Sunday, August 09, 2009

Do your homework. Or, writer beware.

Back around July 4, I applied to an advertisement I found on various websites for a contract writer's job in Roanoke.

It was for something called They are still advertising.

When I first saw the ad back in early June, I, of course, visited the website. It appeared to be a type of blog portal, with the focus being writing about your community or topics of interest. There were things about TV shows. Comic books. Politics. News.

I did not apply. The ad kept popping up, and I kept hesitating. I think I did a google search and found nothing on them. Or maybe I did find it and forgot about it.

Finally I answer the ad and asked for more information. I received a prompt reply back. It had a link to a TV news clip on this endeavor. The TV news said a Denver billionaire was creating this site. It gave it legitimacy, so I decided to apply. The application was detailed and they asked for a writing sample and other credentials. That also lended an air of legitimacy to the endeavor.

It was, I figured, a "pay per click" kind of thing. I did not think I would receive much money but thought there may be some potential. It was hard to judge.

I took an afternoon and filled out the application. Then I waited for four weeks for them to get back to me.

When I was finally accepted, I was also told I would have to undergo a background check. I did not like this - giving out my SSN, my driver's license number, etc. etc. but I went ahead and did it anyway.

A week later I was given the "welcome letter" and a URL and password to get into their site.

Before you can sign into the site, you must agree to their independent contractors agreement and license.

Thankfully, I took the time to read this document. Here are two (and there are more) of the objectionable parts:

In consideration of the Services, you will be provided exposure of your
name and the Web Page. You understand that you will not initially
receive any other compensation for performance of the Services
However, if the Web Page obtains traffic levels and/or other performance metrics determined by from time to time, you may be eligible for a performance-based incentive (“Incentive”), which would be paid according to a formula and metrics to be provided to you by, as modified by from time to time in its sole discretion.

And the most objectionable of them all:

You hereby grant to a non-exclusive, perpetual,
irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide license to:
i) copy, reproduce, distribute, perform, modify, adapt, create derivative works, use, transmit, and display the Works or any part thereof, in any in any manner, media or format now existing or hereafter devised, whether fixed or interactive, including without limitation in print, audio, on the Internet, via wireless network, in databases
and compilations, via MP3 players and other devices capable of playing audio content, via cell phones and PDAs, in CD-ROMs and DVDs, and in the websites and print newspapers of and Affiliates
ii) use, copy, transmit, display and otherwise promote your name, image, likeness, and biographic information in connection with the exercise of the rights granted herein, including without limitation in connection with the advertising, promotion, and publication of the Works in any manner, media or format now existing or hereafter devised; and
iii) sublicense, syndicate, or otherwise grant third parties any of the rights described in this subsection 7(b), without any obligation of notice or compensation to you.

I did not press the "I agree" button. Instead, I decided I needed to think long and hard about this. I do not need a self-promotion platform or my name on the web. It's already out there. I need new clients but I like to be paid for my work. If I am going to work for free then I prefer it be for non-profit organizations that I support.

I did visit their "reference and questions" part, which didn't require pushing any "I agree" buttons, and discovered that the money is really in referring other writers to the site. For $50 a pop, if I urge others to sign up, I could become a wealthy woman.

I have never liked things that require referrals. To me these are pyramid schemes; the people at the top get rich, while everyone else ... doesn't. My feeling is, if something is that great, then I should want to share it without compensation.

I called my friend Jules and asked her opinion of the agreement. She's a webmaster. She did not think much of it.

Then I contacted my friend Becky over at Peevish Pen. Becky has a nose for ferreting out things that are unfair to writers. She sent me a link that I wish I had seen before I applied:

According to this, most writers for this website earn pennies, something along the lines of $2.49 an article or less. Unless you are writing articles that only take five minutes, in which case you are not writing anything that requires thought or competence, you are earning a great deal less than minimum wage.

I suppose if you are writing on a national topic which has the potential to draw in readers from all over the U.S., you might make money. But if, like me, you are a small niche writer, the odds are against you.

The fact is, if I want to write for pennies, I can write this blog (because google ads don't pay much) or I can create other blogs, or I can create my own website, and at least have a little control over the thing.

If this is the future of journalism, or the future of paid writing, then I need a new career.


  1. Crazy stuff. Thanks for doing the homework for a lot of the rest of us.

  2. Sorry you had to go thru all that to find out. You just never know what people are conning people into doing these days. If everyone was just honest and money didn't matter.....

  3. Good to know! I would love to know how others sell writing online or make money with their blogs (without selling out).

  4. Colleen, I wish I could figure it out. I have google ads on my blog but it certainly is not the way to make money.


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