Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Writer Sweatshop or Opportunity?

There's been an interesting discussion going on about Demand Studios. Recently on the Internet Writers Workshop someone offered it as a viable way to earn income by writing. One member claimed that she made $200 a week writing for this market. That was enough motivation for me. I could certainly use $200 a week to replace the income from the long gone part-time job the failing economy had taken care of quite completely.

I jumped through their hoops. Not only did I fill out the application, supplied two or three examples and then waited for a reply. Not a long wait, but still it is part of writing isn't it. Hurry up, meet the deadline, submit the copy, and wait.

Then with approval came more forms to fill out. They needed tax information including social security number. I hesitated, but decided I couldn't fear everyone. So I filled it in. Next they wanted a bio to run with my work. Short bio. Done. Then, if I wanted to get paid I must sign up for PayPal. It is something I've avoided all of these years having heard about hidden fees and missing money and fighting to get what was yours. But I'd also heard people say how easy it was, safe, worked well, accommodating. I signed up. Oh and then I was told if I wanted to surf their pages I needed to replace my Internet Explorer with Mozilla's Firefox or something similar. Its free, but just one more software to put on my poor computer. I did it.

Now the clouds parted and I was eligible to pick my assignments. A long list of generic topics unfolded before me. Broad based titles "Kenmore Sewing Instructions" "How to build a Gazebo...."

And the prices: $15 for 500 words. For me to make $200 a week I'd need to write about 15 articles a week. Not an unachievable number, but still, I can write one piece for The Washington Post and receive that amount. Of course there was no guarantee that the WP would buy the piece. So I suppose a ready market was worth something. The $15 per article is the highest they appear to pay. Unless after awhile you can ascend to a favored status where they'll make better deals. No one is talking about that.

So far, other than seeing this opportunity bordering on sweatshop wages, I haven't seen any other red flags. But I put a request out on Facebook and was referred to Erik Sherman's blog. I've known Erik through my stint at Freelance Success and know him to be honest and informed. He's a member of ASJA and is an expert on contracts. He's a good person to consult if you have a contract question and he will help regardless of membership in ASJA or not.

Erik refers to Direct Studios and a variety of other writing markets as Writers Mills. You know like puppy mills? He's very opposed to these venues and warns every writer to stay away and not let them make millions on the back of poorly paid writers. Poorly paid hardly covers the paltry sum.

But there is another side to the argument. Perhaps not as strong as Erik's but it comes from impoverished writers who need a guaranteed income. This may be piecework writing, but it has potential for money attached and the amount is dependent upon how much work you can do. Sometimes a writer has to take what is available at the time of their need. Or at the time of their feelings of panic and fear when looking at their budget. Is it better to work for one of these writers mills as opposed to slinging hamburgers at MacDonald's or any other lowly entry level job? At least the person is writing. And I would think if one is turning out that quantity of copy, one is learning to do something right.

I would like to join Erik and take the high road, but economic necessity can be an imposing adversary. Desperation -- is that a good reason to take a job? It is a bit daunting to realize that this particular company is raking in approximately $200 millions a year. And according to Erik, the CEO is none other than the MySpace genius Richard Rosenblatt. He sold MySpace to Rupert Murdock for $600 million if Erik's figures are correct. I doubt that Mr Rosenblatt would do anything for a measly $15, but who knows. He isn't working for those wages now, but maybe he began as humbly as his writers are now.

Either way you look at Demand Studios it is a writing market. According to expert freelancers, one must have a mix of markets in one's business plan. I'll let you know later if it is a keeper. When you visit Erik's blog, if you look through his recent posts for writers mills, you will see some other similar markets -- if you're so inclined.

Oh, and I understand that Demand Studios hires only people from the United States.
Favored Job Search Site: The Freelance Writing Jobs Network


Ann Hite said...

There is a lot to think about here in your post. It is thought-provoking. Good work and good luck. I'd like to know how it goes.

Allison said...

I just submitted an application, too. I did some work for Work.com a while ago but it was not worth it. For how many times they would have me rewrite something, I ended up working hours for $15 (which ended up being less than $5/hour). It wasn't worth it. Then, on top of that - the editor in question would take my article, butcher it
(taking away my own voice) and forget to correct her OWN typos and spelling errors. (How she got an editing job, I will never figure out.) Meanwhile, my name was on these horrible butchered pieces. I had to complain enough to get those articles removed. I wouldn't recommend work.com, at all.

Dawn said...

Thanks for commenting. I'm rather anxious to see how it goes, too, Ann. I'll be sure to let you know.

Allison I am so sorry you had to go through such a horrible experience! I also wondered about the editors at Demand Studios because I think they're on a similar pay scale as the writers. And overworked. But I haven't worked with an editor yet who wasn't overworked. :) So we'll see what happens.

deanna said...

I appreciate your post. I've been reading Erik Sherman and some others, and I think you've given a well-rounded picture of what's going on. Thanks, Dawn.

Dawn said...

Thanks Deanna, I try to get it right -- good and not so good parts.


Hope Clark said...

You also have to look at the long term impact of writing for Writing Mills. When someone googles your name a couple years from now, when you're pitching to a high paying market or a literary agent, who's to say that a hundred articles at Writing Mills won't hurt your chances to advance? If you just want money, go for it. If you're building a portfolio, don't. I can still google articles I wrote ten years ago, and regret seeing them.

Hope Clark

Dawn said...

Thanks Hope. Important comment for us to consider. I too often forget long term and just think about survival now. :) Thanks for adding this to the discussion.