Looking for a cheap article for your blog? This is what you’ll get.

Photo Illustration by Max Sheridan

Photo Illustration by Max Sheridan

Ok, yes, we admit it. We ordered five articles for five dollars. But we did it so you, our readers, wouldn't ever have to. Don't hug us. We aren't motivated by pure brotherly love, though there is that too. It was also self-interest that drove us to it. Let me explain.

If you’re here, you probably have a stake in online writing. You may be a writer like us or you may be looking for a writer. On whatever side of the content writing equation you fall, when writing is a commodity for sale, you come to the table with expectations.

If you’re a writer who researches their content and can write stories that get shared, you want the value of your work to be recognized. You’ve been practicing your craft for years, just like the creative director at the digital agency or the head of marketing who may end up hiring you, and you expect to get paid accordingly.

The businesses who buy your articles want to populate their online platforms with the kind of content that can build their brands. As long as the purchaser of content recognizes that writing skills and talent are, in fact, valuable commodities, you’ve got a symbiotic relationship. Writers deliver quality content that then pays for itself (and more) in readers and conversions. Case closed.

Except it usually doesn’t work this way. In the unwoke world where most business transactions unfold, you frequently run up against a brick wall I’ll call The Inner Negotiator.

The Inner Negotiator lives in a stubborn and wary recess of our collective psyche and for one reason or the other always knows better than the expert and can sniff out a potential money hemorrhage at the negotiating table faster than Donald Trump can say, “Tax fraud? What tax fraud?”.

Simply put, if you’re the kind of person that looks at a two-story house and decides that painting it would not only be a piece of cake but something you could actually do by yourself by virtue of the fact that you have two hands and brushes are on sale for $1.99 at the Home Depot, you know just what I’m talking about.

But more likely, if you’re a writer, you’ll recognize The Inner Negotiator from the last meeting you had with a client, the meeting where the client asked (or seemed to imply): So, is writing content really rocket science?

I’m so glad you asked.

No, it certainly isn’t. No more than graphic design, accounting, futures investing, insurance adjusting, real estate speculation, diagnosing an earache or playing football are. The only difference is, no one in the history of professional football ever tried to buy a champion midfielder for $3.99 from a discount online football store because the real deal was too expensive.

An ad for the Article Factory

An ad for the Article Factory

Yes, this is what really cheap content really looks like

So, what does $1 content actually look like? Like this intriguing paragraph from The Untold Story About Educational Toys That You Must Read, a $1 article we bought from The Article Factory.

Ok, I Think I Understand Educational Toys, Now Tell Me About Educational Toys!

In the event the children eat exactly the same sort of food during snack time in school, there is not any reason why some children will be searching for different foods. You may also ask your kid to estimate how many spaces they will need to move to catch up. If you're writing, the complicated child suddenly says, ‘This is tricky to do’.

Or take this “passage” from another article we bought with the headline The Honest to Goodness Truth on Educational Toys.

Toys are becoming an increasing [sic] popular way of learning for children and even adults. Wooden toys arrive in various shapes and sizes. They may cost more than a lot of the latest educational toys, but they come with an incredible value. Top quality childrens [sic] wooden toys will persist for a long time and supply plenty of fun.

I’ll stop here, because I’m sure you get it.

Are all the $1 articles for sale from content farms like The Article Factory this bad? Yes, they are. Because only a computer can churn out 30 articles an hour, which is what you’d have to be producing to make 30 bucks an hour.

It isn’t just a matter of speed either. To write anything this bad, you have to have more in common with a circuit board than a human being.

As you move up the ladder from computer function to carbon-based life form, you’ll eventually run into flesh-and-blood hacks who can maybe cut and paste you an article for $5 a pop. But it won’t get any better. If you’re a writer, you already know why, but your next potential client might not.

Just tell them this.

Photo Illustration by Max Sheridan

Photo Illustration by Max Sheridan

Five good reasons why professional storytellers are worth paying for (that you can use at your next pitch)

1To write articles for specific audiences, you need to know something about those audiences. This doesn’t come from inspiration or educated guessing. You need to do your human research, which professional writers are good at. That research usually extends to what your potential users are looking for (keyword analysis) and what their competitors are writing about (competitor analysis). With a human brain and a storyteller's way with words, you can also make intelligent decisions about how to deploy those keywords in your writing: critically and sparingly for a synapse-based audience, or like a salt spreader in the depths of the Chicago winter for your circuit-based systems.

2Experienced storytellers know how to put together stories. Budget writers, or their algorithmic counterparts, don’t. Your $5 hire from Fiverr won’t know how to build tension or structure information into a narrative. They won’t know anything about story arcs, hooks or punchlines. Hiring an unequipped writer will buy you an article that readers will bail out of at the end of the first paragraph, if they make it that far. You don’t want that and neither do your clients.

3Professional writers, unlike algorithms, are experts at calibrating their voices. Remember, it’s voice that drives user engagement and voice alone that turns complicated subjects into relatable stories. Just stringing words together, even words that make sound arguments, won’t get you invited back to another party.

4Writers who have worked their trade for years are curious, attentive to detail, and, at least in their writing lives, empathetic. A writer that’s used to structuring narratives can sit down with a CEO or a marketing department and uncover the beating heart of a company story no one knew was there. Likewise, once the interviews are over and what remains are pages of random quotes, facts and figures, only an experienced writer has the training to shine light on the one or two details that are likely to resonate with readers. Robots and hacks can’t do either.

5Finally, just like in any other profession, talented human writers have developed their craft over decades. Story building processes and mechanisms have become second nature, language is more pliable, and knowledge bases have accumulated. While good wine doesn’t necessarily age well, good writers do.

If you take the time to explain all of this, and you’re still not getting through, here’s what you can do. Just whip out a $1 article and show your potential client what cheap content actually looks like.

And because at Storyline we sometimes have so much brotherly love we don’t know what to do with it, I’ve even provided a link to one of the articles we bought. Just make sure to mention that you found it at The Article Factory.

When Max Sheridan isn't buying $1 articles at Storyline Creatives, he's writing stories and designing comeback campaigns for Nicolas Cage (what, you don't think he needs a comeback campaign?). His novel Dillo was published by Shotgun Honey in 2017. Talk to Max at your own risk here.