Just follow the money!


Now it has to be confessed that I have a real ability to somehow get myself tangled up in dying industries. Look at agriculture. I know one year in the 1990s I discovered I’d been working over seventy hours a week at the princely rate of 9p an hour. But thanks to the internet, freelance journalism is going the same way.

When I’m doing proper freelance journalism, serious articles for trade papers, I reckon of getting £200 per thousand words, or 20p per word. For our American cousins that’s about 26 cents a word. For that you get a competent, literate and knowledgeable professional whose article will not merely be a rehash of wiki. As part of gathering the information I’ll probably end up phoning and talking to people just to make sure what I’m saying is absolutely up-to-date and as right as I can make it.

Anyway as a freelance you’re always looking for new work. Editors leave, magazines are sold, bought, disappear owing you serious money. Trust me in this, being a freelance isn’t what I’d call a steady source of money.

So when I saw a website called Custom Content offering freelance work I took a look. Their idea isn’t bad, they act as a clearing house, but unusually they don’t exist to put writer and client in contact, they have writers deliver content to the client via the website. Also the writer has to use a pen name so the client never really knows who it is who has done the work for them, and therefore cannot ‘poach’ them to do more work without paying an intermediary.

So what did this site pay their writers?
Well there are four grades of work.


The idea seems to be you start off on the lowest grade and as you collect more work and your clients seem happy you get promoted to higher grades.


 What the writer gets per word

1 Star: 1.2 cents

2 Star: 2.0 cents

3 Star: 4.4 cents

4 Star: 6.6 cents


Tweets and facebook posts are priced differently.


So having looked at what I, as a writer would be paid, I then looked at what I would have to pay if I decided to be a customer. Here they have the same four grades but with somewhat different names


What the client pays

Entry level   2.2 cents

Freelance      3.5 cents

Professional   8 cents

Expert    12 cents


Just out of curiosity, how much was our website making on this? What’s their cut? Simple arithmetic comes to our aid.


Company share per word

1 Star: –    1 cents

2 Star: –    1.5 cents

3 Star: –    3.6 cents

4 Star: –   5.4 cents


So for providing their service they were taking nearly half the money the customer was paying. Good work if you can get it.

So let’s put this is perspective. Firstly I’m looking for 26 cents a word. That obviously puts me well out in front of their expert category.

So what are you getting for your money as a customer?
I mean, for 1 cent a word you can hardly expect somebody to check their spelling after hastily rewording the wiki article for you!


But we can also put things in a historical context. In ‘Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America,’ written by John Cheng he discusses the old pulp magazines. In the 1920s writers were paid between 2 cents and 5 cents a word with one publisher of ‘Westerns’ paying 10 cents a word. Rates dropped a bit during the Great Depression, but still the comparison doesn’t exactly flatter. Custom Content is paying writers less than they would have earned in the 1920s. They are assuming that writers can cope with a rate of pay that hasn’t changed in a century!  According to one web page, $100 in 1920 has the spending power of $1,200.04 in 2016.


Apparently the big market for this stuff is blog posts, tweets and facebook posts.
Well you now know how much stuff is worth when you read it on facebook!




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25 thoughts on “Just follow the money!

  1. The Story Reading Ape April 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm Reply

    I’m lost for words, Jim 😱

    • jwebster2 April 28, 2017 at 1:57 pm Reply

      Until I found this site I hadn’t realised just how bad things had got. Work is drying up as more and more magazines become ‘free’ and cannot pay for content, just producing stuff to keep the advertisers happy 😦

      • The Story Reading Ape April 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

        I’m afraid Advertising is the only way to make money with blogging, Jim.
        The WordAds on my blog help pay for my domain name costs and the occasional banana, but not much else.
        I’m reluctant to go Self hosted and fill the blog with Affiliate Ads though.
        I blog for the enjoyment of it, not to get rich.

      • jwebster2 April 28, 2017 at 4:18 pm

        I think the blogs that are written by freelancers are those that are run by companies and similar rather than blogs like yours and mine. Staff have better things to do, and by the look of it staff time would be too expensive a resource to use in the blog!

