Thursday, October 15, 2009

Content Mills: Making Money, Losing Faith

I recently read a rather interesting article about content mills - those sites on the internet that pay writers to crank out article after article. This particular article was about a content mill that I have been known to write for, Demand Studios. Without going into a lot of details about the article, I can say, without hesitation and from experience, it is all true.

I've been a writer ever since I could remember. I was first published as a child. I had written a short story that was published as a children's book. Due to my parents' inexperience, I lost all rights to my work. I did get a t-shirt and $50 from the publisher. The t-shirt was much too small and the $50 didn't cover the legal expenses paid to get my work back. Live and learn, I suppose. But, then again, not really.

I went off to college, earned two degrees and decided to make writing my career. My granddad told me to "find something I loved to do and someone smart enough to pay me to do it." Excellent advice for anyone that eagerly took to heart.

I started my own writing business. Don't tell anyone, but I was a freelancer. I set myself up as a company and the majority of my clients had no idea I was a one-woman show. I started writing anywhere and everywhere, taking any gig that offered me a paycheck and didn't compromise my beliefs. I did PR for companies, non-profit organizations and even individuals. I wrote employee training manuals, catalog entries, wedding vows, short stories and church bulletins. You name it, I wrote it. I averaged more than $100 an hour, sometimes well over $200 per hour - depending on the client and the specific assignment. I worked when I wanted to, setting my own hours and fees. That was perfect for this control freak.

Due to several "happy accidents," I fell into the careers of wedding planning, event organization and home staging. It is amazing how different clients could use me for several different purposes. I jumped on these opportunities and held on with both hands. I was still writing, but I was also doing other things I loved to do.

My health started to go down hill. I began working less and less; my body wouldn't let me write anymore. At least not the way I was use to writing. Between the constant pain and the medications I had to take to control the pain, I thought I would never work like I did before. Then a miracle came along...this thing called the internet...

I met a wonderful woman at a writing site I accidentally found. I had no idea what opportunities were available to me online. She and I became "email buddies" and then friends. She told me about this writing gig, Demand Studios, and I eagerly into it. I read the agreement and eagerly signed on as a contract writer. It only paid $15 per article, but I could write my own titles. I would lose all rights to my work, but the pay was steady. And, the work was easy.

The rules were simple. Follow their guidelines and get accepted. I was given one chance at a rewrite, without any opportunity to correspond with the editor. That wasn't a problem; my articles were accepted without many rewrites. Those requiring rewrites were well explained by the editor and easy to adjust.

I suggested titles that I knew about that were accepted. I wrote those articles and got paid. It seemed easy enough. I was writing four to six articles an hour - $60 to $90 per hour. Once again, I was writing, setting my own hours and writing about things I wanted to write about. The money was easy, almost too easy. My articles were accepted by the editors and published with my name in the byline. I was paid every Friday, just like clockwork. All was well with the world.

Then, the bottom fell out of it. The policy changed and I would now only be paid $5 for my suggested titles. I went from $90 an hour to $30 an hour. I frantically searched their list of titles, which was quite time consuming, and found many that I could write. I was back up to $90 an hour. Not as happy as I was before, but still making good money.

Bad to went worse. The guidelines changed once again. I now had to add resources and references to my work. Because of my varied experiences, I had been writing about things I had done in the past. I was my own resource and reference. After planning thousands of weddings and other parties and events, I had a clue as to what I was doing. That didn't matter. I had to follow their guidelines. My pay dropped once again. Finding internet sources and references took up my time and had to included in the time I spent to write and edit an article.

Worse went to the worst. Demand Studios hired a "batch" of editors that I can't even begin to describe. They were rude and abusive. What was expected of my changed from editor to editor. There was no set right or wrong way of writing the articles, as there had been before. I've written for major magazines and never dealt with editors lacking professional courtesy. They questioned my areas of expertise. They forced me into the craziest of rewrites, often putting the integrity of my article and myself into question. It seemed that two of every three of my articles were coming back for rewrites or being rejected.

Demand Studios ignored my emails. The lead editors turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to my situation. But, it wasn't just my situation. Other writers were facing the same predicament and they were also being ignored. I tried to continue writing for them, but couldn't.

I'm a professional and should be treated as one. The comments on my articles were personal and rude. No, not rude. They were abusive. One went as far as to tell me to "find another job" because me, my experience and my writing were "pitiful." Then the private messages and emails came from the editors. They were even worse than the comments on my articles. Once again, Demand Studios ignored my complaints. So...

I moved on. I started writing other places on the internet. Yes, they are also "content mills," but I am treated with respect. Management seems concerned with the issues I face writing for them and quickly clear up any problems I face. I am once again happily writing my life away.

I have received several emails from Demand Studios writers, quick to defend Demand Studios. They seem to think that all is well in the DS world. They don't mind writing for less than peanuts and losing all rights to their work. The abuse is "part of the job."

I so want to write back and ask, "What planet are you on?" Do they not realize that freelance writers make much more than what Demand Studios pay? Do they not know that they are professionals (should be professionals, at least) and deserve to be treated as such? Many are so thankful for the extra income in these hard times they are willing to write almost anything and put up with everything to get that weekly paycheck. They seem to think that $15 or $30 an article is a great amount of money to make as a writer. Well, it isn't. Freelancers should be making three times that amount and more.

One point they make I can't argue with. "If you don't like it, don't write for them." That is exactly what I did. I moved on.

What happened to me and other writers at Demand Studios is a shame. The company always took advantage of its writers by offering such low pay, but volume made up for it - I tried not to think of the per-word rate I was earning. Once the policies changed, it was unbearable. Back to the reason for writing this...

The article was dead on. It explained the situation quite well. There are pros and cons to writing for Demand Studios. Each writer must make up their own minds if the pros outweigh the cons and if it is worth their time, energy and, sometimes, self-respect to continue writing for them. I made my decisions and they are making theirs. I say more power to them, no matter what that decision may be. I don't live in their skin so I can't say if they are right or wrong.

For the record, I haven't closed the door completely to writing for Demand Studios. Ever the optimist, I am hoping that Demand Studios will see the situation and fix the problems. Once that is done, I will eagerly go back to writing for them. They were a good gig at one time and I hope they will be again. There is no reason why they can't make the necessary improvements. They had almost right at one point - nothing is perfect.