07/19/2011 03:01 EDT | Updated 09/18/2011 05:12 EDT

Freelance Writers: Grist For the Content Mill?

On first blush, I thought content mills were appalling, as they got really cheap content and resold it for, I suspect, way more than a few dollars. What I found out though kind of mitigated my initial disgust.

Until recently I'd never really paid much attention to freelance content sites, also known as 'mills' or 'networks'. In a nutshell the biz model is simple; buy content from freelance writers at a low price and resell it to sites as original material at, presumably, a much higher price: So far so good. I'd like to start a dialogue with writers out there as to whether they accept, tolerate or wish these sites would simply vaporize.

The problem is what they pay for content. In a weak moment I signed up for one such spot and was kind of shocked at the low pay for original content. Compensation ranged from a few dollars a piece to maybe $100, but the latter is extremely rare. For the most part, topics are supplied and payment is quick.

On first blush, I thought these sites were appalling, as they got really cheap content and resold it for, I suspect, way more than a few dollars. What I found out though kind of mitigated my initial disgust.

There are different kinds of writers. Some dislike dealing with clients. Some do it as a sideline for what my late mum called 'pin' money. Some, just starting out are trying to get a portfolio together. And given the few dollars available for these pieces, it certainly ups your speed and accuracy. I make no definitive judgment on how good the content quality; it obviously fills a need for those sites that want 'original' content to round out their offerings. I suspect the writers have no control over where, when and how often their work is used, but I believe there are fee structures at some content sites that address this.

What I do have a problem with is the strict caveats they put on the writers, turning them into more technicians than creators of compelling information. The tenor proffered seems to be rooted in killing writers' creativity; just the facts and keep them as easy to understand as possible. Not sure whether that speaks more to the intellect of the writer, the site or the reader. One person's wilderness is another's Winnebago, apparently.

For those of us who make a living writing for clients, these sites serve a very useful purpose inasmuch as they keep the competition busy. I have noticed that as the economy tanks, more and more folks are entering the freelance writing genre. After all, how hard can it be? Seriously?

The other problem for end-users of content mills is the lack of voice and frankly, control. Good content needs a voice. Boring or pablum-esque content indeed fills the page and gets you crawled if it changes frequently, but are you really adding value by putting out info on topics that have likely already been done to death? To whit:


How to find a lawyer?

How much does it cost to incorporate a business?

What is the best scholarship program?


Just about every possible DIY topic.

Relationship advice.

Financial advice

Depending on which site these nuggets appear, you may be relying on important info that was written by someone who simply gleaned the information from the Internet, took their 10 bucks and moved on. Like any writing, especially the informational kind, it should only be a starting point. Relying on one piece as definitive, not matter how cleverly written, mill fodder or other, is just lunacy.

So I would really like to hear opinions about the content mill genre from those who use them and those who eschew them.

As I mentioned at the outset, I originally thought it was like indentured servitude. Upon some reading, they seem to actually serve several purposes and content needs. My question is, are those needs worth the price or is advantage being taken by folks who have simply found they can buy low and sell high? And what about the end users? I'd love to hear your experiences as well.

I'm all about balance and fairness. Leave me a comment: You know you want to.