The Beat of Wardrums: Content Mills Irk, Writers Respond

10 02 2010

Last week I mentioned the copy mills and
hinted at a personal desire to light a few torches, sharpen a pitchfork and go after companies making a fast buck on cheap copy.

Looks like I’m not the only one*.

Over the past few days Twitter has been churning furiously with writers like Tom Albrighton and Ben Locker weighing in on a new content mill’s $.004 per word pricing. Their calm “you get what you pay for” pieces inspired retweets, writerly ire, and finally a summation by Andrew Nattan’s blog ummemorable title that was as delightfully weary as the topic makes me feel.

Sure anyone can write, right? As Larner Caleb put it, “Trouble for writers is… everyone is taught to write as soon as they can pick up a crayon. Therefore, we’ve all got the necessary tools to write…” Just as I start to grind my teeth, Larner adds, “But not necessarily the tools to write copy.”

That’s the key point for me: expertise. (Oh, and value… and professionalism.)
We writers are always learning, always talking and researching and looking for ways to produce brilliant results for our clients. But we aren’t working for free (or per word), and we aren’t looking to “build experience” by selling ourselves and our insights short. Yes, these are “challenging economic times” and budgets are tight. But be honest, the right copy – tailored, focused and optimised by a pro who’s spending their time researching new ways to get your product, skill or sponsorship the best results – is going to last a lot longer than a poor quarter.

Of course, while more established writers like Locker are happy to wait out clients burned by cheap content that didn’t deliver, it’s not always easy for new writers still building their business to take that high road. Be strong, my writing brethren, sharpen those pens and get back to your clients. Show them you mean business with stellar work and great concepts; suggest something extra along with the job at hand. Remember that bad ideas (like Crystal Pepsi, Zubaz and content filler) fade while building a portfolio based on solid work and skill never goes out of style.

* Maybe I’m the only one entertaining ideas of fiery revenge, but I’m certainly not the only miffed writer.

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2 responses

10 02 2010
Tom Albrighton

Thanks for mentioning my blog post. As some respondents at my blog have noted, it really isn’t worth pursuing clients who are in the ‘pay per word’ mindset. They are no longer in the market for copywriting – they want something else. By chasing them, you risk endorsing the fallacy (propagated by content mills) that per-word content can be equated with, or substitute for, proper copywriting.

A ‘true’ copywriter is working with the client to express ideas, reach audiences and persuade as effectively as possible. That has nothing to do with ordering content by the yard to achieve mechanistic, tick-in-a-box SEO goals. The end product may be a text file in both cases, but the ethos and process are utterly different. That’s why comparing copywriters’ fees with content-mill rates is such a red herring.

However, the real point is the prospect that content-mill-based approaches will cease to be effective for SEO. I’m planning to post about this in more detail very soon.

Oh and by the way, I’ve never beaten a wardrum in my life… I wouldn’t even know what one looked like.

11 02 2010
blaz1ngscr1bbles

Thanks for the response, Tom – I very much agree! The processes of a mill writer versus a contracted copywriter are very different, and the rates are incomparable to all but a very specific sort of client (who you rightly note aren’t really in the market for copywriting). I agree too that the subject itself is a red herring; the debate is an old one and seems best solved by keeping clear of the chatter while continuing to provide professional service to clients who value good work.
Thanks again for the insightful comments, I’m looking forward to your post on mill content’s SEO ineffectiveness!

PS: I’ve taken you off the drum circle list :)

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