I should begin this article with a disclaimer. I am writing this from my own perspective. I have in no way been solicited to write it from anyone at HewsHub. These are my views alone. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get on with the article.
You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been writing on the Scottish Independence Referendum on the NewsHub. The result has been announced. Although we lost, there are issues there, this is neither the time or place to go into any of them. I last contributed an article around a 3 weeks ago. It wasn’t because I had nothing left to write about, it was because I started to think about the deal on offer from the NewsHub for contributors. This isn’t unique to the NewsHub, it’s a general issue. I’m just looking at the NewsHub’s formula.
There used to be just one way services were funded. You do a job, you get paid money for that job. There’s some jobs where it’s paid in terms of revenue share, like actors getting a share of the profits. There’s some jobs where money is paid in shares in the company. This means that you’re invested in the company doing well, since your shares will go up. Let’s take this first currency, money.
The NewsHub is a start up. All start ups will haemorrhage cash for a while until they grow enough to break even, then start to show a profit. Owners usually take as little out as they can, to grow the company faster. The NewsHub is offering contributors $10USD per article in the top 10% of each category. Even if this was $10USD per article regardless of where it ranked, that’s a low figure. It takes me around an hour to write an article I deem worthy of earning money. At that rate, it’s $10USD per hour. Factor in the exchange rate, and it’s minimum wage.
It’s not minimum wage however. It’s only the top 10% in each category that are granted payment. That’s 1 in 10. The other 9 in 10 won’t get a bean for their work. Let’s assume that everyone contributing to the NewsHub is reasonably eloquent, original and can express themselves in an engaging way with the subjects they write about. It means that for every 10 articles we take time to write, with our knowledge, passion and understanding, only 1 of them will be paid. That $10USD is for all 10 articles. That’s $1USD per hour.
It could of course be that some of us will manage to get 2 in 10 paid, or 3 in 10. It could just as easily be that some of us get 0 in 10, or even a few months in a row at 0 in 10. It’s not because they’re not good articles, it’s just that they missed the cut. From a pure money perspective, it doesn’t sound like a great deal does it?
Of course, money for services is only one way the internet works. Kevin Smith and Ralf Garman do a weekly comedy gig in LA called Hollywood Babble-On. It’s a paying gig. They record each of those gigs and put them out as a free audio podcast download. Why? It’s free advertising. The more people who download the podcast, the more people will think “hey, we’re in LA next month, let’s make a point to go see them.” It’s also a marketing platform, where Kevin and Ralf can talk about their other projects, such as Kevin’s new movie Tusk.
This is about building your profile. The problem is that it only works with scale. Like online advertising, a tiny number of people who see an advert will click on it. This isn’t a problem when you have a huge number of people visiting the site. If 1 in 1,000 who hear Hollywood Babble-On buy a ticket to see it, that up scales when the download figures are in the millions.
On a site like NewsHub, our profile value comes from people who are drawn in by one article, read it, then decide they like us as a contributor, to then up the engagement with us. If 1 in 100 decides to follow us on Twitter, or comment on the article, that’s great, but when the site is just starting out, that 1 in 100 is about 1. I get 5 or 6x the hits on my blog for the same article as I do when I post it to the NewsHub. That 1 new Twitter follower a day doesn’t get noticed among the 20 or so others who follow me because of how I use Twitter.
If you’re a site like the Guardian, you have millions of hits per day. Of those millions, a decent number of them are have accounts are are logged in because they have a passion for at least one of the genres the Guardian do. You are going to get the benefit of that flood of people. In that 1 in 1,000 ratio, you’ll get comments very quickly developing into conversations. You’ll get your article shared across social networks within minutes of posting it, without you having to power it. You’ll get that same ratio of people comment to you about it on Twitter, some of whom will follow you. With scale, this is a great currency, without it, it’s worthless.
Scale is of course relative. If you have a platform where you regularly get a handful of readers, and the NewsHub gets you an average of 30, then it’s a good thing for you. If you have no platform or audience right now, then anything is an improvement. For me, I’m taking a substantial hit in terms of reach if I keep writing for the NewsHub. I’ll lay out some stats to demonstrate that. First I should explain how I write.
Previously I’d write a post for my blog, publish, then jump onto Twitter to post a link to that blog post. That’s it. I do no further promotion at all, anywhere. Since I joined NewsHub, I’d write that same post as usual, publish it on NewsHub and my blog at the same time, then jump onto Twitter and Google+ to post a link to the NewsHub version only. I don’t promote the version on my blog. These are the page view stats for the previous 5 articles I put on both NewsHub and my blog.
