Should You Write for “Content Mills?”

Content Mills Clip Art

This is just one of those topics that has to be addressed on any site dealing with writing as a career. It’s a fact that there are many people out there writing solely for money. Whether it’s because they think that they can turn abilities into cash or because times are tough on a personal or family level, you’ve got more than a few folks seeking a quick buck with a few strokes of the proverbial pen. For them, “content mills” are a veritable godsend, offering a side income for your work. You’re also just as likely to find a ton of articles out there telling you to steer clear of these sites as they’re too good to be true. Who’s right?

First, for the new writer, we’ll assess what “content mills” are by definition. For the purposes of this article, they’re online companies based on websites that hire freelance writers to produce new content on just about any topic imaginable. Some will compensate you a little for each piece you author, while others promise you a cut of the advertising revenue if you so desire. It would be inaccurate to generalize further, because some have different business models than others.

You’ve got big content mills like Demand Media and Associated Content, as well as a host of others like Suite 101 and Constant Content. While the procedure for signing up at these sites varies, all promise either payment or exposure on a large platform, if not both. The argument in favor of using them makes note of this, saying that they’re a good place to get your feet wet in writing and maybe vacuum up a couple George Washingtons in the process. They get a ton of traffic for their cheaply-produced content and you get a slice of the pie.

Perhaps this is so, but there is just as much, if not more, anti-content mill sentiment online. Here’s a cross-section of all of it:

Pro-Content Mills
Content Mills Can Provide Income When You Live Without a Job (Live Without a Job)
The 5 Types Of People Who Should Write For Content Mills (About Freelance Writing)
Top Reasons Why You Should Stick to Writing for Content Mills (Writinghood)
Sometimes I Do Recommend Content Mills (About)
3 Things Writing For Content Mills Teach You About Freelancing (The Writing Base)

Neutral/Experimenting
Are Content Mills the Future of Online Publishing? What Comes Next? (SEOBook)
Making it Work as Best as I Can: Content Mills (Writer Jenn)
A Discussion on Content Mills (Freelance Switch)

Anti-Content Mills
Why you shouldn’t write for content mills (Matador)
SEO content mills are (almost) dead. Now what? (Success Works)
The Top Three Perils of Content Mills (Christine Parizo Communications)
Are content mills immoral? (The Professional Copywriters Network)
Confessions of a Content Mill Worker (Ink’d)

My personal perspective: I was drawn to content mills when I was about to launch my writing career. They promised fast money and plenty of exposure, though I both noticed and read all of the “anti” articles telling me to steer clear, and even noticed pieces stating that Google was tweaking their search algorithms to sandbag these sites. Their argument was as much about money as it was about dignity: those campaigning against content mills say that a writer won’t make much, might work themselves to the bone doing it, and will be publishing their work in a factory of cheap content like it’s something thoroughly unremarkable, on the same plane with some articles that are frankly poorly-written.

In spite of feeling the lure — after all, those pesky professional writers told me that building a real portfolio would take time, and I wanted money now — I only wrote two articles for HubPages before realizing I’d rather have my content on my sites and work independently of these networks. I decided that despite the promise of some earnings and a large platform, it was not worth it to me to work so hard for so little. I would rather have my daily content stand alone on my pages while pursuing other freelance availabilities, in addition to my regularly-scheduled authoring of books and short stories.

But what’s the right answer for you? That’s your call, but there are arguments to be made for both sides of this issue. Those content mills are a place where you can indeed get your feet wet and learn deadlines, but by no means should anyone consider them a long-term proposition. You will absolutely have to crank at some of these sites to make money, so if earnings are your goal, then have an “escape plan.” In my experience, I decided that they were not right for me and at this stage, I’d never entertain the idea.

About Joe

Joe is a writer; that should be perfectly evident to you by now. If, for some reason, it is not evident to you, you should probably contact Joe and tell him that he's not trying hard enough. Joe is an author and freelance writer from New York. He has a B.A. from Boston College and has blogged for a number of years. Joe released his debut novel in 2012, and also has penned a number of short stories.