Writers on Textbroker, Upwork Earning Signficantly Less Than Those Working Outside Content Mills

From Making a Living Writing:

Let’s face it — 2020 was a disaster for most people.

In addition to the tremendous health impact the pandemic had on our country, there was also a significant economic toll. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs due to the pandemic, leaving so many people struggling to find work and make ends meet.

But there’s one industry where, at least on the surface, things weren’t disrupted quite so much — freelance writing.

As freelancers, we already work from home. We set our own hours and make our own rates (unless you’re stuck working in a content mill).

Of course, freelancers still require clients who will actually hire them and pay them, and with so many businesses struggling in 2020, it got us wondering:

What was the impact of COVID-19 on freelance writers? Did their income take a hit? Did they have to lower their rates to accommodate clients who may have been struggling to keep their own businesses afloat?

With that in mind, we surveyed over 700 current US freelance writers to get a better understanding of how they fared in 2020. We asked a number of questions about their overall income, their project rates, how they found clients, and more, and the results were pretty interesting.

. . . .

Of those surveyed, about 26% have been freelancing for 3-5 years, 17% for 10+ years, 25% for 1-2 years, 12% for 6-9 years, and 20% for less than a year.

. . . .

Overall, most writers saw their income either increase or at least stay the same in 2020 compared to 2019.

Let’s start with the good news. Only 28% of freelancers said their income decreased in 2020 compared to the prior year. 55% of writers said their income either stayed about the same or increased in 2020. That’s great news! About 16.5% of writers still haven’t run the numbers on their 2020 income totals just yet.

Content mill & gig site writers are about half as likely to earn a six-figure income as those who work with clients outside of those sites

Now let’s get to some of the sadder news, at least for those who are getting their clients from content mills (e.g. Textbroker, Writer Access, etc.) or gig sites (e.g. Upwork, Fiverr, etc.).

2 out of 3 full-time freelancers who get their clients from content mills and/or gig sites make $25,000 a year or less. On the other hand, just 1 out of 3 freelancers who get clients outside of those avenues earn that little.

Furthermore, freelancers who get their own clients or work with marketing/ad agencies are roughly twice as likely (about a 17% chance) to make $100,000 or more than those who write for mills or gig sites (about a 9% chance).

Content mill & gig site writers earn far lower rates for projects on average

We asked writers how much they charge for various projects (blog posts of various lengths, feature articles, sales copywriting, etc.), and there’s one very clear trend — writers on content mills and gig sites get significantly lower rates than other freelancers.

Here are some examples:

  • 23% of freelancers working on content mills or gig sites earn $20 or less on average for a 500-750 word blog post. On the other hand, only about 13% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients or get outsourced work from marketing agencies report making that little. Furthermore, freelancers who work outside of the mills and gig sites are twice as likely to earn over $150 for this kind of work.
  • About 27% of freelancers on mills and gig sites say they earn less than $100 per article for print or high-end digital publications (non blog) on average, while only 8% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients say the may that little.
  • Just 2.5% of freelancers in the mills or gig sites say they earn $75 an hour or more on sales copywriting projects, while over 12% of freelancers working outside of those spots report earning these great rates.

Link to the rest at Making a Living Writing

4 thoughts on “Writers on Textbroker, Upwork Earning Signficantly Less Than Those Working Outside Content Mills”

  1. 2 out of 3 full-time freelancers who get their clients from content mills and/or gig sites make $25,000 a year or less.

    I always wonder what full-time means in these things. Are the writers actually working 40/week? Or are the simply not employed doing anything else, and are working when they get work.

    • When I was a “full-time freelancer” back in the day, it meant you were either: creating content, hustling for more clients, or bugging your clients to get your money. 40hrs/wk, 50/, 60/, whatever.

  2. I have an odd question. What are:

    “Content mill & gig site writers”

    I did a search on the phrase and a number of sites show up, but I still don’t know the answer. I suspect that they have to sign NDAs so can’t talk about what they do.

    Years ago, I remember ads that would say, “Earn $10k each month from home, using your own computer.”

    They would never say what those writers were going to write, but I remember that ad agencies would hire people to post on blogs and such, and were paid per post. Essentially they were hiring trolls and sock-puppets to push agendas using “talking points” and scripts to work from.

    Once the money dries up, the posting stops. We saw that when Jeffrey Epstein died. All of the posts about transhumanism simply stopped. It turns out that he was the one paying for the articles and posts.

    Google – transhumanism epstein

    and you can see the discussion about one rich guy paying for his own obsesions.

    This all relates back to the book Evil Geniuses by Kurt Andersen, which is still strangely not getting the attention that I expected.

    There are more articles discussing Jeffery Epstein and transhumanism than there are discussing Evil Geniuses.

    Oh well, at least I was able to harvest a ton of articles for my Story folders.


