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The problem with existing contributor payment models

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In this extensive series of articles we firstly discuss the problems with the existing (and perhaps most prevalent) contributor payment model… and then secondly outline a new contributor model that will be relevant to most digital-only portals and platforms.

Editorial KPI's

The numbers provided are from memory based on what journalists would deem acceptable at the time (without organising protests; which lest we forget was threatened), through to a bonus based on the additional value the business received; under the assumption that some articles did very well, but most had little or no traction.


The quiescent yet reliable content model that has existed across the publishing sector for the best part of 450 years is no longer sustainable, with the most significant fissures being brought about by the ongoing digital revolution.

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This paradigm shift has been caused by a change in the once reliable supply-demand ratio, with a huge oversupply of content in mass-market interest areas, or popular niches such as consumer technology, entertainment and culture; and nowhere near enough advertising Dollars willing or able to pay for it.

Under normal circumstances, long-established industries evolve through gradualism. The publishing sector however is in the midst of a vicennial upheaval. A sometimes velvet, but also sometimes messy revolution.

The results of which were first felt in newspapers, encyclopaedia’s and other print publications, many of whom without a competitive business model floundered when confronted by the rise of free-to-access information websites and blogs in the late 1990’s.

More recently however the change in the dynamics of the content business has impacted across all environments, including the previously usurping blogosphere.

Citizen journalists, along with ‘vox populi’ bloggers, social media denizens, content spinners and marketing professionals have joined pro journalists; the establishment media commentariat; and industry/issue experts to create vast volumes of content matching their individual interest areas and life passions.

Whist this has fed the long-tail of organic search, it has also had an overwhelming effect on the competitive landscape for the most popular subject areas. The trend has in-turn spawned the rise of onshore and offshore content farms where article rewriting, including auto-magical content spinning purely to sell AdSense ads on keyword-rich, search engine optimised pages has become a prevalent and extremely profitable pox on the internet.

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Google identified the problem long ago and has changed its algorithm multiple times to penalise what it defines as low quality content. The problem however has not gone away and ‘content clutter’ is still increasing.

When writing this essay, a simple search of Google News exemplified this best of all. Using the keyword “Obama”, filtering for the past 24 hours returns nearly 71,000 results in the English language. A separate search for the Aussie rock band “AC/DC” yields some 15,000 articles over the same period.

Perhaps worryingly, the celebrity “Kim Kardashian” managed to be mentioned in nearly 3.3 million individual content mentions posted online over the past month. That may be a slow month by her ‘break the internet’ standards, but it is still a staggering 10,545 per cent more content items than the President of the world’s second largest economy managed over the same period. Think about that for a moment.

Moving-forward, in order to succeed publishers and writers will need to adapt their strategies to better deal with a world where almost 90 per cent of native English speakers have access to the World Wide Web; with a further 400 million people from low wage economies such as India, Bangladesh and the Philippines having an increasingly good grasp of written English.

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Contributor payment models: investigating industry averages

Together, the industry has to find a contributor payment model that is both fair and transparent to the external contributor; yet offers an acceptable return on investment to the publishing business.

Continue reading other articles in this series:

  • The problem with existing models
  • The need to diversify revenues
  • Better visualisations and immersive content
  • Investigating industry average numbers
  • Introducing a new contributor payment model