The Skinny on Content Directories
If you’re a writer, chances are you want to get published, and you’d probably also like to get paid. For beginning writers, both can seem especially daunting, since it’s hard to get published without clips (samples of your published work), and it’s hard to get clips without getting published. Ah, sweet Catch-22, how you taunt us!
Several sites have emerged to capitalize on your frustrations, offering a place for you to publish your work with the chance of payment down the line. Sites like Associated Content and Helium seem promising on the surface: they offer exposure, a publishing credit, and even payment if your content is popular enough.
That’s a big “if”, though. On all three counts, actually. Chances are, this is the first you’ve heard of these sites — or if you have heard of them, you’ve only heard of them because the promote themselves to writers as a place to get published, and you’re a writer looking to get published. You most likely haven’t heard of them because you found a great resource there while doing a web search, or because someone linked to a great article there. Which means that the only real exposure writers get on content directories is from other writers looking at the site thinking about posting their own content there.
As for publishing credits, the same thing that makes these sites attractive for unpublished writers makes them unattractive as credits — they’re without any editorial oversight. Literally anyone can post to these sites — and they do. Being “published” in a content directory shows a potential editor or client only that you can use basic web technology to post an article — you’d be better off posting to your blog and directing an editor there. If the writing’s good enough, it will speak for itself regardless of whether it was published to a content directory or not.
But what about the promise of payment? Surely that’s nothing to sneeze at, right? Well, sure — if it ever comes. Helium promises a share of their ad revenue, based on how many people look at your articles. They use a voting system, in which readers vote your content up or down, which also affects your payout. Associated content offers a “Performance Payout” of $1.50 for every thousand people who view a page with one of your articles on it — that’s not very much!
I posted a couple of articles on Helium last year, to check it out. I thought they were pretty good articles, but you can check for yourself: How to make the most of Google Documents and Google search tricks for beginners. Both of them were quickly voted to the top, and then just as quickly voted to the middle or bottom — the “search tricks” piece is listed as 12 of 12. As I said, I think they’re pretty good — and certainly better than a lot of stuff that’s voted up higher than them. I checked in the Helium forums, and there were a lot of people complaining about people gaming the system, using teams of friends and colleagues to vote up their content.
But who cares what the standing is, right — what about the money? My total payout in the over 7 months the two articles have been on the site is… (wait for it!) … 62 cents. That’s 62 cents for 1,880 words, or just under 1/3 of a cent per word.
Still dreaming of the big bucks rolling in?
Granted, that’s only a couple of articles — if I had posted dozens of articles, and actively worked the system to get votes and traffic, maybe I’d have made $5, or even $50, bringing me up to a “respectable” 3 or 4 cents a word, maybe. Minus, of course, the time I’d spent promoting my work and researching new topics and…
Bottom line: I don’t see any upside to this. I could have posted these articles on my own site and included a referral link to the Google Pack (a collection of free software including Firefox with the Google Toolbar, Picasa, and Adobe Reader; here’s a link, if you want to check it out:
) or a link to my book at Amazon (Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War, a book about anthropologists in the 1950s and ’60s) and a single download or purchase would have made me more than I’ve made at Helium.
So avoid the content directories, and focus instead on building up your own audience. Sell your book, post ads, write e-books, do client work — use your site to make money for yourself instead of for some third-party content directory.
Excellent, very helpful. I stumbled across Helium and Associated Content this week and had wondered how lucrative writing for them could be. Clearly not especially considering the subjects you were writing about are commercial and useful.
I’m sure they’re lucrative for Helium and Associated Content, though! 🙂
Thanks for dropping by, Louise.
Dustin, it looks like you will have a particularly informative and provocative site for writers. I’m very impressed indeed with your credentials provided in the ABOUT tab. Also your site, especially as described under that tab, will obviously benefit from a world of experience you have gained at lifehack.org.
I will certainly be a regular reader. I particularly look forward to seeing the style you adopt for your software reviews.
Thanks, Tom. I’ve written several reviews that will go up over the next month, but they’re more “product recommendations” than in-depth reviews. In fact, I was working on a longer review of Liquid Story Binder when you posted your First Look so I just wrote my piece and then linked to yours for a deeper look. That said, I am working on a couple of long tutorial series, and there will definitely be a multi-part series on working with Word 2007 in months to come (yeah, I’ve got posts planned through September — I wanted to be sure I had enoguh to make a go of this site). And I’ve just discovered something new that I’ll probably write up once I’ve worked with it for a month or two.
Next week, I have a couple of recommendations and the first of what I’m calling my “arc” posts — a bunch of articles that don’t go together per se but which, taken together, make up one of the main “storylines” of the site, which is how writers can use the web to promote their work, connect with their audience, and improve their craft. See you then!