In-between long-term projects this month, I’ve been using Twitter to keep an eye on the opportunities available to freelancers as they are announced, using the #writing hashtag.

The results have been interesting; while I’ve been able to communicate with some other writers (something for another blog, I think) I have also discovered several new online marketplaces for freelancers to find work. These are in addition to Elance, Guru, Freelancer, iFreelance and many others.

Now I generally steer away from this type of website as they tend to offer projects at horrifically low prices, like $5 for three articles or some such nonsense. Over the past few days, however, I’ve noticed that things are a lot worse than this. DoNanza seems to be instrumental in pushing the prices down, with one opportunity reading:

I need 5 writers for my site. Each writer will get paid $7.50 a week to write 15 articles. The job will last for 2 months and depending on what it does for my sites ads, it could go on longer. So that means you will make about $65 each

That, dear reader, is 50c an article, or in UK money, 30p. At the end of the project I might expect the grand total of £39 (minus PayPal fees) for what would essentially (based on the fact that low pay equals low quality content and poor word count) take around 5-6 hours.

The problem here (as I see it) is two-fold:

  1. Paying such low amounts – and these contracts will be claimed because there are many ESL (English as a Second Language) writers in Asia, South America and Africa – is (as I have said before) dangerous to the community of online writers. Such low payments could drag online writing in to a sinkhole from which it might never recover.
  2. Those of us who have the experience to be able to command a higher price are not necessarily going to be interested by these opportunities, but by paying so low the websites in question reduce the likelihood of an ESL writer building their craft, developing their expertise and being able to progress to a better paying website.

With most of the web built on articles it seems that at best we are heading into an era of the two-tier web, where quality sites will retain writers over a longer period of time and utilize larger budgets to stay ahead of the SEO curve and out of the clutches of the smaller, low-paying pretenders.

Ultimately this can only have the effect of killing off the lower tier, or reducing it significantly. What then for online writers?