It’s been some time since I took a closer look at content mills for the readers of the blog. The last time I covered the topic here at the Complete Writing Solutions blog was back in January and February when I did the content writing experiment using a variety of sources to top out at 53 dollars an hour using sources that some people claimed paid “less than minimum wage” or “below a livable income”.
While I may be a bit behind the times in terms of catching content rates these days (to be honest, most of it is because I really don’t care to be bothered by anti-content-mill doom-sayers, because I make a healthy living working through such mills), one of the writing groups I am a part of made mention of this article, discussing the whole Mahalo thing.
The comment I left over at the group I’m a part of was this: if you look at the comments left within that thread, you will notice this claim: “The requirements for these Guide positions will be that they produce 25 pages, spend 12 hours a week in the workroom doing page updates and 10 questions or answers weekly. At 1300 a month, this work out to a little more than minimum wage for most, and with the self-employment tax, less than that.”
This is a direct quote from the article.
Now, before I even get into the math for the article, I’d like to note the following: read the comments on the thread. Most of them say “great reporting” or some varying degree of praise for the accuracy of the article. This is where I’d like to chime in.
1300 dollars per month, working 12 hour a week, or 48 hours per month, is 27 dollars per hour. Subtract the 15% self-employment tax and you are at 23 dollars an hour. That’s $44,000 a year (assuming a full-time position) against the median annual salary of 35-36k a year for U.S. citizens.
What’s federal minimum wage again? $7.25 per hour in 2009. Median wage for average U.S. citizen in 2009 was just over $18 an hour. Not my stats. These are the numbers released by the federal government.
So people working here, despite the recent cuts, are still making more than the average U.S. citizen, and 3 times the federal minimum wage. For this job to even approach minimum wage, the Guides would need to work a total of 180 hours per month to come to 7.25 dollars per hour. 180 hours a month…that’s 45 hours a week.
I’m not denying that what happened with Mahalo was sketchy. But what is also sketchy is the alarmist reporting that happens on the Internet today regarding content mills. The vast majority (not going to plug any actual percentages in here) of negative comments left regarding content mills are nothing more than Chicken Little voices, screeching that the sky is falling when in reality it’s nothing more than imagination.
Point in case? The article I just linked to. Shoddy reporting using exaggerated numbers that weren’t even remotely fact-checked before they were published, and plenty of readers on the bandwagon sucking the information in like sponges, adding to the hordes of other, uninformed and uneducated masses.
Here’s some real reporting for ya. Demand Studios, one of the largest and most reputable content mills on the Internet, pays their average writer 15 dollars per article. These are 400-500 word McWriting articles. They aren’t meant to have a lot of meat on their bones, they aren’t meant to win any awards, they are just meant to fill random web pages with content that Google can latch onto. It’s subcontractor work. Yes, I make more money working with my own clients (and so do almost all freelance writers who have regular clients). But the beauty of working with places like Demand Studios is that I can walk in with no skill other than the ability to string two sentences together, and they already have the work ready for me. That’s more than 50 percent of my job done for me. The reason why I make more money with traditional clients is because I have to spend the time drumming up work, negotiating rates, negotiating schedules, signing contracts, doing research, and eventually getting around to writing the article. Time = money. It’s a time-tested fact. Using content mills, half of my time is erased out of the equation by the company, so it is only natural that I write for them for less than I do for my own traditional clients.
With that being said, I decided to start doing some non-trade-related articles at Demand Studios recently, to see how I would fare with actual articles where I didn’t already have 15+ years of experience on hand to use as a reference against. I’ve spent the past two weeks pulling articles about health and fitness topics, backpacking and hiking, car maintenance, and random How To and other types of articles that are on topics I have written about extensively in the past 2 years, but am not necessarily an “expert” in, according to the Studio. I am referencing travel articles based upon my 10+ years exploring and 2.5 years living in Bulgaria, as well as extensive health and fitness projects (including over 200,000 words for one client) in particular.
If I type by hand, it’s taking me about 30 minutes per article. That’s 20 minutes of research to make sure I’ve got credible sources, to scan the articles for the information I need, and about 10 minutes to actually write. If I use Dragon Naturally Speaking (my program of choice for production work), I’m doing a minimum of three per hour.
So at the least, I’m making 30 dollars per hour, and at the most I’m making 45 per hour. I’m walking in like anyone else can, typing a keyphrase into Google, finding references, citing sources, and writing investigative pieces. Tack on 15 percent unemployment tax and you are looking at 26 to 38 dollars an hour.
26 dollars an hour @ 12 months a year = $50,000 a year. 38 dollars an hour @ 12 months a year = $73,000 a year.
What was the median wage for U.S. citizens again? That’s right…just over 36k a year in 2009.
Now here’s the thing: I don’t work purely for Demand Studios. I use them as filler work. And when I stick to my trade articles, I still put out 4 an hour. 60 an hour for filler work. Not bad. But lately I’ve been branching out, mostly to prove a point, but also to test myself to see how I would really fare if I were to walk into Demand Studios like any other writer out there and push myself beyond my niches and see if I could make a livable wage.
The short answer is yes: I could make between 50k and 73k a year working purely for Demand Studios.
The long answer is that I’m not everyone. Not everyone types as fast as I do, not everyone will read and research as fast as I do, and the vast majority of writers at Demand Studios are putting out 1-2 articles per hour, not 2-3. But the point is, it is possible. And even if someone were to only push out 1 article per hour at a place like Demand Studios, they are still making double the federal minimum wage.
Remember, folks. Don’t believe everything that you read, and until you can put your fingers on some hard facts and numbers it’s hard to see the real picture.