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Low Pay Sites – Another Way of Thinking About Them

contrary writing ideaJ.C. Hewitt, a favorite of mine who blogs at PoeWar has an rant  he calls Demand Studios is NOT Evil. He starts with “Do you know what I’m sick of reading? I’m sick of reading articles about how freelancers are underpaid.” John then goes on to make a darn good case why we should all stop complaining.

I got to thinking about my early days as a writer. There was no Demand Studios or Associated Content, Helium, or Triond or people paying anything for dozens of 500 – 800 word articles geared to a particular term or series of words. Nor were there websites or blogs or google adsense or ClickBank.

My writing career began just before computers arrived. The ‘net came years later. We were stuck with Writer’s Market and ferreting out possible publication at newsstands and libraries.

The truth is there are many more venues for a new writer to get a byline and/or get paid today. And yes, John’s right, the ‘net means there are many more people out there trying to make some money writing.  I don’t want to go back!

Sure it’s discouraging to answer an ad and find you’ll be lucky to make a couple of bucks. But it is a place to start, to start, not to stay.

If you’ve got some talent the more you’ll write and the better your writing will get. As your writing improves you’ll be able to command more pay.

Am I suggesting you write for the low-pay sites? Only if you need a short handful of writing credits – get those and it’s time to move on.

As John points out we get to choose.

What do you think?

You might also want to read the series that started with: Anne To Try Triond, Helium and Associated Content.


Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Mark


    Yes, I know there are opportunities available for the seasoned freelancer, and that’s quite a good thing. As I stated above, writers should explore and spread themselves around, and not restrict themselves by only doing low-paying jobs.

    As for the corporate, yes, the private sectors do, or can, pay well. The important thing is to find them. If/when a writer does so, more power to that person. Further experience and exposure will lead writers to the better paying jobs.

    Demand Studios sounds promising. I’m sure that many writers reading this will look into that as well.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments here, Anne. I knew a long time ago that a personal site would enhance and facilitate my success in the writing industry. With personal sites, not only will writers get noticed, they will gain a greater degree of respect and be taken more seriously as professionals. In that end. I have been working towards that goal for a while. The blog (the first of many) is a nice start. As said, too, in another string, I also seek a means to present my anonymously written/sold/commissioned material without infringing on anyone else’s copyrights. I am not certain about that yet, even though I have received some insightful feedback from people who weren’t quite certain themselves–and they were professionals. I will keep looking and asking.

    You’re right–complaining gets a person nowhere; focus should be placed on being productive and moving forward. So many writers are frustrated now, especially with the economy the way it is. They feel stuck. You can’t blame them for the way they feel. Still, it is their responsibility to do something about not being or feeling helpless. I can see it both ways.

    Take care and peace! 🙂


  • I’m glad you brought this up. I write for Demand Studios and I’m very happy with what they pay me for my articles. Since I’m new at freelancing I look at this as a way to get my work out there and hone my writing skills. The editors don’t accept just any content. They are picky and very diligent. You’d better have proofread your content and have reliable references and links that work or they will reject your article.

    Will I get rich writing for Demand Studios? Probably not, but if I can steer prospective employers to articles I have on their sites, then maybe I can land a really good paying job. Not only that, I but I really enjoy writing for them. The research is fun and I’ve learned quite a bit. My speciality is health and beauty, but sometimes I’ll pick something out of my comfort zone just to challenge myself.

    What really irritates me are sites that only pay $1 for 500 word articles. Get real! Demand Studios pays me a fair price for the amount of writing required and like I said, I like doing it.

    • Anne

      Thanks back atcha Kathryn – and if you put your DS links on your own site/blog you’ll have a good start on a writer’s web site.

  • Mark

    Sorry about the typos. I was in a hurry.

    Take care, all!


  • Mark

    The point is to not stay around, but from my years of experience as a freelancer–and one with a graduate degree–I have noticed that most offer low rates. Some even offer below the $1.00/100 standard, which is abomidable.

    My question is: Why are rates that low in the first place? To me, it shows a lack of respect toward the writer. Yes, there are budget restrictions, too, but apparently web designers get paid well despite these ‘restrictions’. That’s why I say that the low rates are a matter of lack of respect towards the writer rather than a case of budget considerations.

    In my blog, I have written about my experience as a professional freelance writer and how many struggling writers have to deal with such pay, including myself. For a period, I focused on the writing. My credit card bills fell behind and were sold to outside sources that retained the services of collection agencies. I eventually took another job outside of the writing industry (i.e. a retail job) to pay them off, and I did in no time. I also saved money for a long-needed vacation to visit my sister in California. Bills and food were and are two other necessities for which the consistent pay has provided as well.

