Why Web freelancing doesn't work
Measuring traffic and demographics

Why Examiner.com and Suite101.com pay chicken feed

Chickens feeding
 ABOVE: Unless you're a chicken, why scrabble for paltry sustenance?

by Durant Imboden, Europe for Visitors

A surprising number of published travel writers are now contributing to "revenue-sharing" content sites like Examiner.com and Suite101.com. 

In some cases, the writers' reasons are cynical ("It's a way to get press trips"), and in other cases, the writers are simply naive (they think they'll be taught how to "write for the Web," when in reality they'll merely be taught how to write for Examiner or Suite101). 

Other writers hope to replace income that has disappeared with the shrinkage of newspaper and magazine markets. If you belong to the latter group, you need to know two things:

  • Writing for revenue-sharing sites isn't likely to produce much income, and...
  • The publishers don't even expect to pay much, because sites like Examiner.com and Suite101.com use a "long-tail" publishing model that works better for publishers than for writers.

Here's how the "long-tail" model operates:

  • The publisher recruits thousands of writers (in Examiner's case, tens of thousands) to write millions of short articles on many different topics or keywords.
  • Users find the articles in search engines, generating modest traffic and ad revenue on each page.
  • The publisher aggregates the tiny amounts of revenue from each article. If, say, the average article were to produce earnings of $1 per month, two million articles would earn $2,000,000 for the publisher.

Even the publisher is scrupulously honest in its accounting, the system isn't likely to pay writers well, because there are so many articles--and writers--divvying up the writers' share of revenues. Consider:

  • In 2009, a WritersWeekly survey of Examiner contributors showed that the average respondent was earning about $1.46 per article. Some writers may do better than that (especially writers who focus on celebrities and other high-traffic topics), but if you're the Birmingham Examiner for Canadian Fishing Trips, you probably won't earn enough to buy local catfish bait.
  • The situation at Suite101 probably isn't much better. A 2009 column in Suite101.com's "Online Publishing" section claimed that "the average self-employed Suite101 writer earns a healthy $1-2 per article each and every month." Other writers have reported higher (or lower) earnings.

My advice:

If you're a professional writer who's trying to build a career on the Web, avoid revenue-sharing sites. Concentrate on building your own travel-planning site.

You'll be your own boss, you'll establish a personal "brand name," and--if you work hard and intelligently--you'll probably earn more money than you would from sites like Examiner.com or Suite101.com.

Next article: "Tim Leffel's Travel Writing 2.0 (mini-review)"

Photo: Ruchos.

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