Rate Debate: Do Real Writers Actually Buy Into Low Rates?

A spirited debate is taking place over at Michelle Rafter’s blog about content mills and rates. I urge you to visit and comment. Surprisingly, both camps have strong defenders. I think I’m now a huge fan of Michelle thanks to her no-nonsense look at the topic and her own thoughts, which echo mine.

And naturally, I had to enter the debate. My argument is, and will always be if you can make more money at a minimum-wage job, then dammit, take the minimum-wage job and save your self-respect.

The debate itself is a month old, but I found some very disturbing sentiments in some of the comments. Not too many people agreed that $3 jobs were worth anything more than a laugh and a click away, but when I saw respectable writers commenting on how the $20 jobs are better, I had to speak up. You know me – I can’t see anyone advocating slave wages for skills that many think they have, but clearly don’t.

Worse, I saw mention (and I can’t remember who said what – read it and let me know) of those rewritten article jobs – the badly disguised plagiarism cases waiting to happen – and there was a hint of validation in how those jobs were framed. Something akin to “I may not like them, but at least they pay better.” Mind you, not everyone has yet to recognize this new twist on copyright infringement and plagiarism, so I can’t hang anyone out to dry on this yet. Let’s just say the scum who offer these “jobs” do a good job reframing theft.

My bottom line to this? Twenty bucks is NOT an acceptable wage for ANY article or any one project. Twenty bucks, to me, is one-quarter hour of my time. No, let me restate – that’s almost my quarter-hour rate.

And those $3 jobs? Please. They’re jokes. They’re someone’s idea of being a “business person” by offering pocket change in order to justify a business card title. It’s crap.

Real writers – please tell the wanna-bes and those who are apparently clueless how you find real work. Please let them know in the comments section here and over on Michelle’s blog how real writers operate. I’m growing quite hoarse here doing it so often and so loudly.

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  • Devon Ellington October 9, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    I've said it before and I'll say it again — if you're good enough to earn a decent living writing, you do so. If you're not, you work for a mill content site.

    The clients get what they pay for. Period.

  • Jill October 9, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I just have a practical question: How does anyone make any kind of living doing these $3 or $20 jobs? You'd have to do 1,000(!) of the $20 jobs–three almost every day!–just to make $20,000 (pre-tax).

    Or are these jobs being taken by people who are otherwise employed but are trying to launch freelance writing careers?

    I just had to ask… I've seen a lot of discussion about this, but it hasn't yet affected me (I am an editor).

  • Michelle Rafter October 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks Lori! If you liked the debate and want to know more about what content aggregators pay, check out my story in the Nov/Dec issue of Writer's Digest, which goes into more depth about who's out there and what they're paying.

    Michelle Rafter

  • Lori October 9, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Give 'em hell, Michelle! (rhyme not intended, but kinda cool anyway) Good on you for educating folks via WD. The more we shout this from the rooftops, the more likely we won't suffer at the hands of the uninformed masses.

    Devon, you could't be more right. My only hope is the content mill crowd doesn't denegrate our profession to the point where no one will offer us acceptable rates.

    Jill, it's a very good question. Some people see these content mill jobs as a career move (huh? Are they kidding?). Some see them as supplemental income (I'd rather not supplement at that rate). Some are launching careers and when they search for jobs, guess what pops up?

    It's a combination of people. Then there are those who think "Wow! I'm working as a writer!" Uh, no. You're being exploited by thieves.

  • Wendy October 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I posted this on Michelle's blog, but I do want to mention it here.

    I agree with what you said about taking the minimum-wage job if it's more than the project pays. But, I know some people that will choose to work for less than minimum wage just for one reason- to work from home.

    It's great to work from home, but it shouldn't be used to justify taking the lower paying positions.

  • Lori October 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Wendy, you rock. That's so true! Working from home means actual payment, not just work. Those who take these "jobs" are working for free. Oh sure, there's $3 involved, but that's less than your Aunt Edna would give you for your birthday.