Today, my colleague Lauren turned my attention to Scripted. It sounded like it was an interesting concept, so I went and took a look and now my day is officially ruined. Though writers have been claiming it for years, I’ve finally have to agree: Writing in America is completely and officially dead.
The basic premise of the site, which bills itself as an exchange for writers to connect with people needing writing, is that they will sell you a blog post of 350-500 words for a flat $49 by “expert writers”. Lets examine that, shall we?
A blog post of 350-500 words in and of itself is not bad. We prefer to go a little longer (averaging about 600-700 words for client blogs), but it’s perfectly acceptable to have posts of 300-500 words, especially on quick-release schedules and when you’re posting a lot of content. The next part, however, is what should scare anyone who even remotely cares about the quality of online content. $49 for 350-500 words. Do the math, and that breaks down to $.10 and $.14 cents per word. We’ve all heard about how terrible the situation is for writers these days, but magazines are still paying a dollar or so per word, and reputable news agencies are not too far behind. So what kind of writer are you getting at $0.14 per word?
The Economics of Bad Writing
You could argue that writers have been working for content farms making far less than, but $0.14 a word isn’t what the writers are actually getting paid, is it? Let’s say that Scripted is making a 50% margin. Of that $0.14 per word, the author would only see about $0.07. Keep in mind that a Web Writer I in NYC will earn north of 50k. A technical writer will clear north of 60k a year pretty much anywhere in the country, as will a medical writer. In order to make 50k a year with Scripted, a writer needs to crank out 5 -6 blog posts a day (assuming a five day work week). That’s easily doable…provided you do no research, have only the most surface-level understanding of your topic, and your blog post is basically a pointless fluff piece. Oh, and forget about keyword research. You get none of that. And have fun copy-editing your own posts, because $.07 a word isn’t going to come close to covering that – actually, neither will $0.14 a word.
Math aside, what really amazes me about all of this is the genuine lack of thought most people put into the economics of creating good content. There are people on Scripted claiming to be lawyers, doctors, medical researchers – all sorts of professions that, were I to tell you they write blogs at $10-15 an hour, you would mock me until I cried in shame. Is there really a lawyer out there writing 500 well-written, meaningful, insightful, useful words at the hourly salary of a McDonald’s supervisor? At best, what you have is a sleazy ambulance-chaser who is getting his minimum wage secretary to crank out drivel which he then submits as his own. At worst, you have people who are unqualified to flip burgers with delusions of Hemingway claiming to be experts on things in which they have no expertise. Do you want THOSE people writing your content?
It Gets Worse
If you study the packages offered on the Scripted site, one thing immediately jumps out. Scripted also offers whitepapers – but only ones that come in the form of 500-700 words which averages about a page or a page and a half in length.
Seriously? There are people who actually buy into this utter bullshit? “But what is so preposterous about this?” a typical small business owner who is only familiar with the term whitepaper in passing and has never actually read, let alone written, a real professional whitepaper might say. I’ll take a step back here and let some other people give you an idea of why this is so preposterous:
I tell my clients that the minimum is six pages and the absolute maximum is 12 pages. You need a minimum of six to provide enough background information to bring the reader up to speed on the topic.
-Jonathan Kantor, Principal/Founder at @ppum Group
Some people are convinced that a 4-page or even 2-page white paper, for example, is what they need. Although a document of this length may suffice for a sales brochure, press release, or an executive or product brief, space constraints render it unable to accomplish the objectives of a white paper.
-Steve Hoffman, Pragmatic Marketing, who also points out that more experienced writers write longer white papers
Typically at least 10 pages in length with illustrations, charts and references, the average whitepaper is not designed for casual browsing and usually requires several readings to glean the full extent of its information. Readers expect a high degree of expertise backed by solid research that is fully documented by references. It can take weeks or even months to write and polish a good whitepaper.
