This piece, written by Story Board editor Rachel Sanders, originally appeared on the blog on August 14, 2015.
CMG Freelance is advising freelance writers across Canada not to accept work from Yellow Pages that pays in the range of 6 to 9 cents per word.
Story Board has heard from several highly experienced writers who were approached by Yellow Pages Canada recently with an offer to write “Smart Lists” for Yellow Pages’ digital properties. The work involves compiling lists of recommended businesses for the YP Dine app and other Yellow Pages apps.
Each “Smart List” consists of up to 850 words covering 10 different local businesses. Writers are expected to cover businesses with which they have personal experience, as well as businesses that they research online. For each list, Yellow Pages is offering a flat fee of $50 plus “great exposure through our site, apps and other marketing channels.”
In case you thought Yellow Pages was a dinosaur medium, the company’s digital platforms accounted for nearly half a billion dollars in revenue in 2014.
Story Board contacted Fiona Story, Yellow Pages’ Director of Public Relations, to inquire about the reasons behind the low fees being offered for their digital content. Ms. Story responded via email.
“We are not necessarily seeking actual freelance writing professionals but favouring instead contributors, with or without experience, who have knowledge and desire to compile a best of list for their neighbourhood of under 10 locations,” she said.
To explain the low fee, Ms. Story also said that Yellow Pages editors do not require writers to provide photography to illustrate their posts, nor do they set a minimum length for each “Smart List”. However, the recruitment email sent to one CMG Freelance member states that each list must include a 50-word introduction as well as 50 to 80 words about each of the 10 businesses featured.
“As mentioned, we are not targeting experienced freelancers as these pieces do not require heavy writing experience or research and are really compilations of capsule reviews at most. We have a team of editors internally who handle additional steps like fact-checking and proofreading, so the onus of these tasks is not on the contributor,” said Ms. Story.
Vancouver food writer and CMG Freelance member Anya Levykh was one of several writers who was contacted directly about contributing to Yellow Pages’ apps. Ms. Levykh says she did not respond to Yellow Pages’ email, as it made no mention of payment, only of “exposure.”
“In general, I find it offensive to be asked to write/contribute anything for free or at a rate that is negligible. My plumber won’t fix my drain for ‘exposure,’ nor will my dentist clean my teeth unless I not only pay him, but pay him appropriately,” Ms. Levykh told Story Board via email this week.
Ms. Levykh has more 15 years of writing, editing and publishing experience. She says that she has, at times, taken on pro-bono work for charitable causes and has occasionally worked for low rates with start-ups that have small budgets.
However, she says, “if a well-established business or organization wants to avail themselves of my services, they should be willing to pay a reasonable rate that reflects not only my experience and the quality of work they will receive, but what they would pay for any other contractor, such as an IT consultant, as one example. If they are willing to pay others a reasonable rate, why should I be any different?”
Vancouver Island food and travel writer and CMG Freelance Branch President Don Genova was also contacted by a senior editor at Yellow Pages with an invitation to write “Smart Lists”. He says that even new and inexperienced freelance writers should decline offers of poorly paid work from profitable companies.
“We’re recommending freelance writers don’t enter into any contracts that pay such low rates,” he said.
“If you’re new to freelance writing, your time would be better spent writing for yourself on your blog or searching for more lucrative contracts. Working for rates such as these will only encourage more companies to do the same, driving rates down for anyone trying to make a living with their writing skills and expertise.”
In her email, Ms. Story said that Yellow Pages regularly works with experienced freelancers on other types of projects such as white papers and marketing and information materials.
“These are very different pieces and in these cases, which require the knowledge of an experienced and seasoned writer, the freelancer will dictate the rate for their time, effort and research,” she said.
Story Board has heard from a number of freelancers who have worked for Yellow Pages on projects such as these over the past few months. All report having been paid in the range of 50 cents per word.
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