Content Mills: Set Phasers on Kill

StarTrek

We writers have a collective problem. Perhaps a few collective problems, but in the case of content mills, we have collective issues that are allowing media giants to make millions of dollars.

We are too fucking nice.

Yes, I used a curse word. If only to emphasize that we are not just nice, we are extremely nice. We are mostly very good people and willing to help everyone out. The problem is, the people who own the content mills have tapped into this collective good nature and our eagerness to please and are exploiting us.

They have convinced those of us with low enough self-esteem that we can’t possibly make it as writers in the “real world”, so we may as well write for them. They have convinced professional writers to jump on board in order to promote their brand, all the while making far more money for the mill than the writer will ever hope to realize in ancillary profits. Their sneakiness and willingness to exploit the insecurities and hopes of writers have officially pissed me off. I’m not the only one either.

The gloves are coming off. From this point on, look for a post a week on a particular content mill, a particular contributor or set of contributors, and generally just anything anti-content mill that I can scare up. They’ve enjoyed good publicity and happy PR Kool-Aid for far too long; time to slip some reality into the punchbowl.

If you have a story about writing for any content mill or operation, I want to hear from you. I will need your name to verify that you are a real person; I won’t accept anonymous contributions, period. If you have a positive story about working for a content mill, that’s nice, but I still think you are being taken advantage of. Tell their PR department; don’t tell me.

9 Responses to “Content Mills: Set Phasers on Kill”

  1. Not to mention writers who staunchly defend content mills — some of them having financial interests in them, too.

    January 19, 2010 at 9:56 pm
  2. admin #

    Jonathan; just a few hours after I published this post, it was dissed by (drumroll please…) a guy who owns a small content mill! I have a feeling I’ve hit a nerve, and I’ll keep on poking at it.

    January 20, 2010 at 8:57 am
  3. Respectfully,

    I have always supported this blog and love what you do, so please take this in the spirit in which it’s intended.

    You said:

    “If you have a positive story about working for a content mill, that’s nice, but I still think you are being taken advantage of.”

    it looks to me like you’re already dismissing those who are happy writing for content as not having a qualified opinion.It’s one thing to set phasers on kill, if that’s your intention, but if you’re being fair wouldn’t you want to relay both sides of the coin?

    I think it’s important to discuss who is being exploited. All the writers I talk to who work for content sites are grown ups. I met so many DS writers who have long, esteemed writing careers. Many of them are journalists and educators who are supplementing their income,or just enjoying what they do. They’re not being exploited. They choose to work for content sites and know they can leave any time. You might not agree with the pay or the model, but it’s not exploitation. It’s a grown up’s decision.

    Now before you write me off as a paid mouthpiece, let me say this, I credit web content sites with helping me to get my start. I even used content site clips to land higher paying opportunities. I have been writing for web content sites since 2002, long before my affiliation with Demand Studios.

    So yes, a web content site pays me to endorse them on my blog only, but the truth is, I did very well writing for many different web content sites and they supplemented between my higher paying opportunities nicely. It would be hypocritical for me not to acknowledge that. (Please note that nowhere in my contract with DS, does it state that I have to go to blogs and forums saying nice things about them. I just like to see all sides of the story.)

    Finally, you have Adsense towers in your sidebar with ads for Hub Pages, Demand Studios, Examiner and others. Not only are you profiting from these sites, but you’re may have even encouraged writers to sign up. It was the first thing I saw upon landing here.

    I’m not going to stop you from your mission, especially if you’re doing what you feel is right. However, exploiting implies people are being abused. No one is being abused here. They’re not naive. They’re not slaves.They made a conscious choice to write web content,and many of them are very happy to do so. I’ll always respect their decision to make the choices they feel work best for them.

    Thanks for letting me have my say.

    January 20, 2010 at 11:24 am
  4. admin #

    Actually Deb, you make a couple of good points. The first is that I will go into my Google account over the next few days and disable ads for any content mill sites. I make hosting fees with this blog anyway, not serious cash at all.

    I am specifically after the content mills and not those writing for them. I have also noticed a lot more marketing to “professional” writers and that is what makes me angry. There are people who make a conscious choice, eyes wide open, and then there are people who make choices based on misleading promises of decent pay. I just want to make sure there is a loud enough voice exposing these abysmally low pay structures out there, because I don’t see it yet.

    I love your work too and have always been a staunch advocate of your blog regardless of who or what is sponsoring it. I appreciate what you are trying to say; I’m respectfully taking the opposite side.

    January 20, 2010 at 11:34 am
  5. Again, I’m not sure there’s anything misleading. They advertise for professional writers and professional writers make a conscious decision to work for them. There’s so much backlash against content sites, I don’t see how any writer is entering into it blind at this point.

    What I try to do, and I hope I do, is show writers all their options and help them understand how the end must justify the means. That’s defined differently by all writers. I also feel it’s fair to discuss both high and low paying opportunities so writers can make their own informed decisions.

    Thanks for your kind words.

    January 20, 2010 at 11:43 am
  6. john g #

    Fight the power. Content mills need to go away like the disintegration booths on the planet Vendikar.

    January 27, 2010 at 5:40 pm
  7. Jacob #

    Actually people can be abused without realizing they are abused, particularly those with low self esteem or of limited intellectual abilities, or those who are exceedingly gullible and easy influenced by hype.

    Manipulators prey on such people. It’s a basic psychological fact.

    Regarding content mills, I do agree that the majority of people providing content for writing mills earn only pennies.

    There are articles on the net in which people claim to be earning thousands per month at content mills. Nevertheless, IMO those claims are all hogwash or written by paid shills, or the author is spamming their links or trading page views with other members or begging people to click on their links in every e-mail they send.

    Most people have a life and do not have time for such games. Besides it’s time consuming and unpaid labor.

    In my experience, too, very often the articles, claiming that people can earn thousands writing for content mills, are simply articles that the authors use for self promotion.

    For example the author crowing about content mills gets a lot of hits by posting the title and posting an article with their fantasy version of how much a content mill writer can realistically earn. They are very often also selling a how-to book on the same phony subject.

    These authors are simply preying on the gullible for self gain by providing the version of content mill earnings that most people want to hear, rather than the real version.

    Also, as far as earning for life, most content mill sites reserve the right to change their contract at any time. In addition these sites state that posting a new article or simply signing into the site indicates that the writer has agreed to abide by the new contract. It’s a trap.

    Helium is a prime example of a content mill that changes their contract far too frequently making it difficult or almost impossible for people who have already posted 100s or articles to collect their earnings without continuing to work by rating other articles.

    At Helium, in order to keep their accounts enabled, writers must sign in frequently to rate. Rating is time consuming and there is no pay for rating. Rating simply keeps the writer’s account active. This rating requirement was not in Helium’s original contract.

    The frequent contract changes at Helium always behoove the content mill owner, rather than the writers. Simply signing in to review earnings would mean that the author has agreed to the new contract. Hence it is a trap with no escape clause.

    What happens when these sites close or fail? Those Helium articles may have already been distributed and rights to the article given to the content mill. Hence Helium may simply open under another name and continue to earn from those articles, while the author may not.

    For those who are not aware of this,, Helium already closed one version of their content mill and re-opened. Prior content writers were totally dismissed when they closed their old version and re-opened their new version.

    Writers are constantly complaining all over the net that Helium closed just prior to their reaching the minimum $25 required to cash out. Still, they find their content is still being used by Helium.

    May 20, 2010 at 8:18 am
  8. Thanks for this AWESOME article! I will definitely have to use this in my blog!

    Cheers!

    October 19, 2010 at 11:14 am

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