A Discussion on Content Mills
Before I discuss writing for a content mill, it’s best to determine exactly what a content mill is. And, depending on who you ask, they will probably have a different definition.
Content mills (or farms) have been around since the 90s. The Center for Digital Ethics & Policy have described a content mill as having these characteristics:
- Low hiring standards for freelancers
- Low pay for freelancers
- Large stables of freelancers
- Lack of an editorial process/insufficient quality control
- Extraordinarily high volumes of articles
Sites that have been labeled as content mills include Associated Content, Suite 101, All Voices, and Demand Media.
So how do these content mills work? Their goal is to attract online readers by publishing a vast amount of written articles across a wide variety of topics. They also push writers to use SEO techniques to boost their ratings on search engines, such as Google.
Quality vs. Quantity
You know the old saying, “quality vs. quantity”? Content mills are all about quantity, and quality writing, editing, and payment for such work fall to the wayside. You don’t need to have any sort of degree or previous experience to write for a content mill. It’s citizen journalism at the most basic level.
I’m not saying that every article written for a content mill isn’t well written or researched—I’m saying that it’s rare. I know from experience that it’s hard to be motivated to do your best when you aren’t making any money.
Tiffany Jansen wrote a blog post about content mills for The WM Freelance Writers Connection, and she suggests that writers do their research before writing for a content mill and take a look at the articles produced by their writers. Are the pieces well written? Are they factual? Are they any good? Every content mill has their own set of values and editorial ethics. Make sure you choose to write for one that you feel does a service to their writers.
Hiring Practices and Pay
A content mill hires a high volume of editors and writers. Some of them pay drastically low wages, sometimes as little as $4 to $7 an article. What respected journalist or freelance writer would work for such little payment? No one—hence the lack of quality in the work. And because of the low pay, writers who work for a content mill usually don’t have a lot of expertise or experience writing about the topic they are assigned.
Most successful writers pooh-pooh the abysmal pay scale of content mill work, leaving the hiring pool for writers (who are willing to write for pennies) filled with inexperienced people. The content mills know this, and that’s why they can get away with offering lousy pay.
Once you figure in the time it took you to research, write, edit, and submit the article, plus the time you put into promoting it, at best you’re making a small fraction of minimum wage. —Tiffany Jansen
What is Revenue Sharing?
Some content mills pay writers based on how many clicks their article gets or how many comments are left by readers. This is totally unfair, if you ask me. Make sure you look at the fine print and really read it. The content mill might require you to do a huge amount of promotion of your material in order to get paid.
Demand Media (which produces content for LIVESTRONG.COM and eHow.com) offers a revenue share program. This means that the writer earns a portion of the earnings generated from your article over time, instead of earning an up front flat fee. Your earnings are determined by the number of article views, the website it appears on, and the category it’s published in.
This might sound like a great idea. You can earn money days, weeks, even months after your article is published. But Demand Media clearly states that “There is no guarantee that a revenue-share article will earn more than a flat-fee payment.” Are your red flags going up?
Demand Media pays on these articles once a month—and the minimum payment is $10. If your article generates less than $10, you have to wait another month to see if it earns more. It could take a year for you to earn $15. Demand Media also offers tips for you to use social media to help boost your rating, which, in effect, would boost your pay.
Not all content mills work this way—but many do. Writing for one is a good way for someone who is thinking about becoming a freelance writer to test their chops and gain some exposure. The better your story, the better your portfolio will be. The better your portfolio, the better chance that you will get hired by respected and well paying clients.