Mark Terry

Monday, April 11, 2011

Content Providers

April 11, 2011
I had a fairly unpleasant experience this week (and a lot of cool things, too). Unfortunately, it's an experience I've been having a bit too much lately.

Earlier in the year I did an editing job on a memoir. The writer's son contacted me this weekend. He does a lot of website work and he was doing work for a neurosurgeon and wanted me to write about 30 articles in the doc's voice that would be used for search engine optimization (SEO) and posted at various placed around the 'net. They would be between 500 and 1000 words. What did I charge?

I essentially put a mid-range bid down, while explaining that I typically charged per word for magazine articles and was more likely to work hourly or per project rate for website content, but I laid things out for him and the gist of it was the entire project would probably cost him $9000, in other words, about $300 per article. Which, trust me, is a very modest rate for 30 articles of that length, but I was offering a "package deal" sort of thing, too.

Here is part of his response:

Unfortunately, it seems like we're in completely different universes with regards to the pricing - Being an SEO guy who's used to working with India and paying $4 per article, I was thinking that I could have paid you about $10.

Well. I'm sure he is paying that much and I'm sure he gets what he pays for, and if I was a neurosurgeon (presumably a person with a very high income, pretty much no matter where in the world he's working), I'd really want these expertly done.

I was annoyed, but not angry, because there's a lot of this going on these days. And it's ridiculous. It may also be why I'm seeing more and more Craigslist and and other postings that have a line in the ad that says "Must be Native English speaker." I suspect those folks got burned.

But the gist of his response was he wanted me, a professional writer, to do anywhere from 150 to 450 hours of work for about $300. It's almost so bizarre I can't be insulted. I'm not amused, but I'm not really insulted either. I'm trying to envision someone going to a neurosurgeon and asking that they be paid 85 cents an hour. Or hell, going to a website developer and suggesting they be paid 85 cents an hour.

Professional writing has value. The people who are willing to do this work at that price are either living and working where the exchange rate is pathetic, or they don't value the services they're offering. I suspect it's both. Once upon a time web-based project bidding sites like and were the sites of decent gigs, but now they're ridiculous. This job will get filled at that rate by someone somewhere in the world. And I hope the neurosurgeon chokes on the results, frankly.

I remind myself that I'm an expert content provider. Not only am I an expert on certain types of content (medical writing, clinical diagnostics, business of healthcare, medical practice management), but I'm an expert at providing content on other areas as well. And that, as an expert, I can charge "expert" rates. And the client will get their money's worth.

But ultimately these sorts of rates make me mad because they cheapen the value of expert content providers. And I don't think it's necessarily a byproduct of a global economy, although that's part of it. I was reading a blog by a very experience travel writer (and celebrity news person) who was asked by a rock band's promotional people to come to the festival and write about it. They would pay for her ticket. When she asked for money for the writing, they turned her down. Which is bullshit, because they're making money, but they're not willing to spend it to have something done by one of the best in the business.

My only concluding thought is that expert content providers need to insist that their work and expertise has value. That's the only way that potential clients will value the work and realize they get what they pay for.


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I'll try to keep from ranting.

I have seen writers argue that places like DEMAND Studios are a good way for newbie writers to get clips and so on and build their resume. But do they REALLY think even as a newbie that their work is worth $2 an hour? Really? 'Cause you could go flip burgers for more.

And I've seen it argued that "what do YOU care if I work for that fee?" But in the end, just as if I was Norma Rae, I DO care. Because it cheapens the whole pool to the point where it's accepted practice, and like PIECEMEAL work which went the way of being largely illegal in this country, this kind of thinking needs to be changed. I wouldn't even MIND if someone said, "$40 an article." Something that is a living wage. But to believe that a human being should work at sweat shop wages, is wrong--whether it's a sweat shop or your comfy desk.

People who would, say, avoid buying a name brand if it came out that they were using child labor and paying $2 a day in country x seem to think this sort of thing is OK because writers are comfy in their home offices and are so desperate to be "legit" writers. The whole mentality . . . I don't get it.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm extremely, extremely skeptical of the value of being published by or Demand Studios or whoever as a means of getting "published clips." Yes, you need 2 or 3 published clips to get started, but as an editor and occasional acquirer of content, if someone came to me with clips from them I'd most likely respond with, "Well, have you been published by someone who actually has standards?"

You've got to start somewhere, but those places...

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

What an insult. Generally speaking people do not respect writing as a skill.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I would be more likely to be impressed by someone's clips from an alumni magazine, or a community newspaper (I have friends who write for small weeklies and are quite good!), than one of those sites. Anyone IN the biz knows it's not vetted for real. I mean, really? An article on "How to grease a turkey" for which you've been paid a dollar is supposed to mean you can write?

Like ANYTHING, there are NO shortcuts to being good and what you do. The old and true methods of building clips, to me, carry more weight. Just like go ahead and self-publish--DEFINITELY, if you wish--but DON'T showcase subpar work while doing so. Pay your dues--not to "the man" if you hate the traditional model, but to the CRAFT.

I think I have tomorrow's blog. LOL!

9:55 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I posted a short version of this on Facebook this weekend and my brother commented that writers are now starting to get paid like musicians.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I have a friend who was once a journalist in Alaska and she was writing some pieces on, I think it was, and wanted me to look at it. I did. It was an article on the proper use of "their" and "there" and I pointed out that she'd forgotten to mention "they're." She was really embarrassed by that, and she should be, because yeah, sometimes we all need editors, even just to point out that we forgot something.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Jon VanZile said...

I was recently offered the following (and I'm not making this up, I swear):

Write 20-25 in-depth articles on various topics to fit a specific format for a very well-known publisher that wanted to build an online database or searchable content.

Each article would be 5,000 words, give or take less than 100 words. LIke I said, they had a template.

The pay was $150 an article.

I counter-offered naturally, and then the editor and I (who is actually a pretty good friend of mine) had a good laugh over how ridiculous this pricing was. I think I laughed all the way until I cried.

2:24 PM  
Blogger rkfinnell said...

Maybe for a novice, but not for a seasoned pro. I received $10 for my first newspaper article, but the article is also on the web and I continue to make money off of it.
Compare it with my other talent-crochet. I can crochet just about anything you want, give it a professional look with perfect gauge.If I charged the work, etc. that went into a piece something as simple as a hat would cost at least $30.00.
People seem to think that these things create themselves. Like the fairy tale where the cobbler goes to sleep and the shoe elves come in the middle of the night. I'm pretty sure there isn't a crochet elf or a writing elf.
And, honestly, I'm so sick of these writers who go on and on about how writing is their life and they do it for the pure enjoyment. Me? Show me the money!

5:52 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I know, Jon. We laugh until we cry.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

RKF--show me the money.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Oh said...

Bravo. Writing is a profession. We are not a dime a dozen. And nothing out there works, really works, without good writing (writers).


7:46 PM  

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