      • The Story Reading Ape April 28, 2017 at 4:30 pm

        Several authors (and one Professional Editor) have been contributing monthly articles to my blog – it’s a great way for them to demonstrate their writing talent and build up readership and followers.
        I add a 3D visual of them and their books, plus, links to their blogs and books, so anyone interested can explore further (and even buy some books) 😃

      • jwebster2 April 28, 2017 at 4:41 pm

        Your blog is an asset, if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it 🙂
        So far this year, just as one example, you’ve referred 62 people to Tallis and his blog
        As a way of getting stuff seen and work out, it’s one of the best 🙂

      • The Story Reading Ape April 28, 2017 at 5:28 pm

        I always hope my reblogs help increase the number of visitors to the original blogs, and hopefully, increase their followers as well, Jim 👍😃

      • jwebster2 April 28, 2017 at 9:41 pm

        It very much does, because we discover writers there and it gets us known 🙂

      • The Story Reading Ape April 29, 2017 at 8:24 am


  2. xantilor April 28, 2017 at 3:18 pm Reply

    And I thought designer craftsmen were badly paid…

    Many of the most demanding jobs where you need unusual talent aren’t very well paid. They’re also the jobs people envy, oddly. When I had a Saturday stall in Covent Garden an American customer told me about a craftsman he’d spoken to at a fair. “It must be marvellous to make a living making beautiful things like these,” he said. “Yes,” the craftsman replied, “It must be.”

    • jwebster2 April 28, 2017 at 4:19 pm Reply

      The problem seems to be getting worse, the internet has accustomed people to getting stuff for nothing or at least very cheap.
      The problem will come when people realise that the stuff they’re getting has been produced to the price they’re willing to pay 😦

  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt April 28, 2017 at 5:16 pm Reply

    The first comment I get from most people when they see I’ve priced a 167K novel at 8.99 is ‘You should lower your price.’

    For the record, my attempts to sell it for 0.99 have been dismal.

    I’m not selling many with Amazon ads, but those sales are full price – which doesn’t quite yet pay for the ads, but I resisted the idea of turning the novel into two 88K pieces – which would typically sell at about the same total amount.

    One of these days. I’m pretty sure I made less than your 9p per hour when writing it; but free isn’t on the horizon. I’m also pretty sure that people who want free fiction don’t have the attention span to read long novels. And leave 1* reviews.

    • jwebster2 April 28, 2017 at 9:41 pm Reply

      my natural novel length is 70,000 words. It’s not what I believe in, it’s the length a novel comes out at if you leave me to write one 🙂
      But yes, people seem to want them for nothing.
      As my mother would have said, ‘They’ll have to want.’ 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt April 28, 2017 at 9:52 pm

        It depends on whether what they want is available cheaper – or not. I like your mother’s way of thinking. My natural length appears to be 500K, divided into three pieces because Createspace doesn’t let me go that big.

        Last time I counted, I had 64 named characters. I needed every one of them.

      • jwebster2 April 28, 2017 at 10:08 pm

        You have to write the book you write and that is an end to it.
        But as to whether the stuff they want is cheaper, well you can normally find cheap rubbish, but you often find you get what you paid for

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt April 28, 2017 at 10:52 pm

        ‘You get what you paid for’ – some people like that. I don’t. We buy generic or store brands when we’re sure we are okay with the quality, but there are a few things which are better when more expensive.

        Whether you like what I write is up to your taste; but I’ve never had someone who was positive about it add, “but it’s too expensive.”

      • jwebster2 April 29, 2017 at 6:22 am

        we saw it in this country, a lot of people just bought cheap beef-burgers which turned out to be largely horse meat. There is a race to the bottom with regard quality.
        With food we reckon that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the public will pay more for better on a consistent basis. I suspect there’s something similar with books.
        Problem with books is you can now get the works of the really great free as ebooks

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt April 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm

        Those are the readers I want: the ones who like the really great books (free for them is temporary). I hope they are looking for my kind of novel. I hope they will LIKE my kind of novel.

        I will be happy to send them a free copy to review, possibly, just to get them to try. It’s not the money I crave (okay, big lie, but you know what I mean), it’s the readers.

        I am still without energy after my recent physical problems, but will learn to market as soon as I can. After all, I learned to write – and that is MUCH harder.

      • jwebster2 April 29, 2017 at 9:47 pm

        I suspect the real problem is that writing is more satisfying than marketing 😦

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt April 30, 2017 at 2:22 am

        I know how to write – I taught myself, it was something I always planned to do, I learned so much from reading…

        The marketing is an entirely new and unknowable area. I have ideas. I listen. I know some people are exaggerating their success, and other deserve better than they get.

        There’s a dearth of good writing in the world, indie and traditional – so there’s always room for another good one. But connecting with strangers to get them to read your stories is so hard.

      • jwebster2 April 30, 2017 at 6:00 am

        yes, getting read is the tricky bit

  4. Liz Wright April 30, 2017 at 2:05 pm Reply

    Can you remind me which of your blogs you recommend for the may/june issue please.

    • jwebster2 April 30, 2017 at 3:16 pm Reply

      Hi Liz I’ve dropped you an email

  5. Kate McClelland April 30, 2017 at 3:50 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Kate McClelland.

    • jwebster2 April 30, 2017 at 5:15 pm Reply

      just my two cents worth 😉

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