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Why You Shouldn’t Write For Free

I wrote briefly about why a CMO shouldn’t want a bunch of free bloggers running around saying they represent the brand.

Now let me tell you why you shouldn’t contribute free content to big sites like Huff Po and Shine.


While the rest of the world either owns their content, or got a job, there you are toiling away writing your best content for a mega-corporation, and waiting for someone to pat you on the head.

It ain’t gonna happen. No one cares, and if you do ever think that your content is worth something you will be the only person who sees any value in it. Why? Because you give it away free.

Yahoo’s new business plan includes having a bunch of y’all working for free. You will never get real traffic from it. You will never make any money. You will never look smart again.

That is why you should never ever ever write free.

22 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Write For Free”

  1. Just because I’m interested in this topic & curious, how do you determine what your cost for a post should be if an agency (for example) is interested when you respond that you don’t write posts for “free?”

    I for one have never considered it (yet) but I always find the topic interesting. I feel like I would be a little taken back if one of my favorite bloggers told me she was paid for a post I just read – but I read mostly “Mom” blogs and less political and business ones.

    And now I am rambling…

    1. I agree as well. I write for my own site because that’s what I love to do. I’ve been offered hip hop blogger positions without pay (or at least a proper barter) and turned it down with the quickness! Hell no-sir-ee. Except for the convicted felon, slavery was abolished years ago.

  2. I somewhat agee. I don’t think that bloggers /writers should write original content for free on a consistent basis. I have a fundamental problem with any business that is built on “free labor”.

    However, some writers (even those for major sites) have increased their traffic/ heightened their visiblity by guest posting on sites like HuffPo and Shine.

    I must say that when I was listening to the Shine panel at the Yahoo! Mother Board conference, I initially zoned out when it was mentioned that they didn’t pay for content. However, as I listened more, I can see the appeal. I don’t have the time to try it out, but I can see why others might (you don’t have to write original content; you can use half of a post and link to your site for their readers to see the rest; etc.)

    It has been helpful for several major, high-profile writers and I think that it could be a great resource for someone who has the time to use it effectively. (They DO have 16 million visitors a month.) While I’m not a big fan of writing for free, people should weigh the pros/cons for each writing situation themselves.

    1. I have 200,000 readers. Wanna write for me for free? You’ll get the same seven referrals and I’ll write you a really nice thank you note so you can feel really good about it.

      I won’t give you a book that teaches you how to blog for free, or anything swanky like that.

      But still…

      1. It really depends on the venue and your goals. Give me an opportunity to write for a publication that has a million plus uniques of a particular demographic and I’d consider providing some content.

        I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis, but it wouldn’t be out of the question. An opportunity to write for Forbes, the WSJ or New York Times lends itself to building other opportunities. But you need to be smart about it, that is for certain.

        1. So you’d never expect wsj or Forbes to pay writers? I’m confused.

          I can almost comprehend writing for a friend, or for a nonprofit that you feel passionate about. But Jack, really if you think publications like that don’t need to pay for content, then no one will ever make a living.

          And it will be our own damn fault.

          1. Brevity and I are often at odds so I am trying to keep be succinct. I don’t think we really disagree. We should be paid for content.

            However there might be a situation in which financial compensation is not offered yet the opportunity makes sense. I am thinking of a platform that helps to promote your voice/message to a larger audience while simultaneously building your position as an expert.

            I don’t see it as something that should be done long term. You don’t want to devalue your work, but for the right opportunity it might be of interest. Again it is a question of whether it helps you position yourself so that you gain from it.

  3. You’re funny! Personally, I’m not writing for anyone for free at the moment because I’m too busy with paid work (which is a good thing!)

    Don’t tempt me though. I have a thing for hand-written notes…and I like your signature :-)

  4. Writing content for free may be what some new writers need to build up a resume of writing/being published that would enable them later to be able to say they have been published on HuffPo or whatever other high profile site that doesn’t take content from just anybody. It may eventually lead them to more traffic, because I have to say 16 million visitors a month is quite an audience for an unknown mommy blogger (or whoever is donating content) who nobody knows.

    I am just curious… I saw in the comments here you said you have 200,000 readers. That seems like an assload to me. Why are you only selling ad space for $300 a month? It seems like you could probably get more than that.

  5. I’m an attention whore. I don’t write for the money. I don’t need to. I write so people say all over the internet “that Jim is an entertaining guy!” That is why I ate dog food on my last blog post. Since I write on THAT basis alone, the only criteria I would look at when deciding whether or not to give a site free content would be: are a ton of people going to read that and say “that Jim is an entertaining guy!” If not, then no. I am wasting my time. If yes, and I will HAVE FUN doing it. Then why not? It’s a hobby. You don’t weigh a hobby by its ROI. Ok, you can say that I am ruining it for others who depend on writing for survival, to that I can only say “if Jim Lin alone can ruin the world of writing by making people laugh for free, then hell, then the industry of writing is a terrible business model.”

    1. Jim- dog food is so 1987. You have to get with it and eat some hissing cockroaches or some other nasty should have been on Fear Factor substance. ;)

  6. I can see both sides of this.

    As a virtual “nobody” I’d be very tempted to accept offers to be featured for free on some place like Shine or HuffPost, or even on smaller sites. It would give me some credibility, confidence and experience under my belt for when I was ready to consider myself a “freelance” blogger for hire.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be taken for granted, nor would I want my words to become someone’s property other than my own.

    I’m not in this hobby to make a living though. My ultimate goal is not to be Dooce or some shit. I have no goal with my blog. I’ll just let the chips fall where they may. I’m too busy with my kids to make my blogging feel like an obligation or work. If it were work…I’d hate it. Because I don’t like to work. That’s why I married who I married ;)

    Oh hush! I’m kidding!

  7. Thank you for saying this out loud. Short and to the point.
    If you write for free you’re announcing – to readers and employers – that your work isn’t worth compensation.

  8. I would consider writing for a free for a very large non-profit which I am passionate about (and it fits within my niche for my other blogs). But in most cases, the only free writing is going on my own sites.

  9. I’m confused. Below you reviewed a printer and disclosed that it was “lent” to you. Granted it’s on your own blog but you promoted the product and didn’t get paid (or you don’t disclose that you did).

    Isn’t this writing for free?

  10. …I get what you’re saying…but don’t interns “write for free”?

    Isn’t doing it for free sometimes a trade-off to gain experience rather than wages?

    1. No, and I’ll tell you why. If you are an intern at an ad agency it’s because you are hoping to one day work at an ad agency. If your blog is republishing press releases and hoping to one day be hired by the agency sending them out. Well, you’ll never be hired, but the intern might.

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