Shortly after I began working with Contently, I was approached by a publisher. Let’s call the company Old MacDonald. Old MacDonald was impressed by my work on The Freelancer and The Content Strategist, and asked if I’d be up for a few freelance projects on the side. Sounded good enough—I was certainly interested in honing my writing chops, and who doesn’t like a little extra cash?
I’d soon learn, however, that Old MacDonald’s was a classic example of a content farm: a publisher that expects an absurd amount of mediocre content pumped out for a pittance. After writing one and a half articles and tolerating a slew of verbally abusive edits, I was out—scarred, but free.
Speaking with other freelancers, I learned that my experience was hardly unique. Plenty of us have fallen prey to the oily promises made by content farms. To help you cut through the nonsense, I’ve compiled a list of eight things content farm editors have actually told freelancers versus what they really meant. Consider yourself warned.
1. “We’re answering the questions people want answered.”
What they really mean: Write lowest-common-denominator copy about whatever your editor assigns you, regardless of your background or beat.
2. “We really, really want to hire you from your internship, but first, a fellowship!”
What they really mean: We’re giving you a dollar more an hour and are relieved you’re too young to worry about health insurance.
3. “We want to give you a raise, we just need to find the money.”
What they really mean: Our venture capital funds go primarily to ad sales now to keep us all afloat.
4. “We’re a family.”
What they really mean: You owe us your emotional commitment and you should be working off-hours for no pay. Also, structural problems are just fun and quirky like we’re a dysfunctional family. This can also mean “DO NOT UNIONIZE!”
5. “We really need to swarm this subject and get your writing to as many readers as possible.”
What they really mean: Write as many different versions of the same article as you can about the latest trending topic, regardless of length or accuracy.
6. “We’ve brought in an exciting editor-at-large.”
What they really mean: We’re overpaying a consultant who makes more than twice your salary to float some buzzwords around.
7. “Democratized content”
What they really mean: Cheap labor is producing an overabundance of bad articles.
8. “Incentivized pay”
What they really mean: You’ll work for peanuts until you break 100,000 pageviews.
And for those of you considering editorial positions, remember that “editor” can be really a loose word for “harasser” at a content farm. When your farm is producing more than 250 articles a week, that’s a lot of content to hound down from your poor, poor contributors. Good luck, godspeed, and get out of there.