Monday, February 25, 2008

PLR: Legitimate Business Model or Morally Bankrupt?

I went over to InkThinker the other day and found an interesting article on PLR (Private Label Rights) articles. For those who don't know, writers sell PLR articles numerous times rather than just one time. There are two basic ways to sell PLR articles. With the first method, you set up a cheap subscription service that delivers dozens of articles per month to customers on a variety of topics. With the second, you sell "packs" of articles on different topics, and you let your customers buy what they want without subscribing.

At first glance, PLR looks like it might be fairly lucrative. But I've seen writers argue that it's not only a bad business decision, but it's morally wrong. I'm on the fence about this. I'm not sure PLR is for me, but I'm not convinced it's the devil, either--and I know a number of experienced freelance web writers who include it as part of their business model. I don't sell PLR and I'm not promoting it here--I have absolutely no reason to--but some objections to it strike me as a bit overblown. Here are the arguments I've come across on why PLR is the spawn of Satan--and my responses to these arguments.

PLR articles simply rehash the same content over and over--and that's bad for the Internet. Many people buy PLR articles to provide quick, ready-made content to get a site going. I absolutely believe that original content will do better things for a website than rehashed PLR--but some people can't afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to hire a quality writer to build a comprehensive content library from scratch. That's where PLR supposedly comes in.

I agree that it's probably not great to keep recycling the same old content on the web, but I'm a bit of a hypocrite--I've already published quite a few articles on sites like EzineArticles, where they've been syndicated to other websites. I've increased my SEO rankings for targeted keywords a great deal this way--it's done a lot for my business. I've never heard the same objections raised against article marketing. Some writers might say "well, yes, but with article marketing at least you get lots of links back to your site." To which I respond: "well, yes, and with PLR at least you get paid."

In addition, not everybody who buys PLR just posts it on their sites without changing it. Most webmasters these days are aware that Google penalizes duplicate content, which is why those who buy PLR sometimes rewrite or use the articles simply for a research source--or they might use them for an offline newsletter, brochure, or report. That's not to say that clients wouldn't be better served with original content that's tailored to them; but not all PLR just gets posted online as-is.

PLR articles undermine the copywriting industry. The problem with PLR is that it's cheap. You sell a pack of ten articles fifty times for $10 each instead of once for $25 each. I've heard writers argue that PLR is bad for all writers, because it floods the market with cheap writing.

But just in case you haven't noticed, the market is already flooded. You can get original content for cheaper than some PLR packs. Somehow, writers who charge a fair wage still stay in business; that's because some clients know the value of professional, personally-tailored copy that's designed to generate sales or make their site the resource in a certain niche. They can already get original content for pennies on the dollars you're charging, but they don't. My hunch is they don't want PLR content, either.

From what I've seen, the people who buy PLR articles are not the same people who buy fairly priced content. They're the people who buy $5 articles from India. They're the people who reject your Elance bid because it's "too high"--you dared to charge more than a fraction of a penny per word.

PLR articles are crap writing. I've also heard some claims that PLR writing perpetuates badly written, grammatically incorrect and badly researched trash content. I don't subscribe to any PLR services, so I can't judge whether it's any good as a whole. However, I do feel that PLR can't be any different from other types of writing--some of it's probably crap. Some of it might be decent. Just because it's sold multiple times doesn't mean it's automatically bad. And I know that original content can be absolutely horrible--originality is no guarantee of quality.

I'm not convinced about PLR articles for my own business, but I'm in favor of keeping a fair, objective opinion on it--and I don't look down on writers who offer it. There will always be cheap writing out there that undercuts your prices. To compete, you can't expect to stem the tide. It didn't work for record companies to eradicate song downloads; instead, they joined the market by offering affordable, legal downloads--and made money on the new trend. I don't see anything wrong with writers doing the same thing. Selling one article for $10 might not be worth it. But selling one article fifty times for $10 might be smart business.


Anonymous said...

Jen, as you know, I'm on the "down with PLR" side of things.