Read more: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/6496/How-to-Write-a-Whitepaper-That-Will-Capture-Leads.aspx#ixzz26CA9GI6l
The typical size for a technical white paper is actually in the vicinity of 65 pages. A typical business/marketing oriented white paper will clock in closer to 8 (source). This blog post, which is nowhere near as detailed as a good white paper should be, clocks in at just about 2,000 words. So what the hell are you getting for $149? It certainly isn’t a white paper. It wouldn’t even pass as a high school book report (remember those? 10 pages single-spaced with a citation page not included?) Yet many small business will look at this and think they’re getting a good deal. After all, you hear about white papers all the time, so surely every business needs one. Which takes us to our next point.
Stop The Presses!
Press releases. The bane of writers everywhere. Scripted, in their brilliance, includes from one to four press releases per month in its content packages. Have you ever read press releases? If not, take a look at our side project, the CES 2013 Party List, where we regularly post press releases we get from show presenters. 90% of them are absolutely useless. In fact, most press immediately delete the majority of press releases they receive. There’s only so much you can say about the release of a new iPhone case designed by your 12 year old with crayons. And those are the legitimate press releases distributed on behalf of legitimate, large companies, by legitimate PR and MarComm firms. If you upload a press release to one of the release distribution sites (you know who you are!), the only people who will EVER see your press release are scam blogs who scrape those sites for unattributed content. Let me make this as clear as I possibly can:
NO LEGITIMATE NEWS OUTLET HAS EVER WRITTEN ANYTHING OF NOTE ABOUT A PRESS RELEASE FOUND ON A PR DISTRIBUTION SITE! EVER!
And I’m talking about REAL press releases here. The kind that announce new products or major developments. The “Company Y just released a new line of widgets” or “Company Z has closed 300 Billion in Funding” or “Company YZ is demolishing impoverished schools and replacing them with meat packing plants as part of a new community outreach strategy.” Now, think about your business. Do you have four newsworthy events happen every month? I know some of you think you do. I’ve done small business marketing consulting, and I’ve had to suffer through meetings where I was asked to write a press release for a small ($1 mil revenue) company that had just designed new t-shirts for their employees. That isn’t news. No one cares. Your customers don’t care, and legitimate press REALLY doesn’t care. They’re too busy writing about legitimate news.
At best, you can occasionally squeeze in a press release disguised as a seasonal story for a small newspaper on a slow news day (“Plumber Bob tells the West Nowhere Cageliner about how to winterize your pipes!“), but that isn’t something you get from writing four press releases per day and mass-mailing them to anyone you think might care. No, that kind of press requires some thought, and a careful process of selecting recipients and building relationships before you approach them for a favor.
But there’s more. Tweets and Facebook updates. You can buy them in batches of 25 or 50. This makes about as much sense as buying tires when you don’t own a car. Ask any reputable social agency: can I write out 50 tweets a month in advance with no tie-ins to any other content, social events, relevant news, or existing conversation, plug them in to post automatically, and watch my social influence grow? You’d be laughed out of their office and probably resort to using one of those shady follower buying services hoping to eke out something meaningful from an arbitrary number on your social profile.
We at S&G offer pre-written social updates with the rest of our writing services, though we offer them exclusively as part of packages with blog content, so are we hypocrites? I wouldn’t say so, since the only social updates we pre-write are those that are linked to a specific blog post, and are timed to go out with that post and as a follow up. None are standalone. No social update is an island, as the saying goes.
Why U Mad?
This is an excellent question. Why am I upset at a company that is paying people to write? As a writer, shouldn’t I be happy that they’re paying other writers to follow their dreams? Perhaps, if there was a single actual writer who was worth a damn among the thousands of “writers” that work for Scripted. Writers whose bios make claims of everything from having a “diploma in Business Law” (What legal grad says that? Ohh….a foreign one) to the plain simple truth, “I am excited to write of Lifestyle and travel” (obviously saving their creativity for you, the client). A large portion of the writing samples on their website make it clear that English is not the primary language of the writers (despite Scripted claiming that 80% of the writers speak English natively. Wouldn’t you want to feature THOSE writers?), the rest read at a fourth grade level and make elementary mistakes that should never have been published as final, featured, spotlit pieces.
