to work with anyway — at least not at that stage of their thinking. If the prospect is one that you’re still interested in, then keep in touch occasionally. One of three things is likely to happen:
– They’ll decide that they’ve made a mistake and give you another shot (for which you’ll be in a better position to quote at an appropriate level);
– They’ll keep the mill cranking for low-level stuff, but contact you for ‘more valuable/more important’ writing; or
– The former prospect will be satisfied with what the mill is providing (e.g., lots of quantity that s/he can use to prove to the boss that s/he’s doing a ‘great job’). That would just confirm that losing the client was a blessing in disguise.”
Lana W. • “A potential client asked me why he would pay me the rate I’d set when he could get work ‘just as good as mine’ from a content mill for $2-$5/page. I asked him if, when he had a toothache, he’d pay a dentist to get things taken care of properly, or if he would pay a neighbour a couple of bucks to go at his mouth with a pair of pliers and a hammer drill. No further communication was had (can’t imagine why), but I like to hope that he might have understood why I charge more than the mill folk do. Anyone can throw random words together to fill up a blank space, but doing so makes someone a ‘writer’ in the same way that adding some parsley to Zoodles makes one a ‘chef.’ Those you actually -want- to work with will recognise the difference, and the ones who don’t aren’t worth your time.”
Nick S. • “There is no substitute for professional work. You can only delude yourself for so long that your saving money on creative paid off. They are not our market and never will be. They do not value or recognize marketing/professional/creative expertise, they just see cheap. These clients never were ours to have in the first place with their shortsighted, bottom line only thinking. Time to look elsewhere.”
Susan T. • “I’ve managed to avoid competing with content mills, although I’ve ‘saved’ a few clients after they’ve been sucked into one. It seems like there are two types of clients with whom a writer could face this problem. One type doesn’t care about quality and just wants quantity. I say run as fast as you can from these people. You could waste a lot of time trying to enlighten them. The second type respects and wants high quality copy and gets fooled by mills like Brafton. We may just have to wait on these to get burned by the mills. Over time the word will get out. Meanwhile it seems like an organization like AWAI could be helping to educate those who hire writers about this situation.”
Hal A. • “That’s like asking if I would ever put myself in a cage full of hungry tigers! It’s always been my belief that those who use content mills are BSC (business-savvy-challenged). It seems to me that they are people who choose to be blindsided by content mill offers of reduced fee arrangements. Once cost becomes the issue, they fail to see the enormously increased sales potential of customized and personalized writing in their branding and marketing programs, and tend to be — what’s the old expression? — penny-wise and dollar-foolish. The best solution I’ve found, is to do your homework first on the prospect’s quality-consciousness. If you come up empty, simply stay out of that arena. Spend your energy more productively with those who do appreciate the bottom line value of true professional writing, where sales results speak for themselves.”
Jodi L. • “The cornerstone of my business is excellent content. I’d estimate that about half of my clients come to me after doing business with a content mill. While there will always be those who want content for a dollar, the bottom line is that as search engine algorithms continue to evolve, better content will win out.“
Ruth T. • “If someone says they’ll only use my writing services if I match the rates of a content mill, I say, “Fine, nice hearing from you, I’m not interested.’ They often come back to me later after having used content mills or inexperienced writers they found through wherever, and say they need the work of a trained, experienced, professional writer after all. I just smile and say, ‘Great, glad to be of service,’ and off we go.:
Peter P. • “This question makes me imagine someone walking into the showroom of a Mercedes-Benz dealership and showing the sales manager a classified ad for 20-year-old Chevy priced at only $350 and described as ‘Some rust. Runs,’ and asking if this makes the salesman nervous. You don’t have to be a car buff to realize there is a difference. Any sensible client ought to realize there is a difference between professionally written, quality creative content and some crap a hack received all of $3.50 to throw together as quickly as possible — or worse, something created by a piece of software that strings together random phrases and sentences lifted from other websites. The old saying, ‘you get what you pay for,’ is no less true today. If your client doesn’t mind publishing poorly written garbage on his business website because he paid next to nothing for it, maybe he also wouldn’t mind driving around town in a rust-riddled oil-burner he purchased cheaply. I just hope he has a tow truck on speed dial.”
Keith W. • “Great read Paige. I looked at the Brafton site too and read the comments… I think what we need to have as freelancers, if we want to compete with content mills, is the case histories with quantified results to go along with the ‘quality story.’ Clients (who would consider content mills) mostly care about perceived results. And a ‘team of writers’ with ‘analytics’ and SEO marketing etc all add up to ‘this company is going to make my life easier’ and make me rich / save my job. There are few clients who will care about the horrible internal process at The Mill especially when they are staring at analytics that show positive results. We need to prove why and how quality = even better results. And most clients don’t like dealing with ‘creative people.’ They mostly want an account director they can complain to about the creative people and they want that person to make their life easier. Now, that is all if you want to compete for the clients who would consider a content mill as an option. There are clients out there who love great quality product and love the creative process too. Those are the clients we need to pour our energies into, right?”
NOTE: I’d like to extend a special thank you to the professional freelance writers who gave me permission to use their comments. Thank you!
Would You Like to Join a Private Group for Professional Freelance Writers?
A great idea came out of the longest LinkedIn discussion. Several professional freelance writers said they’d like to join a private freelance group, so that we could have discussion about our careers without dealing with Internet trolls.
Let me know if you would be interested in joining a private group to help professional freelance writers advance their careers and talk about issues with their peers. Paige at mylifeasafreelancer dot com.