Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why Content Mills Are Bad For Writers [Rant]

A while back, I talked about how I wished there was a "Uber for writers," a place for on-demand work where writers could earn quick cash by banging out short stories and novels for customers. Well, my mistake was thinking of fiction, because it turns out there are services online for writers to produce nonfiction on demand. Quite a few of them, in fact. And they all suck, at least for writers.

I'm going to talk about one specific service I signed up for, but I'm not going to provide the name or link to the website, because I don't want to promote it. A lot of these places are alike so you can find it or one like it if you're interested. They're all called "content mills," and they work as brokers for nonfiction content. You sign up and clients post descriptions of the text they want, how long they want it to be, when they want it by, and how much they'll pay for them. Most of the jobs tend to lean towards blog posts and articles, but also for things like product descriptions. Basically, any text that you would find on the Internet, you'll find a client trying to hire someone to write it for them. For example, I signed up for jobs to write articles on the health benefits of air purifiers, a description of an educational app, and a list of scary things about Alzheimer's disease.

The writing is really tedious. You wouldn't think it would be hard to crank out 300 words until you've written everything you can think of about belly button lint and realize it's only 124 words and you have to find another 176 words.

The jobs also don't pay that much. I earned maybe two or five dollars per article, but I only wrote 300-500 words per job, so you do the math on how much that would be per word. I also had to do a lot of research because I had zero knowledge of any of those topics, so if I were getting paid for the hour, I'd be earning below minimum wage. It's a lot of work for very little pay. Another problem is that while I'm waxing on about air filters, I'm not writing any fiction that I actually want to write.

That's the danger of these content mills: if you wanted to make real money, you'd have to grind out a ton of writing for very little pay, and you're using the time you could use to write things you actually want. Content mills have worn down writers who fell into them because they can be draining.

Then there's the moral aspect of content mills. I wasn't too comfortable writing what were essentially advertisements disguised as instructional articles that would probably show up on some blog. I also saw some pretty unethical things being offered that I refused to take. For example, one company was asking for 1000-word reviews of health supplements. The company insisted they wanted high-quality writing because they're a respected source for product reviews, but the only thing they provided to potential writers was a link to an ad for the product. That means writers would have to make up their entire review, because I doubt the client expects writers to buy the supplement, try it out, and give their honest opinion. The company was offering 10-20 products to review at a time, so I'm guessing all their "respected" reviews are farmed out to content mills, which makes them worthless to consumers. That's disgusting.

Worse than all this is the message that content mills send: that writers are disposable. Writers are expected to grind out quality work for ridiculously low wages to save some company having to hire a quality writer on staff who will earn decent money for their work. The whole thing just feels sleazy and dirty.

In the end, I learned that content mills are really bad for writers, just like Uber is really bad for drivers. I shudder to think it might be the future of the writing industry.

"My name is Timothy McGill, and I'm a time travel addict..." Time Junkie, now available in paperback and ebook formats!

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