But that’s scratching the surface, really. There have always been bad writers, and they have always dreamed of the day when they could vomit forth their abysmal filth on an unsuspecting public and get paid to do so. The big difference between then and now is that in years past, they were told to go f**k themselves by editors who knew better. Alas, these days it seems that the gates of writing have been opened to every person that can plop down $300 for a laptop and has a couple of free hours. On the other side, you have services like ODesk and Elance, in which pathetically cheap “small business owners” try to pay minimum wage for professional services and find a horde of exploited third-world workers fighting each other to the death to oblige them.
This is the environment in which Scripted exists: exploitative and undermining of the professionalism of an entire field. Who, after seeing writers working for spare change, will go on to hire a professional writer at a respectable, professional wage? And as services like this spread and become the norm, who will be able to tell the difference between sh*t piled high from these services and real writing, the kind that inspires, that informs and educates, and that entertains. This is one of the tragedies of Scripted and it’s ilk: the devaluation of content, even as content moves more and more to the forefront of the web.
The other tragedy is the plight of the business owner, though I have less pity for them since it is their penny-pinching that led them to this miser’s grave. Nevertheless, they are also being exploited by shady used car salesmen that tell them that having a blog, any blog, is the key to making their financial dreams come true. And so the guy who runs an auto repair shop, or the doctor who sees patients 60 hours a week, or the furniture store down the corner, are fed a steady stream of BS cloaked in the latest slogans and buzzwords: “Content is king”, they are told. “The Google Panda and Penguin updates mean you need content, or the search engines won’t find you”. “You have to be on Google or your business will die”. And so the small business owner succumbs to their fear, to their lack of understanding about how this ‘Internet” thing works, and admit that maybe they should have a blog. And maybe since they don’t have a lot of time, they should let someone else write it for them. Someone who gets this “Internet” thing. And maybe, since money is a little tight, they should find the cheapest writer available.
After all, no one explained to them what good content is, or why it’s important to produce it. No, they figure, content is content. Besides, anyone can write. So they get saddled with a blog, and a raft of content that returns a negative ROI, though most small biz owners couldn’t figure out how to track a content marketing ROI if their lives depended on it (this is not a judgement, merely a fact: everyone can’t know everything), and when after a year of spending money they find little to show for it, they sour on the whole idea and the blog is shuttered, never to be heard from again. This is the second tragedy of Scripted: it is slowly killing the market.
So this is why I’m mad, and this is why I will continue to be mad at Scripted and Contently, and the hundreds of other “content marketplaces” sprouting up. This is why every good and decent writer, and every good and decent person, should stand up and say “Enough! Enough of garbage masquerading as writing. This far and no further.”
I came across your article while researching Scripted, where I was just accepted as a writer. I’ve been a professional freelancer for the past several years and I put 100% into every piece I write. I plan on doing the same for Scripted. I don’t think it’s fair to lump all writers who would write for a company such as Scripted into one big lump of “abysmal filth.” It’s really disheartening to read such commentary and makes me feel kind of terrible about my career choice to know there are people who look down on it so vehemently. I feel that it is my duty and responsibility to produce excellent writing for every client I service, no matter if I am writing for an individual or a huge corporation. I’m sure that there are many other writers who feel the same way. This post totally deflated my enthusiasm at being hired for Scripted today. I wish I had found a more supportive and positive opinion. As writers, we should be lifting each other up, especially in these tough economic times. Don’t you agree?
Rebecca, I’m sorry that our post deflated your enthusiasm. Our concern is that with the deluge of content happening (especially at lower rates), professional writing becomes seriously devalued. Before Scripted’s website redesign (where they decreased transparency by taking down writing samples and explanations of types of content), they had a description of a white paper that was 1-2 pages, and blog posts ranging from $50-$75. Any writer worth their salt would scoff at the idea of a 1-2 page white paper. Even at their rates now, $450 would barely cover the costs of the research phase of a white paper. Real white papers written by content matter experts generally range from $1,500 to $5,000 depending on the industry and subject matter.
