Friday, February 02, 2007

The debate over Associated Content

On Wednesday Deborah Ng triggered a discussion about Associated Content, which quickly turned into the blog version of a bar fight. It still amazes me how hateful some of the responses were... And Deb said quite clearly that she was not intending to cut Associated Content down! Still, it seems that many of AC's writers can't seem to defend the site without their fists getting in the way.

In any case, I thought I'd share my own experience with Associated Content. It's not necessarily negative, but it's interesting.

I live in the Denver area, and as some of you may know, that's where Associated Content is. A little less than two years ago, I was looking for a new job in order to get away from the maniacal little man I worked for. Finding a full time writing job in Denver isn't easy, I'm afraid, and I ended up responding to an ad for a part time editing position.

This "editing" position turned out to be for Associated Content, so my first experience with the company was in an interview. I had already written for a couple of content websites at this point, and the two AC editors who interviewed me seemed pleased about this.

After complimenting my work a bit, they explained the job. Most of it was to be done from home, with a weekly staff meeting every Friday morning that I would have to attend. They said very clearly that they didn't turn anything down - anything that was submitted would be accepted. They also explained how article prices would depend on the demand for related advertising. Interestingly, they made a big deal about how they'd recently paid one guy something like $50 or $70. I was amazed - I'd been making $15-$25 per article for the sites I was writing for - but if I'd had more experience in the business I would have known that 1) that wasn't that great for a well-researched article, and 2) if it were common they wouldn't have made such a big deal about it.

I'm sure you have wondered at least once by now why I didn't get the job and become one of those rabid defenders of Associated Content. I'll be honest: I screwed my own chances, although I can't say I'm sorry now, having seen where the site has gone since then. (I'm sorry, but their pay sucks...which I'll get to in a moment. Also, no company who spams job boards as frequently as AC does will ever have my respect - and I'm not alone in this opinion, I dare say.)

As I already explained, I was looking for a full time job to get out from under my control freak boss's thumb. A part time job was not going to cut it; and I couldn't do the job on the side until a full time opportunity came up, because there was no way my boss would give me every Friday morning off.

My mistake was asking them at the end of the interview about the possibility of full time. (As I got further along in my job search and went through more interviews, I learned that this is a very bad idea. You're not supposed to ask about hours, money, or benefits in the first interview - which is silly, because while you're pretending not to be interested in these things, everyone knows they are basic survival needs.)

As a matter of fact, I remember the exact wording I used - and I still cringe thinking about it. I guess I knew I was on thin ice, because I got nervous and said, "How do you think the part time thing is going to work?" Looking back, I think it probably sounded a little too much like I was questioning their decisions, even though I only wanted information on when the job could become full time.

I knew instantly that I'd said the wrong thing. Their eyes cut toward each other and then away again, as if making a decision on the spot. I don't remember what their response was, but it was something lame. I wasn't entirely surprised when it took them two weeks to let me know that someone else had been selected for the position.

Sometime after that interview, I decided to try submitting to Associated Content. I signed up and submitted a content article that had been turned down by one of the other websites I wrote for (too many other articles on the topic). Associated Content tossed seven bucks my way - and I was soon to find out that was high.

I'm not sure exactly how many articles I've submitted to Associated Content to date. I didn't submit anything in 2006. In 2005 I submitted maybe a handful of articles; some got $8 or $10 because they were part of a promotion, and a couple didn't earn me anything at all. One of those had been turned down for a paper and would be dated very quickly, so I figured it was better off published than sitting on my hard drive doing nothing. The other they published without contacting me or making an offer whatsoever; to this day I am not sure if I hit the wrong button during the submission process, or if they stiffed me.

Also, for a while they were running a special - a guaranteed $4 each for academic papers - so I submitted a whole bunch of my old school papers and got some extra dough that way. I have since developed moral concerns regarding academic paper mills; my only consolation about my early folly is that the papers are all in the public domain, and therefore students who cheat risk getting caught.

The point I'm getting to is that after a dozen or so submissions, I was averaging $4 an article. Not really worth it in my opinion, and I don't care if it's on the side or if you already have the bills paid or what - if a retail manager offered you $2.50 an hour because "it's only a second job for you," or "you don't really need the money," you'd be really offended. I still don't know what is so different about writing that people think those kind of wages are okay.

I've heard some writers talk about the $3 articles they took on when they were first starting out, and how that's just the way the game is played. I beg to differ. I started out writing content, too, and the very first two sites I worked for paid me $15-$25 per article. Moreover, after nearly two years of freelancing (15 months of which have been full time) Associated Content is the only gig I have ever had that paid me less than $10 an article. Part of that is because after writing for AC I learned to avoid such low-paying jobs, but the point is that it can be done.

Having said all of this, I do agree with Carson of Content Done Better when he says that Associated Content does have its uses. To paraphrase Carson's post, he says that AC is good for:

1) Getting a few extra bucks for an article that's already written and is just taking up space on your hard drive.

2) Submitting marketing articles.

I've already used the first method myself, and unless I get really desperate I probably won't do it again. As for the second method - well, I've been thinking about trying out article marketing next time I have a slow period, and I just might use Associated Content for that.

Therefore, I'm seconding Carson's take on Associated Content. If you can make the system work for you, by all means do it. However, I sincerely feel that for someone whose goals are to sell their work and earn recognition as a freelancer, writing for AC is selling themselves short. You don't have to look very hard at all in order to find gigs that pay more than AC. If you think you are only worth $4, that's your problem - but if you don't like that concept of yourself, decide what you are worth, and stick with it!


B said...

Interesting to hear from someone who's peeked inside.

The nature of the editorial policy (bring in the content, pay based on ad potential) makes perfect sense for their business model and I don't begrudge them for it.

However, I think your experience should serve as a reality-check for some people.

What continues to amaze me about the whole Associated Content thing is that such a high percentage of people seem to either ally themselves to the site with a crazed fanaticism or attack it as if it is the end of the world.

It seems like there are very few of us occupying "middle territory" sometimes, you know?


Katharine Swan said...

You're right - if there's anything we can say about Associated Content it's that what they do obviously works for them. Do you realize they've been around - and going strong - longer than almost any other content site? That says something about their business model, even if we all know they've survived by paying their writers peanuts.


Popular Posts