Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, March 11, 2011 8:22 pm

Freelance writers, content farms and “The Dangle”

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:22 pm
Tags: ,

Freelance writing is a tough nut. You can make a living doing nothing but that, but you’ve got to really want to, for a lot of reasons. One big reason is the large number people out there who believe they’re entitled to use your work without compensating you.

Those people range in straightforwardness and reputation from outright plagiarists to website operators and content farmers. Their intentions, and the consequences they may face, vary wildly, but at bottom they all have something in common: They expect to make a profit on value that you have created, without sharing any of that profit with you.

Plagiarists you can name, shame and/or sue. The guys at the other end of the respectability spectrum are a little different, as financial wise guy and blogger Barry Ritholtz observes:

You would not volunteer to work for free as a greeter at Wal-Mart, a Barista at Starbucks or a fry cook at McDonalds — so why should you do so for free at these content sites?

The short answer is The Dangle: A promise of rewards in the future for work performed now.

Ahhh, the dangle. In my career on Wall Street, I have discovered the dangle to be an effective way to get something for nothing from some sucker. It is a way for someone with the appearance of power and money to obtain goods and services for free, for a mere promise of future benefits. Early in my career, I fell for the dangle. No more.

In the present discussion, consider these various dangles made by content factories to me over the years:

1) You will get traffic back from the content site;
2) You’re building an audience;
3) You are enhancing your own personal brand;
4) You will raise your Google Page Rank
5) You are developing a reputation

In my experience, all of these were untrue.

Note that most of these promises are rather difficult to measure (except traffic) and all of these are even more difficult to attribute back to the content aggregator. In reality, these promise are illusory, the benefits IMHO never accrue to the blogger. …

If you currently “donate” your content to an aggregator, I suggest you should ask yourself the following questions:

1) Am I giving away content to a firm that received VC funding? What is their potential upside? What is mine?

2) Has the Dangle been met? Have the promises of benefits made to me occurred? I seeing substantial Traffic increase?

3) When I search for my own content on Google, is my site ranked below my own content republished by aggregators?

4) Is any enhancement to my  brand or professional reputation coming from the aggregator’s site?

5) What benefits, if any, are accruing from republished content?

If you’re a freelancer, you are, in effect, a for-profit business. For-profit businesses do not give away the things of value they sell except for tax purposes, marketing purposes or other reasons that, when you get to the bottom line, are all about the bottom line. That’s neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but if whether you get to eat depends on how well your internal for-profit business is working, you need to make sure that compensation for the value you create is both tangible and as nearly immediate as possible.



  1. If I may, I think there is a need to recognize a difference between content farms and aggregators. The former, the sites that compile original and republished works seem to be what you are mostly writing about. These range from the mostly legitimate and often useful likes of to the sites that are just trying to game Google for high search rankings.

    Aggregators too have their share of bad actors, those that scrape sites for content instead of using what the publisher decides to make freely available through RSS feeds. Good aggregators, and I’d like to think and qualify, while maybe still seeking a profit for themselves, also recognize that their success depends on providing a legitimate service of bringing content and consumers together. Good aggregators will use the RSS feed made available by the publisher without alteration, leaving it to the original publisher to decide if he wants his syndicated content to offer just an introductory taste, as this blog does, or entire posts. The good aggregator is respectful of, even appreciative of content producers and legitimately seeks, for its own success, to expose publishers to a wider audience.

    Comment by Roch101 — Saturday, March 12, 2011 7:54 am @ 7:54 am

  2. Yeah, Roch, I think Ritholtz does kind of elide the difference between aggregation and content farms. A content producer would be nuts in most cases not to make some sort of RSS feed available, and in fact about 80% of this blogs page views are by RSS, and while acknowledging your interest, I would agree that We101 and Greensboro101, because of the opt-in feature and the reliance on the content originator’s RSS, are at the benign end of the scale; personally, I’m affirmatively glad to have them.

    But I think Ritholtz is talking about two other things, both bad: bots that scrape content, and sites that commission you to write for them “for the exposure.”

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, March 12, 2011 12:47 pm @ 12:47 pm

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