The economic value of written content


A few weeks ago, I came across this article on The Awl about freelance rates and the poor ROI of web-based written content — for writers and publishers:

It’s not news that making a living by writing on the Internet is a tough business. Freelancing for websites is nearly unsustainable, especially in the one-off pitch, write and edit sense. But here’s the thing: It rarely makes financial sense for the website, either. This piece alone will almost certainly lose money for The Awl; nearly all the site’s pieces do.

If it’s not worth it financially for the writer or the publisher, why do we do it? Or rather, how do we continue to do it?

Admittedly, there are times when I’m kind of a Debbie Downer about the topic. When I was a kid, I thought it’d be super cool to be a sportswriter and ended up leaving a safe, comfortable job to try my hand at it. But from an economic standpoint, it’s hard to make a living as a writer. And I mean that not just from an hours/workload standpoint, but also from an emotional one: “Really? This thing that took me 10 hours to do is worth 5x this thing that took me 40 hours, 10 cups of coffee, 5 stress-relief trips to the gym, a lot of chocolate and endless phone calls with colleagues/editors?” (The Awl article also had a good point along these lines: “There is a general correlation between good, hard work and success, but it’s not one-to-one.”)

But there are a lot of content-based start-ups alive and kicking — there’s a reason I (and many others) consistently turn to the Greatist, a relatively new health and fitness content-based start-up, over the myriad of fitness sites out there, for example. And for the bad rap that branded content and content marketing get among traditional journalists, Buffer’s blog has become one of my go-to’s. (Actually, check out this somewhat “meta” post on their content marketing strategy.) Granted, I’m not sure what the ROI of content marketing is compared to “traditional” journalism. But my hunch is that marketing $s > advertising $s.

I don’t have it all figured out. But for now, blogging on my own schedule and keeping up with my email newsletter is a nice creative release, without the pressure of trying to make a living from it!


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