Services like this are meant to make content marketing available to everyone, but what happens instead is that people who aren’t professional writers (or who treat writing as a hobby) jump into the industry because they think it’s something easy that they can do to make money from home. This, in turn, throws a ton of hastily (and often poorly) written content onto the web which lowers the bar for everyone: 1) professional writers have their pricing cut into; 2) the writing industry as a whole is devalued; 3) small businesses and clients are mis-educated about what good content looks like and what it should do. There’s a great presentation by Velocity Partners (a marketing firm in the UK) that explains this here: http://www.slideshare.net/dougkessler/crap-the-content-marketing-deluge
I’m with Rebecca on this — I am earning my MFA in writing and trying to get some work on the side. So while I see your point, I don’t see what the alternative is supposed to be at this point in my situation. I can’t quit my two jobs and my graduate program and freelance full-time (let’s be honest, a legitimate full-time freelancing business takes a long time to get going). So in your model, what are my options?
Step 1: Drop out of the MFA. Unless you’re planning to be a college-level English/writing professor, it’s an utterly useless degree.
Step 2: If writing isn’t paying your bills, go get a job that DOESN’T involve writing, and spend all your remaining time hunting for freelance clients. Most mid-size blogs will pay significantly more than Scripted, and you won’t have to debase yourself.
Step 3: Profit!
Really, though, working for the wages these content churn-houses pay pretty much ensures that your degree will be worthless once you graduate. After all, why would a company pay you a living wage if they can just get someone just like you for next to nothing? Sure, it seems like a great deal now, but you’re hurting your own long-term employment options. Even worse, you’re screwing other writers just like you out of a living wage. Even more worserererer, you’re helping to turn the entire writing process into an outsourceable commodity. Why don’t you ask textile employees and IT workers how that turned out?
Look, we’re happy that you want to be a writer. We love writers. But you have to understand that the vast majority of writers don’t make a living writing. The ones that do bust their ass to try to do it. When people go to work for companies like Scripted, it makes the chances of someone like you making a living as a writer that much lower. If you aren’t willing to work as a Wendy’s drive-through girl for a decade until your writing takes off, this might not be the field for you. If you can’t figure out a way to make a living freelancing (I used to get beer/food money in college by editing/writing term papers – starting at $150 per, no less), this might not be the career for you. Because there’s no such thing as a steady writing gig. You will ALWAYS be in a position where the sword of Damocles is hanging over your head, and you will ALWAYS have some excuse for taking the easy way out. If you’re the kind of person that will compromise yourself the minute danger looms, you should seriously reconsider your choice of careers, because you will end up writing crap and hating yourself for it.
You are certainly not a professional writer. Why should it matter to you?
I find it absolutely hilarious that someone criticizing Scripted writers for their lack of acceptable grammar talks of “Scripted and it’s ilk.” Perhaps it’s (notice how the word is used properly in this context?!) nitpicking to highlight such an error, but really, all I see here is blatant hypocrisy.
I could use this time to point out that if you capitalize “English Education” in THIS sentence, “I am a graduate student majoring in English Education.”, then you ALSO need to capitalize “Technical Writing” in THIS one, “I hold a degree from the University of Wisconsin in technical writing.” The name of a degree or major is either a proper noun, or it isn’t. You simply can’t have it both ways.
Instead, I will simply say “mea culpa”! Everyone makes mistakes an/or typos. The difference between a mistake/typo and bad writing is consistency. I don’t care what your thoughts of Scripted are or why you hold them – the samples they had up on their site at the time this article was written (btw, have you noticed that they no longer have samples up?) were absolutely terrible. The rates they pay writers are just a hair above minimum wage, they don’t understand content marketing (nor do their clients), and they (Scripted) are cheating clients, writers, and content marketers.
Now, you may be ok with a future in which writing professionals have to compete for minimum wage work with bored SAHMs, ederly cat ladies, and people who have always wanted to write a novel but suck at writing so they freelance instead; and maybe you’re ok with no one recognizing good writing and good work because the skill has been devalued to the point where Dan Brown (Dan fucking Brown!) is a New York Times bestseller, yet most people have hardly heard of Hemingway; and maybe you’re just fine defending services that hurt you and your earning potential because you’re not quite bright enough, nor plugged in enough, to know where actual legitimate freelancers go to find work (hint: it’s not freelance.com, elance, or ideaLaunch), because you so desperately want to be a writer. I’m not, though. But then again, I also don’t spend hours being a pedant in the comments section of blogs that annoy me.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. While common usage seems to have pushed in the direction of capitalizing majors and areas of study for degrees, they are not (in fact) proper nouns when used outside of a course syllabus.
