Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Outsourcing: The Dirty Little Secret of Freelance Writers on Revenue Share Sites Like Hubpages

We freelance writers will get accused either of writing for love or writing for money. Either way, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, we don't get no respect. If you write for love, you're poor as a dog. If you write for money, your following rarely gives you credit for your talents. Still, the award to least respected goes to those who present others' writing as their own. No, I'm not talking about plagiarism. I'm talking about professional marketers who outsource. On the HubPages forum recently, a thread on "Hubbers" who outsource raged. Some people defended outsourcing and others reviled it.  Some people actually used it--they bought content from other writers.
The general consensus held that "writers" who outsource their work to others are scam artists at worst, moral scum at best. I find this thinking bizarre.

Outsourcing is a legitimate practice on many Internet sites. Outsourcing occurs when a business or individual hires a writer to write copy on a write-for-hire basis.   The client will find writers on oDesk or other large sites that have similar quality control methods.

The client then uses the copy in any of several profit-making ways. On a revenue-sharing site like HubPages, the person might post the articles up under his own identity and earn revenue from them. Although it's much more common for writers to post their own work, the practice of outsourcing is legal and above-board. The marketer owns the rights to the work--he can do what he wants with it.

Still, some folks are offended by the perceived insincerity of taking credit for work one didn't do. For some, the practice seems especially offensive in a setting like HubPages, and I can see why. HubPages, like many revenue sharing sites with active forums, treads over two grounds--the social and the business. And never the twain should meet.

When you happen across the work of a HubPages "writer" who outsources, it can feel like a slap in the face. The problem is one of ambiguity. I thought I was stepping into somebody's kitchen for a cuppa, only to find myself in a commercial cafe. In other words, it's not clear whether the writer has set up shop in business territory or on social ground.

Much of the Internet is like that--business mixed with social. It's one reason we don't like spam. We might even define spam as cases when business rudely and threateningly enters into a social arena. Telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen commit the same "crime" in an offline setting. But the anonymity of the Internet makes people especially jumpy about this crossover. Since we have so little to go on, we scrutinize the behavior of our online associates closely and keep a vigilant watch on their compliance with the rules of the particular website to decide if we trust them. And naturally, we don't like it when a "friend" turns out to be a salesperson. I have sympathy for this objection to outsourcing.

The people I don't really get are the folks who dismiss the practice of outsourcing itself as ignoble. For them, outsourcing is the equivalent of cheating, betraying the unwritten code of "what writing should be about." Writing should only ever be an endeavor of self expression, and never something to "monetize." Writers who freelance for those who outsource are selling out, while those who outsource are cheaters.

For me, nobility is not what writing is all about. Indeed, I'm bemused by the idealistic notion that writing bears virtue a priori and drips with the flavor of moral purity.

Most working writers, from the lowliest to the loftiest, would laugh at that. Writing has been used for gain since its invention. Even if one might wish to write without recompense, it's rare to find a writer who has the luxury to afford to write for free indefinitely. And since we've largely discarded the patronage system, what's left is writing for money.

Doing ghostwriting work as a writer is one way of supporting your writing habit while you work on building up royalties or a revenue share income. Ghostwriting would not be possible if someone didn't outsource. Online, outsourcing is growing as content production becomes too much for the idea people to handle.

Another outcry against the practice of outsourcing targets the exploitation of writers, who are often hired to write massive quantities for minimal returns. I'm naturally on the side of the writers in this power struggle. But I feel confident that because of the opportunity the Internet provides, when large numbers of marketers make a practice of paying writers peanuts for ghostwriting, the effects will rebound on them in the form of a diminishing professionals pool.

Think about it. If marketers can profit from writing, so can writers---and because of the Internet, they can publish for their own gain just as easily as a marketer can. So why would they write for someone else if they don't earn enough cash to justify their labor? Because they don't know yet that they can. Because the commercial Internet is still relatively new.

But over time (say, within about ten years) the good writers who do freelance or write-for-hire jobs that are severely underpaid will realize they can earn much more money writing for their own profit with little extra effort, on places such as HubPages.

I don't think Internet outsourcing is wrong at all. I see it as a transition stage in online business, absolutely legit, and in fact a good thing because it provides work for writers who are just beginning to discover opportunities for generating income on the Internet. What do you think?

Copyright Nerd Writer Mom 2008-2010 - All Rights Reserved

No comments: