January 26, 2003
HOW TO BE A STARVING WRITER: Write for Pay-Per-Click Sites! by Angela Hoy, WritersWeekly.com | printable version
Authors Note: I was going to name writers in this article, but most didn't want their names used. Many said they were embarrassed. I was also going to name names of pay-per-click sites, but none of the writers who responded to the survey said anything that made me want to endorse any of the firms. If I were impressed with any of the sites reported on, I'd have mentioned them. Unfortunately, I was not. Even if only one writer had written in about impressive income from a pay-per-click site (none did), they would have been the extreme exception to the rule. To be more than fair, I am posting the most positive response we received as this week's Freelance Success Story.
I received an email yesterday titled "Everyone can write, publish & earn rewards." Sounds like an ad for frequent flier miles, doesn't it? I knew what it was about, so I opened it feeling anxious to slam a site that believes writers don't deserve to earn money for a living.
The first line read, "I thought you would be very interested in a new website that has just launched…" It goes on to say the site "allows" writers to contribute their work in any area that interests them, that it doesn't moderate the content it publishes (meaning the content is likely crap) and that you can earn rewards for letting them publish your work. Hoo boy! I take out all my frustrations for an entire week on companies like this!!
So, you know what I was thinking the whole time, don'tcha? Yes, I was thinking what an idiot this guy was for actually approaching me with this garbage. Then (surprise!), I found an identical email in my Booklocker.com emailbox. So not only are they taking advantage of writers, but they're spamming blindly to boot! Here's my response:
We never endorse sites that pay writers per click. We only endorse sites that pay writers real money for real content.
We'll be sure to tell our readers to stay away from your site, though. Let us know when you can afford to pay people enough to keep their families fed. Writers are professionals, too, and deserve more than a few pennies per read. Real publications and websites pay writers real money. You should, too.
And here's the first line of his response…UNEDITED:
I am sorry you feel this way, from our experience we know there are allot of writers that do not have an opportunity to be payed for all their work.
Yeah, right. Are you laughing as hard as I did? I wouldn't trust my mouse pad with this guy.
WHAT ARE PAY-PER-CLICK SITES?
Pay-per-click sites typically pay contributors (writers) a percentage of the advertising revenue, or a flat fee, for every unique visitor that clicks through to the contributor's article online. The fees range from a penny or less to a dime or more. Some of these sites offer to divide advertising revenue among their contributors depending on which articles get the most clicks.
HOW DO THEY MAKE MONEY?
Writers are usually encouraged to drum up their own traffic. In this sense, writers not only have to write, but are also thrown into a sales and marketing position. Writers are told to refer people to their articles to increase traffic that generates advertising revenue for the site. This is like saying, "I'll pay you for this magazine article if you can drum up some subscribers for me and make me more attractive to advertisers."
Last month, a woman sent me multiple emails asking me (and everyone on her mailing list) to click on her article at (a site I've heard LOTS of complaints about lately) because she'd earn a lousy dime if we did. I finally asked her to take me off her friends and family spam list. It was insulting and, frankly, she came off looking like a beggar.
WHAT ABOUT SITES THAT PAY A FLAT FEE?
Pay-per-click sites are not to be confused with sites that offer a flat fee per month or article. Promising a flat fee and paying it is fine because this method of payment doesn't promise fame and fortune, just a steady (albeit usually very low) paycheck. (At least you know what you're getting every month!)
We ran a survey in June asking readers, "If you write (or previously wrote) for a pay-per-click site or one that pays writers a percentage of ad revenues, we'd really love to hear from you. Let us know about how much money you've made along with how long you've been writing (or wrote) for the site. An estimate of how much you've made per article, per word, or by the hour would also be extremely helpful. We'd also like to know if writing for the site did indeed land other paying assignments for you."
I'm letting the contributors of pay-per-click sites speak for themselves:
"I wrote two articles for a pay by click site and made about 12 cents a month for about three months (WOW) - but it did land me my first published clips and, because they were online, I could include the link when I queried non-fiction writing jobs by email."
"I've written for several sites that have some kind of pay-per-click or ad revenue cut, etc. deals. Start-ups that never did, websites that don't work, or whatever - never received a check from any of them. I have written contracts with some. The only good news is I have a bunch of articles done, and I'm not afraid to offer 1st or reprint rights to others."
"I have earned $2860.12 at this moment. Sadly, your questions required me to divide $2860.12 by 263 [articles] = $10.88 per. Ugh. I had high hopes that by now I would be earning far more."
"I was excited when I first heard about the company I've been writing for (which shall remain nameless), but since November, I've made a whopping $5.08. Although it is good for the exposure and by-line factor and has helped me to land other writing jobs by being able to point to 'actual writing experience,' I will concentrate my efforts in the future on markets that truly do pay a decent wage. It just isn't bringing in the money I was hoping it would. I'm too disgusted to figure out what all that breaks down to when applied to my time spent researching and writing articles. I'm sure it's something like 0.00002 per click. Ugh."
Yes, these pay-per-click clips have occasionally led to other, higher-paying gigs, but we only received a handful of letters stating so.
BEGINNERS DON'T NEED TO WRITE FOR FREE!
You don't need to write for free or almost-free to collect clips. There are lots of legitimate, paying websites and magazines that pay real money to new writers who have no clips. Don't believe me? Simply search for the words "welcomes new writers" at my paying markets page. I did and found 51 paying markets that welcome new writers. And that's only the first page of our markets!
More common responses we received regarding exposure and being discovered were like this:
"I also had high hopes I would be discovered for my brilliant prose and insightful observations, not to mention my keen wit and accessible vernacular. Alas. Not one freelance job offer has come my way."