Good read, though I pictured a table being flipped while reading this.
Have to agree with a lot of what is said here. When I got into freelance writing in 2007 I was scraping up whatever I could find and taking whatever pay was being offered. I did use some of the sites you mentioned, and a few others you didn’t.
However, still the same stuff. Same crap pay for killing yourself. I used my brief time on those sites to help build out a portfolio of actual work aside the other “fake” pieces I did for sample purposes. I get the hell away from those sites as quickly as I could.
I used my own writing to market my business so after about 8 months, the bulk of my clients were coming through organic search. I didn’t have to touch those freelance sites for years unless I wanted to fill a pocket of empty time.
Though it was never really enjoyable. It’s a bit like playing the part of Conan on the labor wheel while someone whips at you.
Truly working for myself, and not giving the middlemen a cut, is where I produced the best writing, made the best money, and actually had the time to do better competitive, audience and keyword research per project.
Wow. Too long, too rant-filled, and boring, to boot. Bitter much? I would think that a “professional writer” such as yourself could be bothered to read/edit their own work, or a least invest in a spellchecker. You have numerous typos and errors throughout your misguided whine-fest.
It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the only reason you are blasting on Scripted (for whom I have never written) is because you see that it is competition — and, you think that by having Scripted in the title, you are somehow going to discourage some content purchaser from using their service. Real classy. Instead of doing the poor-sport approach of bitching about your competitors, why don’t you just provide excellent value and quality with your writing?
Next time, when you rant, try to cut it down to a length that won’t annoy/bore the shit out of your readers, and make sure your copy isn’t filled with amateur mistakes. Unwarranted condescension and entitlement issues are so unattractive in people and companies.
Just a couple of quick points, because very little here is new:
First, 2333 words is hardly “too long”. It’s a pretty average-sized feature article. You know, like a cover story in a magazine that focuses on something other than which celebrity lost how much weight. So I would hardly say it’s too long. In fact, many recent studies have demonstrated quite clearly that 1500-2500 word articles are actually more engaging, better for search, and much more likely to be shared. Though I do see how reading can be difficult.
Second, regarding spelling errors: I just ran spell-check on it, and found one error, where a letter was omitted (I rarely check blog posts for typos. I think it comes off as more authentic. Client work, rest assured, goes through several rounds of editing). I also use whitepaper as a single word, instead of the more common “white paper”. This is a stylistic choice, and isn’t actually wrong. It’s not common usage, so it stands out, but I think it’s silly to have it as two separate words. Otherwise, there are a few things that pop out as “grammatical mistakes”, but they’re actually stylistic choices. Things like passive voice, etc.
Finally, Scripted isn’t actually one of our competitors, any more than McDonald’s is a competitor of Cipriani. I’m just morally opposed to the idea of people who don’t value themselves or their craft watering down the talent pool.
Follow step four in your partner’s article?
Your post was painful to read because it was mostly true. Your rates, however, are off. For a standard blog post of 350-500 words, you’ll normally get paid between $22-25, and for a long post, $29/30 typically. As a writer for Scripted, I always put in the same amount of work as I would when writing for newspaper articles with my byline on them. Sometimes I wonder if all the effort is worth it. Your blog is probably my wakeup call.
Scripted.com is a joke. I wrote for them for almost a year and the White Papers are reserved for the office staff, a clown named Josh Tobias (1-year college dropout) decides your fate on most things and will unceremoniously kill your account for complaining, making you wait for weeks to get paid. Luckily for me, most of the clients that I wrote for followed me when I left. I now make better money, less hassle and no Josh Tobias. So much for greedy start-ups.
Josh Tobias is the least professional “professional” I’ve ever encountered.
I’ve worked for Scripted for about 2 months, and didn’t have a problem until one of their “Account Managers” blatantly poached an assignment from me. Eric Windell took the assignment out of my “To Do” list without a legitimate explanation. I think I’ve made a mistake signing up with them………
This guy… This fuckin’ guy…