    The retail job did this–not the freelancing.

    I have known a few freeelancers who rely only on the freelancing, and they did/do not fare well. This is why I have advised that freelancers not put their eggs all in one basket. Yes, the low pay is a place to start, BUT if there are always writers willing to do the work for peanuts, why should buyers [eventually] pay you more, even if they know you and have worked with you before?

    In short: if a buyer can get articles written for, say, $4.00 a piece and save money, s/he will not dole out three or four times as much to you for the same job.

    That isn’t good business sense!

    Now, you’re going to say that those who are writing for low rates are new, beginners, and that their skills aren’t as developed as the more familiar writers who have been around and require higher pay, so buyers are not going to necessarily rely on the lower-pay writers for work when they can get a better job from the more familiars. Well, I don’t completely buy that.


    The ‘familiars’ were once new, lower-pay writers, and those buyers once hired them for jobs, which is how the lower-pay eventually became ‘familiars’. If the buyers had preferred the better writing skills of the ‘familiars’, why did they hire the newbies in the first place? I’ll tell you why . . .

    To save money!

    That’s what it is all about–making and/or saving money. THAT seems to be the reason behind the low pay standard–to accommodate buyers.

    As long as there are lower-pay writers that will offer an acceptable job in the first place, ‘familiars’ are not going to fare any better, although I have seen a couple of instances where they have done so. ONLY a couple.

    By the way, I have been fortunate enough to be among those who have found a few of those gigs, but they are not easy to obtain. A writer still cannot live on the upper end pay. And I am extremely skilled at what I do.

    Why do you think so many writers–especially experienced writers, like myself–have complained so fiercely? (I really don’t complain anymore, but many still do)

    That said, I agree that such a gig (or gigs) should be reserved as a starting point, but my advice is that writers break away from the online freelance venue after a certain point and either branch off into another venue or type of writing, or they supplement their incomes while continuing to freelance in the online venue.

    Magazines, journals and major agencies, like the AP, pay well, so writers should always keep their eyes open and continue to look for those opportunities that will allow them to move about and spread themselves around. Restricting themselves serves only to deprive writers of their means of growth in the industry.

    Also, work independently–do NOT work for online contractors (e.g. writing agencies, et al). They are out for themselves and have overhead to pay, so they take a cut and the writers get even less. They work well for helping writers get their proverbial feet wet, but writers shouldn’t become dependent on them.

    So, yes, it is possible to move upward, but not by working solely for online buyers, because few, if any, pay that well. The fact that so many freelance writing sites (and there are many) offer extremely low pay rates is evidence of that.

    I have to say, though, that freelancing does allow writers to develop their writting skills, which includes different types of writing, such as SEOs, which are essential in today’s market where most if not all business is conducted on the Internet. Money is not the sole consideration, nor is it always the primary one.

    These are just my thoughts, and they are derived from my own extensive experience in the field.


    P.S. Allison, why shouldn’t seasoned writers demand, or set, their own pay rates? They are providing a service–a professional service–just like other professionals (web designers, illustrators, marketing consultants, just to namew a few). It’s not about ego (although for some it mught be)–ir’s about survival, respect and getting what one is worth.

    Take care, Anne. I hope all is well with you. 🙂

    My blog has just started. It’s not entirely done yet, but I have written a couple of entries on freelancing and ghostwriting. Please take a look:

    A Writer above All Else
    A ‘Ghost’ of a Chance

    • Anne

      Yes, Mark, it’s difficult to earn any sort of a living by writing only for online employers, but not all the job leads are for online writing like low pay articles. Some are for print and corporate writing and ghostwriting books… all sorts of things… and those often pay decently. Most of the people who hire me to write their books find me online – it’s my main marketing venue – which is why I think every writer should have at least one site.

      You can also make money with your own site… usually not a ton, but I’ve more than paid all my internet and home utility fees with my websites. Sometimes quite a bit more.

  • Anna Smith

    I am glad to see this subject and the take on it — I just started at DS and am very pleased so far. Like many have mentioned, it’s a good place to start out and you really can’t beat it for the flexibility, which was definitely one of my high priorities at this point. Again I echo what many have said (and I think this applies to many different parts of life, not just freelance writing work) — if you don’t like it, don’t do it — and please stop complaining!

  • I’ve done a few jobs via eLance, I have a repeat client now paying “real rates”.

    My approach now with eLance is the strength of my proposals.

    Always ask pre-bid questions. If they won’t answer, they are low-ballers who don’t understand the value of the professional copywriter.

