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Opinion: Should Writers Be Paid by the Word?

How much is a single word worth?

That question may puzzle the average consumer, especially if he or she has limited (if any) experience with writing, editing, or publishing various types of content. However, it is a cornerstone of the freelance writing industry.

Whether you are a brand new freelance writer working on your very first paid article or an experienced copywriter whose first article was published decades ago, the value of your work seems to always boil down to the price charged per word for your services.

Is that the way that it should be?

Focus on the Actual Unit

A major problem in the ongoing debate of whether a writer or other type of content creator is the lack of proper perspective. Analyzing a single article, blog or even an eBook by word count seems to put the math behind the per-word calculations under a microscope.

For example, it is true that 500 words at a rate of $0.10/word is $50. Even if you charge $0.05 a word, it’s still $25 for a 500-word piece or post. It’s simple math, right? However, people seem to gawk at the idea of paying that type of unit-based fee for what they may see as just structured words on a printed page.

However, a similar unit-based fee structure is used for a vast number of in-demand services today. If you change the channel of your perspective to a station that broadcasts other industries besides content writing, you will clearly see the discrepancy of consumer understanding and acceptance.

Photograph by Khakimullin via Bigstock

Think About the Mechanic

Take, for example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average hourly wage for an automobile mechanic is $20.51. The top 90 percentile makes over $31 an hour. Keep in mind that this typical base rate is charged to and paid by customers regardless of the work needed. Whether it is an oil leak, timing belt replacement or engine repair, chances are that the hourly labor charge will find its way into the invoice. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall charges billed to that customer for the same job.

On the itemized invoice, they will more than likely see charges for:

  • Parts (marked up over market value)
  • Tools/supplies
  • Taxes associated fees, etc.

If the mechanic finds anything else wrong with the vehicle, he or she may come to the customer with an itemized estimate that breaks down what is needed and how much more money they would need to receive as payment to take care of that additional work. Of course, it is always optional – the customer could easily refuse service all together and drive (or walk) away without any services rendered or money paid. However, that is not very likely, is it?

This is because the overall value of automobile repair and maintenance speaks for itself. When your car breaks down or is in dire need of repair, you have three choices:

  1. Ignore the problem and hope that your car makes it without any work
  2. Handle the work yourself to try to save money (hopefully)
  3. Pay for the quality services of an expert mechanic to resolve your automobile issues

Door # 1 never ends well. Anyone who chooses that door usually learns their lesson the hard way and never returns.

Door # 2 works better than Door # 1. You may even successfully complete whatever work is necessary. However, when it comes to quality assurance, you are taking a huge gamble. With limited experience and knowledge, you are primarily focused on completion more than quality. It does not matter how you get from Point A to Point Z; you are more than likely excited just to make it to Z. The quality of your work (or lack thereof) will show its ugly head over time, though, and you may end up paying more to go with Door # 3 than you would have if it was your first option.

Millions of people rely on Door # 3, which is why the automobile repair and maintenance industry is a multibillion-dollar market.

  • Will you pay more than you might like to pay? More than likely!
  • Will you have questions about why the hourly rate for labor is so high? Probably so!
  • Would you refuse service if you really needed the work done due to the fee? Of course not!

Paying hourly fees and expensive invoices to mechanics and auto repair shops is essentially part of consumer culture. The same could be said about most trades – including electricians, plumbers and carpenters – that charge hourly rates for their expertise, labor and services.

Why, then, is it such a shock for many to receive a bill from a tradesperson skilled in content creation services that is based on per-word charges?

The same 3 doors of options are available when it comes to content creation:

  • You can choose to ignore the need for quality content altogether and miss out on the benefits you would have reaped through that investment.


  • You could focus on completing the work yourself to “save money” – sacrificing quality in exchange for completion, which could cause you to lose potential customers, traffic and long-term revenue as a result.


  • Or, you could invest in the high-quality services of an expert writer or content creator that charge per-word but will prove through their work that they are worth every cent paid for every word.



“Look for the Lowest Bid”

When searching through proposals and bids submitted by prospective contractors and freelance writers, many clients looking for the “cheap way out” will only pay attention to the lowest bids available. With the growing popularity of online freelance work, there is a vast sea of “writers” around the world that are throwing their names into the ring of consideration for posted jobs and content projects. Those who are looking for the cheap route are quick to jump on those opportunities whenever they come along. However, they are the same people who are disappointed by the lack of quality intertwined in the work that they receive.

They may spend a considerable amount of time and energy communicating with those lowballing writers back and forth – begging them for revisions and rewrites that more than likely would never have been necessary if they hired a quality writer the first time around.

“You Get What You Paid For”

Once again, think about the automobile industry. If you hire the cheapest mechanic to work on your car, chances are you are going to pay even more money in the long run when you eventually must go to a high-quality mechanic to fix the original problem in addition to whatever damage the cheap mechanic may have caused.

If you want to get your content back on the road again to keep your online presence moving forward towards maximum traffic and lasting success, then you should focus on quality work from a quality writer.

As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” Therefore, the question should not be, “Why is this writer’s fee so high?” but rather “Why is this so-called ‘writer’s’ fees so low?”


Annie Ianko

Chief Content Officer

Annie has over 20 years of experience as an editor and content creator and manager. With work in television and written media, she has dedicated her past 10 years to learning the ropes of online content creation, from writing to editing, from SEO to content management.

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