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September 26, 2011Why are bloggers so badly paid?

It’s not uncommon for clients to ask how much a copywriter charges per page, or even per word (How long is a page? For that matter, how long is a word? Should you charge by the letter instead?). I always ask the client if a builder or an architect would give them a price per brick.

Using arbitrary word counts to arrive at a quote simply doesn’t work. The only thing worth quoting on is time and complexity. How many hours will this take? How exhausted will you be at the end of it? How much of my time is this job worth?

It takes a lot longer to build one small building well than it does to put up ten houses sloppily. Copywriting is the same. You get what you pay for.

So why don’t we apply this logic to blogging?

Anyone can be a blogger, right?

Price per turd?

Since the days of Livejournal and, latterly, WordPress, every man and his dog has a blog. A million monkeys on a million typewriters. At least we’ve finally proved one thing: no-one out there is writing Shakespeare.

Content is a commodity. It’s simple economics: the more of a commodity there is out there, the greater the supply — and the lower the price. This is why horse manure is considerably cheaper to buy than gold.

A good blogger is worth his weight in gold. Yet most clients settle for manure — because that’s all they’re willing to pay for.

I got into copywriting via pro blogging — I was a journalist (a very underpaid journalist) and, at the time, £50 for a 1000 word SEO-style article seemed like a good deal. I was on £70 a day at a regional news group so £100 a day for two articles seemed like a big step up. This was almost seven years ago. As a fresh faced graduate, I was lucky to be earning at all — rather than taking part in the legalised slavery racket that is the “work experience” game. I saw my move to pro blogging as an early promotion.

The articles (usually 3000 words a week) I wrote as a journalist were good. But when it came down to writing two lengthy articles a day, every day — it wasn’t long before I started churning out the same old horse manure as everybody else.

Did anyone actually read the articles I wrote? Probably not. They were produced in the heady days of SEO when it was all about keywords, keywords, keywords. No-one gave a crap about readability, which was just as well. Because the readability of my articles was absolute crap.

How much should bloggers get paid?

If you want to get a good idea of current digital rates for professional journalists, take a look at the National Union of Journalists’ average rates page.

You’ll see an enormous spread, from the ridiculously underpaid (£50 per 1000 words, the rate I started out on) to the seriously beefy — £500 – £600 (that’s almost $1000!) for bigger publications such as Conde Nast where, obviously, readability is an important issue.

Most bloggers should be getting paid somewhere in the middle — £250 for a serious 1000 word journalistic article that takes a day to write. About half that for a quick-and-cheap review or keyword laden linkbait post.

But that’s not what bloggers are earning.

The imaginatively titled “SEO Design Solutions” offers 350-400 word blog posts by professionals “with an English or Journalism degree” from $25 per 450 word article. While back in the UK, Copify (who make no guarantees about the professionalism or qualifications of their bloggers) offer rates starting at just £0.03 per word. That’s £30 per 1000 words. Somewhere, in a Foxconn plant in China, there are workers who are doing less and earning more.

And it’s doubtful they’re servicing 30k of student debt.

Pay peanuts, get monkeys?

ABC Copywriting and Unmemorable Title have already taken apart content mills. But I’m going to say something very unpopular here:

Sometimes, a monkey is exactly what the client wants.

Not everyone wears Armani suits or Paul Smith jeans. I said to a friend I needed a new suit, once, and they replied “Tesco sell one for £30.” Frankly, I’d rather go naked than be seen wearing a cheap suit. But the fact is, the market for cheap suits is out there. And the chances are good that Tesco sell a lot more suits than Savile Row.

The trouble comes when people can’t tell the difference. Yes, a £30 blog post will cover the nakedness of your blank page as well as a £300 one, but it’s not a like-for-like substitution. Yet a suit is a suit in many people’s eyes, and a blog post is a blog post. As there seem to be an enormous amount of starving grad students out there willing to write for £0.03 per word, supply at the lower end of the market is overwhelming — and it’s depressing the market for the rest of us.

