Ask The Editor

October 25, 2009

How Demand Studios’ exploitation of writers turned it into a billion dollar company

Wired has a fascinating article about Demand Studios, one of the word factories that regularly advertises for writers, only to exploit them. You can’t claim Demand pays writers peanuts. It’s more like peanut husks.

It’s worth reading the article to learn how this sweatshop-type operation makes such big bucks. But here, we’re only concerned with the pennies it pays to the people who made it possible for Demand to become the billion-dollar enterprise it now is. The snippet below provides a hint:

It’s the online equivalent of day laborers waiting in front of Home Depot. Writers can typically select 10 articles at a time; videographers can hoard 40.

Nearly every freelancer scrambles to load their assignment queue with titles they can produce quickly and with the least amount of effort — because pay for individual stories is so lousy, only a high-speed, high-volume approach will work. The average writer earns $15 per article for pieces that top out at a few hundred words, and the average filmmaker about $20 per clip, paid weekly via PayPal. Demand also offers revenue sharing on some articles, though it can take months to reach even $15 in such payments. Other freelancers sign up for the chance to copyedit ($2.50 an article), fact-check ($1 an article), approve the quality of a film (25 to 50 cents a video), transcribe ($1 to $2 per video), or offer up their expertise to be quoted or filmed (free). Title proofers get 8 cents a headline.

Don’t write for these — or any — exploiters. Leave these crumbs for the amateurs. I know it’s tempting, as newspapers die, and magazines fight for survival, to take whatever work is available. But writers who do so help perpetuate their own exploitation.

Write a book, instead. Either shop it to agents and publishers or invest in publishing and marketing it yourself. There are plenty of new publishing opportunities to explore, from the Espresso Book Machine which is rolling out a few new locations and may soon make the printing of a single book as cost-effective as printing in bulk, to ebooks, which already eliminate the costs of distribution, warehousing and shipping.

– Anita Bartholomew

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July 30, 2009

The exploited writers’ anthem; sing to the tune of “Born Free”

From my friend and colleague, Erik Sherman, a little ditty to remind writers where writing for nothing will get them:

Here’s a snippet. Sing along to the rest on his site at this link:

Write free
As free as the grass grows
Who cares where the cash goes?
Write free, and follow your heart

Work free, and readers surround you
Exposure astounds you
Although you live in a car …

June 9, 2009

Pay the writer, damnit!

This, fair warning, is going to be more a rant than a typical post.

There are a number of “content providers” trolling the web, offering writing “opportunities” that are merely opportunities for the so-called content provider to exploit those who write.

Among these are Demand Studios, which had the audacity to send an acquaintance, who queried in response to their offer of writing work, a reply that included the following:

“As the articles get indexed by search engines and  build traffic, payouts increase. By the third month, average monthly payout per article is $1.24.”

Yes, average payout of $1.24 after three months. Amazingly enough, that means that writers may actually earn less than $1.24 per article.

And some writers are taking this!

Helium runs another of these exploitation rackets. My friend and colleague, Erik Sherman, decided to calculate what Helium may be paying its writers, based on the figures it makes public.

His estimates?

“The average story will make 80 cents.”

Do not write for these people. You are not doing yourself or your career any good and you’re actually making matters worse for other writers by driving down the perceived value of writing. I’m pretty sure most people could earn more begging on a busy city street than they would writing for one of these outfits and would earn about as much respect (because as soon as it comes out that you write for peanuts — hell, make that peanut, singular — you’ve established your value to future potential customers).

I don’t care if this is the first opportunity you’ve ever gotten to write anything for anybody. You’re worth more. Demand more. Don’t sell yourself or your talents so cheaply.

And this is for the cheapskates who are pulling this crap. Back in the 1840s, editors paid writers from $2 to $12 per page. How can you so shamelessly offer a fraction of what one could have earned about 170 years ago?

Listen to Harlan Ellison . And pay the writer, damnit!

Anita Bartholomew

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