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Who writes articles for $1. And why?

Don Quixote by Pablo PicassoWould you write a 500 word article for $2? Or even as low as $1? I wouldn’t.

Maybe I’m lucky because I don’t need to (touch wood). But it seems some people who want to be writers, copywriters, online content contributors may be taking jobs that pay these ridiculous rates.

There certainly seem to be people who think they can hire writers at these rates.

Who would take on these jobs? Someone who needs to get started, get some experience, build up a portfolio? But is this the way to do it? I don’t think so.

A lesson from Picasso

There’s a wonderful story about Picasso in the book Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith.

In it, a woman is strolling down a street when she sees Picasso, and she asks him to sketch her. Picasso does so in a few minutes, and hands it to her:

“And what do I owe you?” she asked.
“Five thousands francs,” he answered.
“But it only took you three minutes,” she politely reminded him.
“No,” Picasso said. “It took me all my life.”

The lesson is that if you are providing expertise, clients should expect to pay for that.

To hammer the point home, Beckwith adds a story about a carpenter. In this tale, a man who has a squeaky floorboard calls in a carpenter, who quickly finds the problem and fixes it with three precise blows of his hammer.

The carpenter pulled out an invoice slip, on which he wrote the total of $45. Above that line were two line items:
Hammering, $2
Knowing where to hammer, $43.

Of course, none of us are Picasso. And until you have some experience and ideally a few qualifications to back them up, then you can’t really claim to be a craftsman carpenter either.

Be the publisher as well as the writer

But the days when you had to work for nothing, or close to nothing, in order to get experience as a writer and develop a portfolio are gone.

The Internet has changed all that. Instead of writing for a pittance for other people, write for yourself. Get your own blog, write your articles there. It becomes your portfolio.

If they won’t pay a realistic rate, walk away.

The whole publishing industry is being turned on it’s head because web publishing is so easy and accessible. Sure, there are steep learning curves, and I’m not claiming it’s easy to make money.

But you don’t have to be a billionaire newspaper baron to own a presence on the Internet. You don’t have to get a job, any job, that allows you to write. These days, if you want to be a writer, there’s nothing stopping you. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You just need your own site. Then you can set yourself up as the publisher as well as the writer.

if you do work for publishers or clients, have the confidence to charge them realistic amounts not just for your time, but also for your expertise. They are paying you for your experience, your knowledge, your abilities. If they won’t pay a realistic rate, walk away.

Artwork is Don Quixote by Pablo Picasso.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Markus December 10, 2007, 12:04 pm

    Wow! This was very interesting. Especially your examples with picasso.

  • Tha-Flash December 10, 2007, 1:47 pm

    I remember my teacher telling me that story about the carpenter.

    Great article.

    Can’t you publish on sites such as Triond and earn small amounts of money for the time being while still publishing them on your own blog?

  • Simon December 10, 2007, 1:58 pm

    @Tha-Flash – If Google thinks you’re putting content on your blog that has already been used elsewhere, it’s likely to penalise your ranking. I’m not the expert on this, but I think you should beware of falling into the duplicate content trap. You could easily rework your article so it reads differently but covers the same subject, however.
    I have no experience with Triond so I don’t know how much money people make from it. I’d be interested to hear your experiences, if you are using this service. At least they are giving a share of the revenue, rather than paying $1 an article.

  • Simon December 10, 2007, 2:02 pm

    Thanks Markus. We really have Harry Beckwith to thank for the Picasso insight. (Aren’t books great!)

  • Tha-Flash December 10, 2007, 2:57 pm

    Hey Simon

    Triond will publish your articles on another popular website for you, increasing revenue. It depends on how much traffic you get visiting your article on their website. I’m sure you’re well aware of StumbleUpon and things like that. (btw I thumbs up’d this article 😉

    I’m thinking creating a portfolio and getting all of your articles in a blog is best for the long term. I just look at other sites and it amazes me how many articles they have.

    I’ve written a lot but consider myself a beginner writer, I’m publishing many articles hoping to improve after I’ve done hundreds.

    Here’s from the Triond site FAQ:
    How are my earnings calculated?
    Your earnings are equivalent to 50 percent of the net revenue generated by advertising which appears on the pages alongside your content.
    Back to Top

    How much will I earn?
    The amount you earn will depend on the number of views your articles generate and the average value of a page view for that page.

    I’m not sure about whether anyone else makes a lot of money from it, I’m sure it’s possible.

  • Simon December 10, 2007, 4:05 pm

    @Tha-Flash: I’m sure there’s lots of services like Trion around. HubPages.com do something similar. These services have two clear benefits that I can see. First of all, you can write on any subject, even one that wouldn’t fit your blog at all. Blogs need to stick to a niche, at least to an extent.
    Secondly, they’re quick and easy.
    But of course, they’re getting lots of content on their domains, which the writers provide. Having said that, they’re probably worth experimenting with, depending on your own situation, of course.

  • Louis August 15, 2011, 5:40 pm

    Good post. The problem lies with the writer who will accept those rates. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and like you said, your own blog is the best place to start. Write everyday, build a good blog, and your portfolio will grow along with you.

    The writing community should put a stop to those low rate job. This could be easily done by declining low rate jobs.

    I must admit, I’m one of those who committed those crimes, but I realized how much lies those web-farms provide.

    The Panda update from Google might be a good thing for writers with their own blogs. It will eliminate those content farms and help the intelligent blogs to surface.