Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The $5 Article vs. the $50 Article

I’ll occasionally get a note from a potential client asking for a cost estimate on a large number of web articles. I’ll send over a realistic price, and I’ll get a reply to the effect of “Why are you charging so much, when I can get this type of content for $5 a page (or free) elsewhere?”

It’s easy to see where this comes from. Articles that cost as low as $1 each can be found plenty of places online. Bidding sites like Elance and Guru offer low-cost writing services from all over the world. Some sites offer free content, while others feature content generators that reword pre-existing text automatically.

It can take minutes to read a page, but hours to write one. If you’ve had any experience with article writing, you know that it can take some time to do the job right. When you factor in research, organization, proofreading and editing, it can take hours to write a single page.

From a business-writer's perspective, these low prices don’t make much sense. At $5 an article or less, they'd have to write pretty fast to earn a decent wage. How can these writers afford to charge so little? I’ve come across a number of plausible reasons:

They live in an area with a low cost of living. To the horror of professional freelancers everywhere, some businesses are going Wal-Mart and outsourcing their content to places like China, India, and the Philippines. A dollar stretches a lot farther there than it does in the states. But even so, you get what you pay for—and writing isn’t a service that lends itself well to foreign outsourcing.

No matter how fluent, a non-native speaker will not sound completely natural when writing content in English. Most readers can tell at a glance when the writer is non-native. At best, the writing may sound stilted or slightly “off." At worst, clients get spelling and grammatical errors that reflect badly on their business. And if prospects catch on that a business is outsourcing their copy, they could wonder what else it outsources to pinch pennies.

They’re selling only first-time use rights. Some people buy reams of articles at low prices, then get a nasty surprise when their articles pop up later on other websites. This is because low-cost writers can make more money by selling articles multiple times. There’s nothing wrong with this if you agreed to it beforehand, but it can blindside you if you aren’t expecting it. And it won’t help your search engine rankings any to have duplicate copies of your content all over the web.

They’re playing the cut-and-paste game. Writers can crank out articles quickly by harvesting content from other areas on the web and pasting it into a new article with a minimum of rewriting. This kind of thing can harm the rankings of the original site, and it puts the client at risk for legal trouble.

Occasionally I’ll talk to copywriters who are worried about the low-cost competition. To be honest, however, I don’t think free content generators, outsourcing, and cut-and-pasters are anything to worry about.

In my experience, those who choose this option are far more concerned with cost than quality—they usually aren’t the type of prospects that professionals target. And the low-cost option can’t compete with a well-written article campaign designed to appeal to both search engines and readers.


Matthew C. Keegan said...

Good points, Jennifer. Still, I am amazed at the number of people who want me to cut them some slack on article writing when they want to purchase a series of articles. It still costs me the same amount of time researching, writing, proofreading, and editing each article whether they have 1, 5, 20 or more articles.

I guess some of that is my fault as I have given people a break in the past. Usually, I ended up being aggravated and short of cash after completely such projects. Never again!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more!

I find it frustrating, and yet have written some articles for $10, when I had no other projects going, because I have bills to pay. It takes me the same amount of time and money as it does when I do one for $50 or more.

Clients obviously have no idea how much time (and usually research) goes into a well written feature.

Still, I love being a freelancer.