What do you think content development is worth? Put another way, how much are you willing to pay?

These are important questions to ask as you embark on a content marketing strategy. A quick search for blog writing, as an example, will yield an array of price points — many breathtakingly low. Can you really get decent copy for a penny or two a word?

One web site acknowledges that for 1.3 cents per word the work “could contain spelling, grammatical and punctuation mistakes.” For 1.8 cents per word, you get “average-quality writing” and for 2.4 cents per word you get “very good quality.” Go all the way up to 7.2 cents per word and you get “professional-quality writing ready for use.”

The sample posts (which are about skin care) are less than 300 words, so the cost is somewhere between $3 and $21. Those fees include the broker’s commission, so the writer is paid a portion of that rate.

Now, odds are high that these writers don’t live in the U.S., and that English is not their first language. Even if their grammar is spot-on, they may miss some of the nuances that make for good writing in American English.

But the bigger question is their ability to write about the particular topic. How much professional knowledge of the subject do they have? If they don’t have that knowledge, how do they go about obtaining it? Even on the high end at $21, that’s a pretty low wage. It’s hard to imagine the writer doing much research or putting much if any thought into a unique perspective or analysis of the topic. Economics demands that they bang out the copy as quickly as possible and move on.

If the subject is technology — well, you get what you pay for. Some years ago, one of my clients decided to try one of these services (over my strenuous objections) to get a bunch of blog posts cranked out cheaply to fill in a new web site. The work was so bad, it took me hours to make any sense of it. My client quickly abandoned that approach.

Obviously, the writing community despises these sweatshops. Ignoring the unfairness to the workers, it sets absurdly unrealistic expectations among buyers. Many of these brokers also engage in unscrupulous practices (imagine that). They instruct their “writers” to copy the work of professionals, changing just enough of the copy to avoid being caught plagiarizing.

Bottom line, don’t be lured by these low-cost services. It’s a waste of time and perpetuates a practice that is unfair on many levels. Talk to professional writers, get samples of their work and price quotes, and you’ll have the information you need to establish the proper budget for your content marketing initiative.

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