The Sensible Knave

"I do not see that we are further along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament." - W.V.O. Quine

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Insidious Threat #4,542,799

Here is a column of interest to freelance writers. It explains the deal with those listings offering about $2 for 500-word pieces. They're a dime a dozen nowadays, but that's at least better than the pay per word they offer.

There is a new and insidious threat to the World Wide Web: a slowly rising tide of "original content" on Internet sites that is at best worthless, and at worst possibly even dangerously inaccurate.

I should know; I've been writing some of the stuff myself.

Understanding what's happening requires a lesson in modern Web economics. If there is a topic in the news, people will be searching on it. If you can get those searchers to land on a seemingly authoritative page you've set up, you can make money from their arrival. Via ads, for instance.

Then, to get your site ranked high in search engines, it's best to have "original content" about whatever the subject of your site happens to be. The content needs to include all the keywords that people might search for. But it can't be just an outright copy of what's on some other site; you get penalized for that by search engines.

Hence, there has been an explosion of demand for "original content"; Charles Ryder, of WCR Internet Marketing, a consulting firm, says Web masters everywhere want articles written for them and will supply the search engine-friendly keywords to include.

You'd think this would be a godsend for writers. Hah.

Curious to learn more about the process, I bid on some writing jobs on the Web sites where these transactions occur. (I described myself quite honestly: as a Journal reporter interested in freelance work who might also write a Journal story about writing for Web sites.)

I managed to get underbid on numerous jobs before snaring one from a Web entrepreneur I would come to know as "Whirlywinds." I would have to write 50 articles, each 500 words long. Topics to be assigned. Pay: $100. For everything.

Markets for freelance writers can wax and wane. Low-paying gigs can be tempting when business is slow, especially when they present an opportunity to branch out. When the market rate for a particular service is so ridiculously low, however, you can rest assured that it's a dead end. If you must take a low-paying gig, consider one in an area where success might pave the way to more lucrative work.

Having said that, I would point out that kooks and ignoramuses have always had a major presence on the web. As long as we have a stake in reliable search engines, the means will be devised to enable them to cut through the noise. If that's untrue, then why aren't at least some of these web-polluters willing to pay more than $0.004 per word for quality copy?