    Although to date, most have said i am too expensive, I would rather bid on 10 projects and get one at $3-4k than have to do 30-40 projects for the same amount.

    Make sure your proposal is top notch, and don’t compromise just to get the contract. That is my impression of the mass market sites.

    You eventually find clients who actually value your service, and at $15 a month plus 8.75% of the contract value, it is still cheap compared to other marketing. Just don’t rely on it as your only source of clients.
    .-= Karl Rohde´s last blog ..5 Web-based Freelance Writing Jobs to Avoid =-.

  • LOL!! Great way to look at it, Anne. Write on… 🙂
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month =-.

  • Anne

    Demand Studio is going to offer some sort of health insurance? I’d like to hear more about that.

    Deb, you’re fine and Angela Hoy’s attack was parented imo. Been there – it will pass. Haven’t met John Hewett f2f, but I’ve always liked him.

    And yeah, I sometimes wonder about the energy given to protesting… but it does give us bloggers something to natter about. 😉

  • I am baffled behind all the energy that when it comes right down to it is really our own choice.
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month =-.

  • We can name names, I don’t have anything to hide. I’m the freelancer who was called out by the other freelancer in a very unfair hit piece that everyone feels is some sort of amazing, unbiased report. I’m also the writer who accepted the sponsorship from Demand Studios. As many of us post ads from Demand Studios on a regular basis (including ProBlogger, Media Bistro and others) I don’t understand the big deal, especially since I made it clear from the very beginning I have no problem with web content. I just took that ad to a different level. I was honest with my affiliation and some people took that for me endorsing slave labor. Not true. However, that’s not the point of this comment.

    Freelancing is all about choices. It’s about doing what’s right for your situation. While I do have some ideas about what is right and which jobs are the best choice, knocking people for their choices won’t help the situation. It only makes us look like bullies.

    I agree with those that say if there was a Demand Studios or similar type venue while I was starting out, I would have left my awful day job much earlier. I don’t feel writers should spend all their lives writing for these places, but I think they’re fine for getting a foot in the door and using that experience to one’s benefit. My clips from web content landed me a newspaper column and other very nice gigs (About.com, Oxygen Media, iParenting Media, etc.) so the people who say writing content can’t lead to better opportunities are talking out of their…well, let’s just say they’re a little misguided.

    But then that’s why we’re here, right?

    By the way, I had the honor of meeting John from Poewar at BlogWorld last week and he’s a good guy and the real deal.
    .-= Deb Ng´s last blog ..Confidence vs. Arrogance =-.

  • Hi Allena;

    If you are talking about the blog/freelance writing site I saw, it sure did stir
    things up. Kind of interesting all the energy behind DS although
    I agree with you in this case on your assessment of 1 blogger calling out

  • Hey Anne, I guess the recent smattering of interest in Demand Studios is due to some happenings in the blog—o–sphere. 1) They are going to start offering some kind of health care/plan for their content producers. 2) There was an angry call-out type post that was supposed to be about DS, but was moreso about one blogger calling out another (in my opinion) and 3) A prominent freelance writer/blogger picked up a sponsorship of some sort from them.

    I agree with you. Write it if you have to, write it for clips, but make sure your clips demonstrate an upward arc of more and better clips.

    John, I’m the current writer at Freelancewrite.about.com … I’m quite happy with About.com as I’ve beat the learning curve and can now produce work in a time period that satisfies my minimum hourly. I’m happy with the pay, as they guarantee a minimum which is quite enough for the work required. And, it’s a subject that I love– a niche— so I like it, too. The different is its livable wage and the fact that it’s owned by a prominent media company. Yet, I also make sure that my clips are varied and upward arcing!

  • Thanks for the article Anne,

    Demand Studios may not be for everybody, however if you are just starting out on your freelance career Demand Studios offers weekly pay and steady work. Demand Studios is upfront about everything when you sign on which means there are no hidden surprises.
    .-= Kenneth Crawford´s last blog ..Where’s The Money? =-.

  • My choice is really made for me, because I live in New Zealand, and not the US. Most of those ‘content mill’ sites won’t pay me, and I’d be lucky to get any work from craigslist etc., because they also don’t want to pay people outside the States.

    So I’m pretty much having to find and make my own opportunities – in many ways it’s good because I get to call the shots a bit more. But sometimes I think it would be nice to just be able to throw something together and at least get a few dollars for it when I have some downtime.
    .-= Lucy´s last blog ..Conferencing it up in Sydney =-.

  • Could be right…to each his/her own and whatever works…
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month =-.

