During the last few years, there’s been an explosion of content mills like eHow, Livestrong, and Demandstudios. The content for the site comes from writers who work “for cheap,” at least if you consider $15 or so for a 500- or 600-word article cheap. I sure do.
Freelancers deserve to be paid, and paid well, for their work. Sites like these which pay a ridiculously low amount are not going to help you build a successful career as a freelancer. The writing quality on the sites ranges from middling to poor, and your work there isn’t likely to be taken seriously by editors and clients. And think of your opportunity cost--the time you’re wasting working for tiny checks could be spent pursuing higher-paying clients.
When I see an ad on Craigslist with a general headline like “seeking writers,” often it's an ad for one of these mills. These companies are not looking for professional freelancers. They’re looking for would-be freelancers, writers who are desperate to get published and think it’s worthwhile to do it for $15 a pop. I hope that’s not you.
According to my recent survey, 14 percent of freelancers are writing for online publications, with another 8 percent blogging for pay. That doesn't mean writing for cheap, though.
There are thousands of paying markets for web writing, with new ones are cropping up all the time. The most recent edition (2011) of The Standard Periodical Directory, the largest directory of U.S. and Canadian magazines, lists more than 63,000 magazines, journals, newsletters, and newspapers. More than a third--27,927 magazines--have electronic versions as well and 6,554 publications are available in electronic format only. That’s a lot of potential markets that need freelancers.
The Web’s explosive growth means that companies, nonprofits, and millions of websites have been created, and many of those websites need writers. No, some don’t pay well. Some don’t pay at all. But others do, and companies launching or updating their sites often hire web-savvy writers to provide copy, and experienced bloggers to produce compelling posts.
If you want to make money writing for the web, forget the sites that pay pennies or offer you “exposure” for your articles. (Why would you want exposure? People die from exposure.)
Instead, look for well-funded websites that pay a reasonable amount for your work. Most of the Web writing I've done has paid $1/word, which is comparable to print markets. Rates have fallen in the last couple of years, but I think it’s fair to expect at least $0.25-50/word for your work. (Your mileage varies? Please comment below and let us know what you're being paid for online work.)
Bottom line? Say “no” to content mills--so you can say “yes” to higher-paying, more promising markets.