You gave a brief write up of the writer's point of view and brought up some points. I may not agree with them, but they're your views.

So far, the only argument I see stressed most of all is that PLR makes money for writers, therefore, it is an acceptable thing to do. There are many ways to make money in life - that does not mean they are the right paths to choose.

I'd be interested in seeing your take on this from the other side of the coin - the buyer's side. The web as a whole.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Hi James,

Yep, I definitely know where you stand. I agree that just because something makes you money doesn't make it right; I don't think it's right to pollute the environment or kill people or poison puppies to make a buck. I don't think PLR falls under that category, though.

I'd love to hear from buyers out there, too. Any buyers reading this? What's your take?

Anonymous said...

Mm, no, PLR won't kill puppies, but it may advance the death of the Internet. How many years do you think the Internet can withstand this much content being dumped in?

Like I mentioned, one guru, 7,200 articles a month, 30 spins from each, that's 21,000 articles in one month alone hitting the internet. That's a lot of similar content.

I can't fight global warming or stop wars in other countries. But if I can change something for the better, I'll try.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Seriously? I've heard about the death of the Internet coming from telecommunications companies privatizing everything and scary terrorist viruses, but I've never heard anyone say the Internet might just "fill up" someday. That sounds like an Onion headline. I can just see the headline: "Internet Governance Forum Says: That's It! We're Full!"

Yes, PLR might pump in lots of content. But there's a lot of content being pumped in from other sources, too. For example, I just looked up this Technorati data about the number of blogs out there: 70 million. There are 1.5 million posts per day; 120,000 new blogs started per day; and 1.4 blogs created every second. That's a lot of content. If we really want to save the Internet, we should all do our part and stop blogging.

Anonymous said...

I never said blogging wasn't a culprit of too much content. I've spoken out against rehashed blogging as well.

At the very least, I've taken a stance to specifically *not* blog in a way that rehashes content and in a way that offers value and insight - my own. Not someone else's that's been redone thousands of times already.

Check the stats on articles, by the way - you might be surprised to find that the numbers of articles injected into the internet.

Also, throwing the straw man fallacy into the mix isn't a good way to discuss an issue, either. I think you're better than that.

Anonymous said...

I take on writing projects but don't really consider myself a freelance writer, at least not primarily. So from my clueless outsider's perspective, I appreciate your explaining the controversy, Jennifer.

It is interesting to watch this debate unfolding between you and James also. I'm getting an education in both sides of the issue!

Jennifer Williamson said...

@James: Straw men and whether or not I'm "better than that" aside, the point is, while PLR might pump a lot of duplicate content into the net, I'm not sure this is a dire issue or that it's the worst offender. There are plenty of other sources of just as much or more content--like blogs, for example--and whether it's original or not, it's still taking up space. Some of it is great. Some of it is rehashed. Some of it isn't objective, and some of it's misinformed. That's what you get when you have an open publishing medium like the Internet, and it would be easy to make the case that blogs are clogging the net just as badly. Some old-school journalists do think that. I don't.

I meant a joking tone with that first paragraph, by the way. Sometimes these things don't come through as intended.

For me, a more convincing moral standpoint might be that PLR is not effective web content for clients, because of the duplicate content issue--and I'm not sure I'm comfortable selling something that isn't highly effective. But online content isn't the only thing people use PLR for, and I can't say I even know all the ways people use it. There may be writers who know more about how it's used and when it's effective--and feel they can deliver something that's highly effective for its use. Which is why I don't judge other writers for doing it.

@Annalisa: Welcome to the party!

Anonymous said...

I see this as another symptom of the rush to the bottom many writers seem to embrace at the moment. Pity. But it's still sort of a free country. Some of us are on another path, though.

Ally (Allena Tapia) said...

super interesting article...found you through inkthinker...thanks for a somewhat clear explanation...and: hi james, lol, are you EVERYWHERE?

Anonymous said...

@ Ally - It's my mission in life to be in as many places as possible - all at the same time ;)