While copywriting is seen as a specialist skill, blogging isn’t.

I recently charged a company approximately £250 per 1000 words to write their web copy. They thought they were getting a good deal — and they were happy to pay it. Then they offered me a price per blog article to write for them on an ongoing basis. You’ve guessed it. £50 per 500 words.

I asked them why they thought I’d want to take a 66% pay cut.

They simply said: we can get bloggers cheaper elsewhere.

As an ex-journalist, I enjoy pro blogging. However, rates for bloggers are so low I rarely find myself doing the work. Most clients aren’t prepared to pay £250 for a 1000 word article when they can get someone to do it for £100. Or, if they visit a copy mill, they can even get someone to churn out an article for £30 — presumably while literally asleep at their keyboard, pressing random keys with their face.

It’s a simple fact. Blogging pays less than copywriting, even though writing good journalism is just as demanding as creating good copy.

My questions are:

1. Should high quality “journalistic” articles be marketed differently to “blogging”?

(Following Tom Albrighton’s suggestion that copywriters need a new name to distinguish themselves from copy mills, do premium bloggers need a new name to differentiate themselves from the penny-a-word hacks?)

2. Given that complexity varies so much, is it as absurd to set a price “per article” as it is “per word” or “per page”?

(If so, why do almost all copywriters and content producers market blog articles per word rather than per hour / case by case etc)

3. If the going rate for a blogger is 50% less than a copywriter’s equivalent hourly rate, Is there any point in a copywriter offering blogging services at all?

Comments welcome.


 

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 26th, 2011 at 4:16 pm and is filed under Blog, Copywriting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 comments

  1. al says:

    True. Absolutely true.

    With the exception of keeping a couple of long-standing clients who drip feed me stories and are no bother to write for at all, I’m thinking about dropping all blogging services from my price list.

    It’s a shame, because it’s part of the job I really enjoy, as I get to write about different things and drop the sales focus.

    But the bottom line is a 66% pay cut just ain’t worth it.

  2. Hey Al. Thanks for another really thought-provoking piece. It’s clear that blogging ranks much lower on the hierarchy, and the market price for it suffers accordingly. ‘Professional’ blogging – if, in fact, that’s the right term for it – seems to have dropped into a different market.

    And, to be honest, it’s suited middling idiots like me. I’ve been doing ‘bulletins’ for REC off my own initiative. It’s just at the same rate per hour that I started on, so it will be roughly the rate your company recently offered you. I’ve been glad of the work, which I know wouldn’t have been granted at much higher rates, and my own standards for quality make it a good deal for the company.

    The job I’m moving onto is (or will be) an interesting cross between pro-blogging, column and article writing, and research pieces. One of the attractions to it was the company’s refreshing vision to ditch their outsourced SEO rubbish and move to one in-house professional. The salary probably wouldn’t scratch that of a copywriter, but it suits somebody like me who might have marginally more to offer than the most of the hacks out there.

    There’s certainly a clear difference between the products of quality blogging and trash blogging, but the market is thrown by the latter. If you’re in a position to reject blogging as a line of work, it’s because you’ve done something right, and positioned yourself way above the equilibrium. A shame, no doubt – but you’re heading in the opposite direction, and I hope this juncture allows you to celebrate that thought.

  3. Yves says:

    Perhaps a better lead question would be: why are writing quality standards so low for professional bloggers? I’m not denying that some bloggers are very good writers. But I have seen the standards go down significantly with the democratisation of blogs. As an editor I can tell you that there is a huge difference in the quality of a professional journalist’s writing (which involves reporting, heavy fact hunting and checking, etc.) and the work of a blogger who essentially re-blogs another story, opines and/or carves out pieces from other stories. The work of the former should be adequately compensated to reflect the difference in quality from the latter, in my humble opinion. I’m not saying bloggers shouldn’t get paid but we need to put the work and quality of writing in perspective here.

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