  • I’m a relatively “newbie” to freelancing but I have a slight advantage with 30+ years in my niche. At least that’s how I view it. I actually applied to Demand Studio but then decided I had more content sample than I was giving myself credit for. I had it from my Corporate days.

    So I ended up never writing for them. I had applied because I felt it would give me the bylines like you suggested, Anne. The ironic thing is that a large portion of my work has been ghostwriting with no byline! 🙂 I have found (and again this is probably due to my many years in my niche) that prospects don’t need to see a ton of bylines, articles, whatever. A few samples answer their question on if you can write.

    It does bother me that there are so many really low-paying gigs asking for experience. You know the ones – must be experienced writer-copywriter-whatever –or don’t apply to our ad that offers $1 per 1,000 word article.

    You gotta love the ones that are at least honest and present it as low-paying, but hey, it gives you bylines and experience.

    But, I totally agree, if you don’t want the low-pay, don’t apply. And who are we to judge others? Think what the world would be if we just stopped judging others. No one knows but that person what their needs are…oh Lord, don’t get me started. I’ve gone on far too long. Thanks for the opportunity to share and for all you do, Anne.
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month =-.

    • Anne

      Hi Cathy… you know, I suspect many people ignore the ‘experience wanted’ and just apply – sort of a shotgun approach… not my style, but….

  • Anne

    Yeah, and I keep trying for more better moments… doesn’t always work.

  • Dena R

    Has anyone seen the article in WIRED magazine this month about Demand studios and how they work . . . very interesting for anyone involved in the Demand Studios debate. Given the lack of cred that Demand Studio’s content has in the journalism world, I do wonder if earning a writing credit via Demand Studios will really earn a new writer any extra points?

    • Anne

      This one? http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_demandmedia/3/

      Not sure credibility is the issue, well, it is, but I’m thinking that writers can include their demand studio url in credits on their own website and editors can read at least a few lines and figure out if they can write… I still think a short handful of articles where ever isn’t a bad place to start… to begin – might be better than free articles in a local newsletter no one ever sees. I dunnno for sure

  • That seems like a fairly good assessment of corporate life. Sometimes I’m appalled, but in my better moments I am amused.
    .-= John Hewitt´s last blog ..Demand Studios is NOT Evil =-.

  • Thank you for the mention Anne. You did do a long stint at About.com, what was your experiences writing for a web corporation? Did you feel underpaid?

    • Anne

      You’re welcome John… like most who work for corporations there were times I felt underpaid and times I didn’t. I suppose if I put together a list of positives and negatives for my stint there and my life as a freelancer there would be some surprising similarities… of course I did the about.com work at home – I also worked for Match.com, on the inside, and for thewell.com (outside) and for Hewlett Packard (inside consultant about web stuff) and a couple of other web cos along the way… I’ve always found I get about what I expect. When I’m thinking the glass is half empty, that’s what I get and when I know it’s full, well. In other words attitude is a whole bunch.

  • When I first graduated from college I took a job as a private school Spanish teacher. The pay was lower than what I had earned on an assembly line before getting a degree. Then I got a HUGE raise ($10,000+ a year) by moving to a public school. I was stunned by the complaints about pay. I wondered if any of the complainers had ever had other jobs. Most of them hadn’t. Maybe it is just human nature to whine about your situation, whatever it may be.

    Now, as a beginning freelance writer, I see the same sort of complaints. If you don’t like the pay at content sites, don’t write for them. If the bidding sites frustrate you with low pay, don’t write for them. One of the advantages of freelancing is many, many types of writing out there to be done. You don’t have to pick the low-hanging fruit if you don’t want to.

    Nice article, Anne. It’s good to hear someone not complaining!
    .-= Dava Stewart´s last blog ..Making a Change =-.

    • Anne

      My first job actually paid way more than average… I was teaching swimming at a private country club and earning $9US an hour before I graduated from college. Then, in college doing fairly sophisticated work in the library I made a big thirty cents, then thirty-five cents an hour… loved the work… didn’t know what to think back then when I discovered the athletes were getting a $1 an hour to sweep floors.

      I’ve also had at least one reader tell me the $2-$5 an article sites made a huge positive difference for her family – eye of the beholder stuff actually.

  • I couldn’t agree more. So many writers think that they have no control over how much they write for. No one is twisting their arm to write for pennies, and since I started before the days of the internet I would definitely agree that things are a LOT better now!

    Other writers think they should be able to command high rates right from the start. But as with any other job you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Why should writing be any different?
    .-= Allison´s last blog ..Just twelve articles left to go… =-.

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