The Burning Question for Writers: Should I work for content mills?

Getting paid to write on the Internet – sounds like the best gig ever for some people. And I’ll admit: there were times when I really, really did feel like I had it all. I could set my own schedules, and everyone I worked with was behind Skype and/or email (no one used Slack in those days… I think).

As a budding copywriter, I needed somewhere to hone my skills. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first place I started was at so-called “content mills” or “content farms”.

To be honest, I don’t really like the sound of the name. They sound a lot like “puppy farms” or “kitten farms”.

cute puppies from a farm
And no, puppy farms are not as pleasant as this picture. Look them up if you have too… I won’t be held responsible for the ensuing tears.

Tell us this much then… what are content mills?

In the broadest sense, content mills are money grabbing bastards who suck honest workers dry a business that makes most of its money selling content. This could be content for SEO, press releases, advertising copy, blog posts… You name it.

In essence, the business model is pretty sound. The client pays big, fancy monies for a batch of articles – the more well-written they are, the better. The company then gets money and, of course, pays the writers. Some many content companies/agencies that also hire writers full or part-time and given them stable hours and pay. How nice.

But this particular breed of company, known as a content mill, will almost exclusively outsource all of its writing to freelancers. Not necessarily a bad thing.

But then we get to a rather touchy subject…

How much do content mills pay?

Yuck. The truth is, the vast majority of these word farms (in my experience) pay very, very little. It’s pretty normal to be paid US$3.50 per 500 word article (bear in mind, these articles are churned out one after the other… And fast. Although I don’t do it anymore, I could still easily churn out five or six basic, 500 word articles an hour).

So, in theory, I could be making US$10.50 per hour. Convert that to euro and I’m getting… About 8, almost the same as “minimum wage” jobs.

I’ve also written for platforms which paid upwards of 12 euro (yes, euro!) for a 500-word piece.

And of course, it depends on the content farm itself.

A decent few pay pretty well – but normally at the higher levels (depending on the score you get in their test… which many will give you). Often these companies are more than just content mills, though. They usually have their fingers in many pies.

So, should writers work for these companies?

Let’s phrase the question differently. Ask yourself: What will I get out of it? This is business after all, and you’re a business if you’re looking to do freelance work. If there’s a healthy supply of articles most of the time and you can do them with an average level of effort… Go for it. When I started getting real clients, I kept the content mills for slower times (interspersed with TEFL training work).

The real danger of content mills comes from when you’re earning all your income from them: and have no time, space or energy to find other clients/jobs. But that’s a danger that goes far beyond copywriting – all freelancers are prone to this trap.

I work full-time now, but I run my own projects on the side and pick up the odd bit of freelance work here and there… When I have the time and energy. I would absolutely do some work for a content company again – but only if it were a bit of easy money for a few hours work here and there. Never again will I write for $3.50 an article.

Ever.