    • So it is simpler to talk about things like Fiverr outside of “writing”. Lots of people out there who are designing book covers through companies catering to writers will charge upwards of 200-300 to do a cover. Most of the time, the cover design is a combination of four things:

      a. Fonts from a relatively small set of curated choices;
      b. Layouts that correspond to a ton of other books;
      c. Cover art that is likely pulled from a stock site and manipulated; and,
      d. Blending to make it all go together.

      For a commercial release, $200-$300 isn’t a bad price for the skills involved, but there are some who do decent versions on their own, particularly for NF work. In my case, I’m fairly computer literate, and I knew what I wanted, but I couldn’t make it look professional quality. I asked one of the freelancers to give me a price for the mockup of what I had in mind (I did my own mockup in simple PowerPoint) but needed someone to do it “properly” in Photoshop. The quote was > $300. I balked. Instead, I went on Fiverr, found a guy who was good with Photoshop, gave him exactly what I wanted, even to the point of choosing the stock art from a specific site he had a subscription to, and voila, a really solid draft of my cover. I did a round of changes, all done. He would do a back cover and a side of the book cover all for the same price once I knew what I wanted for the content AND knew how thick it would be. Totaly price? $15. But I digress, that’s more of a computer example than a true writing example. Although some people file that in the “writing” category on Fiverr.

      For more generic writing, lots of people on the sites will write for your website, including curation of “top ten lists” etc. Fiverr is one type of site, others do other things or other types of work. Some pay for surveys, or usability testing of a website. I have a friend who does website copy, but not on Fiverr sites, they pay too low (which attracts newbies), and she’s more established.

      Part of MY day job is looking at the labour market and that includes Gig workers for these type of sites as well as Uber drivers, etc. The big problem with many of these studies, especially this one, is that the methodology is terrible. And if I was harsh, I’d say it’s like comparing a neurosurgeon to someone who volunteers at a hospital.

      First and foremost, as asked above, there is no real definition of what is full-time, or even what is included in writing. A prose writer for a magazine is not the same as the copy writer for a website looking for TOP TEN REASONS ACTRESS FROM THE 90S CAN”T GET HIRED. Many of the jobs pay for content that is merely curation for elsewhere, and they pay accordingly. It’s like suggesting the summarized above should be in the same category as a Pulitzer winner.

      Secondly, many of the people ON these sites are there both because of circumstances (they couldn’t find anything else so that’s where they’re trying to work) or choice (their lifestyle isn’t conducive to 9 to 5 jobs or traditional employment, so they opt for gig work and they aren’t looking for FT equivalent). So of course they’re not going to make six figures.

      Third, many of these same people are actually part-timers because they have another full-time gig. If you look at entrepreneurs in general, you can almost sub-divide into two categories (according to some “experts”) — the “toe-dippers” / “side hustlers” who will try it out while maintaining another gig (like the waiter who wants to be an actor someday or the barista who wants to be a full-time writer or the secretary who dreams of becoming a singer). Some do their day job because it pays the bills, others do it to avoid going all-in on the risk side hustle. These sites are HUGE with side-hustlers. By contrast, those who go full-in on their entrepreneurial idea are a totally different breed. Higher risk, higher reward. There’s even a lot of literature that suggests they succeed because they have no fall-back position, unlike the side-hustlers. And since it is their full-time gig, they can’t work for peanuts.

      I hesitate to throw the whole study in the trash, it’s good info to have when it’s not comparing things across types of work i.e. what do GIG workers make. But not as comparisons with, well, “real writers”. (I hate to use that term for obvious reasons). Yet the study when it compares is back to that example I used above…If it said, “People who pursue something FT as their day job earn more money than people who do it as a PT / side-hustle / craft”, you’d say, “Well duh…”. 🙂

      Others may see more nuggets in there than I do, I’m a bit jaded because hidden in the noise is often that SOME people who are marginalized from the workforce because of a variety of barriers actually can make okay money compared to NO money in the normal labour market. And if they are living in cities / counties / countries with lower costs of living, maybe they don’t need to make what people in New York, LA, London, Paris or Tokyo make. 🙂

      As an aside, I also know a consultant who is in a small and relatively invisible group of people who deliberately charge less than they could because it allows them to pick and choose their projects. While others are charging $500 / day, they’re charging $300 / day. They choose the best projects that are the most interesting, work however many days they want, and throw the rest back. Gig workers often do the same on those sites, or go the other way, they only do the really high paying ones as transactional projects that can be done fast. But my consultant friend is retired, and already has a pension. Which puts them basically in the side-hustle-adjacent category. They make low five figures a year, but could make six if they wanted to…they don’t. These types of studies have no way to capture that…

      Going back though, some of the sites out there have links to the same type of content you see on writer sites for freelancers — 20 sites that pay for book reviews, except when you go to the links, you see that it is for book reviews of THEIR books and the payment is free ARCs, or if it is a curated article on books in a genre (like Indigenous authors) with quotes and interview stuff, etc., for which they pay peanuts. But if you’re desperate for a publishing credit…


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