With venerable tastemaker Time Out the latest in a long line of magazines opening up its websites to user-generated content, the question of how to compensate “amateur” or non-staff writers is gaining more relevance.
Digiday got a glimpse behind a different kind of paywall recently, asking various publisher-as-platforms to share their strategies on incentivizing contributors. The survey included the likes of Bleacher Report, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, Seeking Alpha, and The Street.
There’s good news and bad news for all of the aspiring bloggers out there not currently making any scratch: Opportunities have become more democratized, but pay structures are still spotty at best.
Here are some takeaways from Digiday’s findings:
- Bleacher Report’s Writers Program “is its equivalent to the minor league: While everyone in it is theoretically eligible to work their way into a paid Bleacher Report gig, not all of them will ultimately make it to the majors. As a result, the site is particularly selective with whom it accepts into its program. Bleacher Report accepts just 5 percent of the people who apply – for unpaid gigs.” In addition, the site’s unpaid contributors now number just 475 after peaking at 20,000 in 2008, and only 5% of content comes from them.
- Forbes “has staked both its brand and digital future on its contributor network. The network, whose population fluctuates between 1,200 and 1,300 contributors, is either the future of journalism or the industry’s end, depending on whom you ask. Forbes’s contributors — 40 percent of whom are either current or former journalists — can produce as many as 400 posts per day.” Fewer than half of Forbes’ writers are paid, and the “exact structure of the Forbes contributor payment is constantly in flux and varies based on market demands and the overall state of the online ad market.”
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- EW “is starting small: The network had roughly 30 bloggers at launch and wants as many as 1,000 on board. The site plans to pay some — but not all — bloggers and isn’t paying them based on their traffic, at least not yet.”
- The upstart Seeking Alpha boasts a 9,000-strong roster of contributors writing about money, and “the site does offer them a few ways to get paid. In one system, Seeking Alpha pays contributors $10 per thousand pageviews. Considering that the average Seeking Alpha-exclusive article gets 6,000 pageviews each, contributors can expect to get roughly $60 per post (though that number can scale much higher depending on the topic.)”
- The Street: “While all of its contributors start unpaid, The Street has built its system so that successful writers can work their way into paid channels. When writers get 20,000 pageviews per week, The Street pays them $20; 40,000 weekly pageviews gets them $40, and so on. Really successful writers can get pay comparable to The Street’s full-time staff.”
For these publishers and countless others, the real currencies in this model are brand association and exposure: They believe that attracting and retaining contributors comes down to byline lust. And the bigger the publisher, the better the deal.