Let's face it. Reputable editors that pay respectable fees to writers are not surfing the 'Net looking for writers! They have enough query letters on their desk to keep them busy for months!
One writer wrote to say she not only was paid very little, but also found her articles on another website. Without her knowledge, the site sold her articles to another. Some pay-per-click sites take rights away from writers. The site is then free to sell the articles to other companies and there's nothing a writer can do about it after signing their contract. One writer told me she found her material on a syndicate website where it was posted for free. She was making nothing per click there, but she had signed a contract and she was out of luck. Some sites might not take all your rights away, but may instead limit your future sales.
"...I made a mere pittance on several articles although most of my articles were rated "Highly Recommended" which is the highest honor the site has. They don't allow you to sell your (articles) to other Internet sites which I don't think is really fair considering the low pay rate."
One day, shortly after the survey was announced, I received about a dozen emails from writers who all write for the same pay-per-click site. They all arrived on the same day. That's when I got suspicious. I suspect someone who is involved with the site wanted me to say something good about them. And, sure enough, one woman said another woman had distributed the survey to them. Their plan backfired. Most of the letters started out gushing praise…but then, when the contributors started tallying their income, their tone changed. Here are two comments from their contributors:
"It isn't a lot of money per article but it is better than nothing."
"This means I've earned about $0.35 per hour for my efforts…"
HOW MUCH MONEY?
So how much money are writers really making at pay-per-click sites?
"I put four previously-published articles on (a website) about 6 months ago. It's a pay-per-pop-on-advertising site. So far I've made a total of 33 cents. Glad I didn't invest any writing time."
"I've only earned .87 for my 4 (articles) after 3 months."
"The long and short of it is, in the months my three articles were online, I received one check for $1.12. I think I currently have $.25 waiting for me if I want them to cut a check. I ought to. So my work's been with them about a year now (although two of the articles have vanished), and I've made a grand total of $1.37 for about 2,000 words."
$10 PER ARTICLE
"I've made over $320. That's a tad over $10 per (article), or $60+ per month. To be fair, however, some of my (articles) have earned just over $1, while others have earned over $50."
"I've got 8 articles live at the moment. These average 400-600 words each. (snip) Earnings so far are $16.20."
"I never received a cent."
$350 A MONTH FOR 30-40 HOURS PER WEEK
"The job was set forth as a writer's job - but it soon became apparent that it was really a webmaster and a whole bunch of other stuff. We were promised all the really big money would come 'very soon'. Well, it didn't come and everyone started bitching. Several of us threatened to leave and by this time I was so fed up with them I can't even begin to explain it. Each day there were more and more duties and we were looking at 30 to 40 hours a week to maintain this thing. They always claimed that there were those getting mega thousands. If they existed I never met them. When I left, I was #19 out of 700 sites (pages on the site). Every day I thank God I finally got the nerve to leave. For some reason, I kept thinking they would come through and I'd make it big - but they never did."
IN A NUTSHELL
Websites need content to survive. Content costs money. Content generates money. Sites that pay-per-click promise content providers money later…after delivery of the content and delivery of clicks. It's a vicious cycle and a game that poor people shouldn't play. Companies that can't afford to pay their contractors (writers) should NOT be in business.
The most anyone who responded to our survey made (see above) was almost $3,000…for 263 articles. Do the math. We ran the survey for two weeks in a row to more than 30,000 freelance writers. Our distribution to mailing lists and discussion groups is estimated at twice that number. Nobody who responded to our survey has made enough to feed their family.
If you saw all the complaint emails I receive about pay-per-click sites, you'd jump on my soapbox, too. In addition, I am appalled at the amount of spamming going on by their contributors. Writers are begging people to click so they can make a few pennies. This is not real writing. This is a travesty.
One writer wrote to tell me the only people clicking on her articles are the site's other contributors. The writers swap clicks to help each other earn money…one dime at a time (oh, if the advertisers only knew!). Writing for pay-per-click sites is no different than posting your freelance paycheck online for the world to see. Thank you for that dime, sir! May I have another?!
"I am one of the fallible (I hope) few who have fallen prey to the lure of (a very well-known pay-per-click site). I'm angry (and embarrassed) to be associated with them right now."
"Maybe other people have made more money, but my first foray into pay-per-click will also be my last."
Whoever came up with the idea that writers are different from every other professional? Why must writers work for payment for pennies-per-click, or for nothing at all, when everyone else gets paid a real paycheck for what they do? Why is getting published considered an honor instead of a good day's work? No matter how many times I smack my palm against my forehead, I just can NOT understand how this perception every came to be! But I damn well know what I can do to change it! And I'm doing it now.
REAL publishers pay writers REAL money. Join me in shutting out the rest.
FOOTNOTE: WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR WHEN THEY SAY THEY'RE "HIRING WRITERS"
Run...run really fast, if they say:
+ We'll pay you IF someone clicks on your article
+ We'll pay you IF we sell any ads this month
+ We'll pay you IF...anything!
Do you only pay your babysitter IF you sold an article this week?
Do you only pay your doctor IF you get well?
As with every other profession, you deserve and should EXPECT a decent wage for your blood, sweat and tears. Only write for publications that offer real money for your work, either by the word, by the article, or by the hour. You're worth it!
To find publications that pay real money for real content, see our wealth of paying markets here: http://www.writersweekly.com/markets/markets.html. Many markets listed on our markets pages warmly welcome new writers. No clips required.
Angela Adair-Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the FREE marketing emag for writers featuring freelance jobs and paying markets. New subscribers receive the FREE ebook, How to Be a Freelance Writer (with 103 paying markets). Surf to: http://www.writersweekly.com.