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Craigslist Writing Gigs. I Thought They Outlawed Slavery?

Posted on | June 24, 2010 | 8 Comments

When I first started out as a freelance writer, I trolled Craigslist looking for writing gigs. Since morphing into a business copywriter, I still do check into Craigslist about twice a month — it only takes five minutes and you never know what you’ll find. I must admit that on rare occasion, I’ve found a few great projects, some of which even turned into longer-term copywriting client relationships.

Those great gigs really are the exception. Most of the writing gigs I see advertised online (I don’t want to just pick on Craigslist) suck. Not only do they show contempt for the professional writer they aim to hire — they are also red flags for the advertiser’s business. Companies are well-advised to avoid posting these sorts of ads if they want to keep their reputations:

writer wanted (vancouver)
I will trade handyman work..Painting, drywall, yard work, auto repair or Business related work, like sales & marketing .Trade for add content, business pitches, web content, Bio.

So, this guy will come to your home, drywall your living room and tend your garden in return for a direct mail sales letter campaign? Are you supposed to pay your bills with stucco and yard trimmings? Next.

Article Writers Wanted (Anywhere)
We are seeking up-and-coming writers who would like to contribute a related article to the first issue. Compensation is currently limited to $25/article plus 2 copies of the published issue. Word count should be no less than 1500.

Let’s see. $25 per 1500-word article. That works out to… 1.7 cents a word. Plus the 2 magazine copies, of course. Wow. At that rate, you can’t even feed yourself in Bangladesh. Where do you sign up?

These sorts of ads don’t really annoy copywriters like me for undercutting our work. I’m not really undercut, since no one will ever work for these kinds of slave wages. Indeed, why would any company bother to post a “help-wanted” ad with the following footer:

freelance copywriter wanted

My real point is that the owners of companies that post these sorts of ads ought to consider the damage they’re doing to their own reputation.

Sure, the company often isn’t named in the ads, but if someone ever actually contacts them, their name will get out. And if that happens, word on the street will be that this company can’t afford to pay more than a few bucks for a project they apparently consider essential to their business.

This begs the question, why are they in business in the first place? If your business model is so unsustainable that you think you have to mercilessly exploit people in order to operate, maybe you need to re-think your business model.

Related Posts
* The point when you can’t do free anymore
* The economics of free or why I won’t do things for free anymore

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8 Responses to “Craigslist Writing Gigs. I Thought They Outlawed Slavery?”

  1. Ruth Seeley
    June 24th, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    Hey will that drywall guy rip up my carpets and install laminate flooring without stealing my mother’s emeralds? If so, what’s his email, I’ll write his (three paragraph) bio and three blog posts or web pages for him. Maybe even craft a pitch or two. No wait, for that he’d have to do the body work on my car as well.

    Your point’s well taken. I find it too depressing to even look at craigslist ads for writers.

  2. Rebecca
    June 24th, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    Thanks for bringing this up. I have seen $10 per article. If they want quality content (say, a good blog post that takes 2 hours to write) that’s $5 an hour for the writer.

  3. Jonathon Narvey
    June 24th, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

    Yeah, I didn’t even dig too deep for the examples I used. They could have been a lot worse.

    It’s clear that the people who post these ads don’t have a clue about market rates.

    Even worse, they don’t seem to care too much about their own business. I mean, would they try to get away with a sign above their store that cost $5 to make? Would they trust an accountant willing to accept groceries or light home renovations as payment? They’re shooting themselves in the foot.

  4. photodreamz
    June 24th, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

    Copyright isnt the only job on craigslist that has the problem. Craigslist is a waste land for low wages. The amount of effort you spend looking for legit jobs on it is not worth it in the end. Usually they pay far under the going rate, and blatantly ingore worker & north american rights / laws.

  5. Cori Howard
    June 24th, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

    Once upon a time, writers were respected and could make a decent income. When I first started 20 years ago, that was the case. It wasn’t a bankers income, but still. Then with the social media wave, it was predicted writers would be more valued than ever, in this new content-driven world. But what’s happened is that people expect writers to write for free – we are the new slaves, you are right about that. Publications will pay the ad people to sell ads. They’ll pay the photographers and illustrators but somehow writers get left out. It’s so depressing. But writers have to fight back. Demand decent pay or don’t do it.

  6. Jonathon Narvey
    June 24th, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

    Hey Cori. I get where you’re coming from, though the post was not really a complaint about poor wages for writers in general. Actually, professional writers often make far better income than a banker. I certainly make a better monthly income than a teller who starts at a humble $26,000 per year.

    The point of the post was that businesses that want professional copywriting services (website content, direct mail sales letters, blog posts, whatever) need to recognize the damage they do to their reputations when they post these sorts of ads.

    The same rule would apply in reverse if I were to advertise copywriting services for a dollar an hour. No one would ever hire me because they would not see the value in my work.

  7. raincoaster
    June 24th, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

    Craigslist is the bottom of the barrel. Only look there for writing gigs if you want a cheap laugh.

    All the decently-paying online writing gigs I’ve gotten I’ve gotten from either applying directly to an ad on the blog that was looking or through mediabistro.com, which is the ONLY site I currently recommend for online writing work searches.

  8. Visaman
    June 24th, 2010 @ 10:55 pm

    Jonathan, I don’t know what bank you work at, but when I started out at RBC I earned just over 19 thousand a year, and topped out at 25 over 7 years!

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