- Was the Scottish Independence Referendum rigged? (Blog = 262, 8 comments) (NewsHub = 45 views, 0 comments)
- What happens to conservative voters in the event of a Yes win? (Blog = 170 views, 4 comments) (NewsHub = 47 views, 0 comments)
- Yes Scotland TV advert: a missed opportunity? (Blog = 213 views, 1 comment) (NewsHub = 44 views, 0 comments)
- Scottish independence: The threat of independence (Blog = 295 views, 0 comments) (NewsHub = 30 views, 0 comments)
- Scottish independence: the myth of being the world’s policemen (Blog = 232 views, 0 comments) (NewsHub = 27 views, 0 comments)
I get an average of 5x the views to the version on my blog, than the one on HewsHub. You could of course say that it’s a different audience, however, how many of those people arriving at the NewsHub version get there because they follow the link I give them on Twitter or Google+? They’d arrive at the version on my blog if I tweeted that instead. There may be a handful surfing NewsHub and see an interesting sounding article, but the effect is negligible. Remember that I don’t promote both versions of these articles. I only promoted the NewsHub versions. To give you an idea of what kinds of numbers I got before I joined NewsHub, when I only published in one place, and gave the link on Twitter and Google+ to my blog; here’s the last 5 articles I wrote before I started doubling up on NewsHub.
- The UK Labour Con Trick (Blog = 952 views, 1 comments)
- I’ve Noticed A Pattern (Blog = 461 views, 0 comments)
- I’ve Never Felt Ashamed To Be British Before (Blog = 1480 views, 5 comments)
- First Impressions Last (Blog = 364 views, 0 comments)
- Sewing The Seeds (Blog = 375 views, 0 comments)
This is only the last 5 from each comparison, my average on my blog is around 600. As I said, everything is relative. Some contributors will look at my stats with envy, others with contempt. My point was to illustrate that in my case, I lose substantially by continuing to post to both.
The obvious caveat to those numbers is that the longer the article has been published, the more people will stumble onto it, so the higher it’s page view stats will be. If I return to posting only on my blog, I get substantially more views and more engagement than if I post to both. Page views aren’t everything however, that way lies clickbait.
I admire the attitude of the NewsHub, in aiming for proper, thought out, intelligent articles from unusual viewpoints. If you’re just judging by the stats, you have the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail don’t care why you click on their articles, they only care that you do click on them. If they write an explosive article that insults, offends and antagonises, plenty people who disagree with it will share it on social media just as much as those who agree and people will pile into the comments for a flame war. Those advert impressions count. They don’t care why you’re there. If you’re drawn into an argument with other commenters, you return over and over and over to respond. The advert impressions keep racking up. This is not quality journalism, it’s populist journalism that most people with sense don’t like.
Anything decided by stats alone can be manipulated. If you judge articles based on page views, plus or minus ones, comments etc that leads to Daily Mail style articles. If you write an algorithm to parse all of those stats in some way to determine which articles get paid, it leaves it open to the same thing search engines have to fight; SEO optimisation. If you do just decide by stats, those results can be scripted and delivered as soon as the calendar month ticks over. By waiting until the middle of the following month, it allows for more engagement in the comments. All of this leads back to the fact that it’s someone or a group of someones who decides whether an article deserves payment or not. This unwittingly introduces bias.
With the best will in the world, and while trying to be as fair as possible, if your role is to read every article on a subject you have no interest in, you don’t see the nuance. You can only judge it’s merits on a superficial way. You don’t know if you’re reading real insight, or if it’s rehashed from a number of other people before them. If you’re reading all of the articles on a subject that you are interested in, you’re going to be drawn more to those which broadly agree with your own views. This is natural. If you’re a contributor who happens to write on a subject or from a perspective that’s not shared by those reviewing, you may never see any of your articles deemed worthy of payment. I don’t for a second think this would be a conscious thing, I think it would be a subconscious one. Being aware of that, and trying to counter it, brings us into tokenism, where you get paid for an article because it’s been a few months since you last got paid, and if you continue to get nothing, you’ll likely stop contributing.
Even looking at the stats themselves as the starting point, all sites with votes have the issue of tribalism. The NewsHub is no different, it’s just smaller. If you write on a contentious issue, or take a position on something that others disagree with, they can easily down vote your article not on the article itself, but purely from the fact that they disagree with you. The same can happen in reverse too, where people who do agree with you can up vote you not on the quality of the article, but to back their team.
While I return to the point of only 10% of articles winning a $10USD payment, remember that every single article helps the NewsHub grow. Contributors only get value from 1 on 10, while NewsHub itself gets value from 10 in 10.
Another aspect that may be of value is being a founding contributor. If you’re there near the start, helping to build this new site and helping it become something, you’re a little snowball at the top of the mountain, gathering the sparse snowflakes there. You build some sort of brand recognition as one of the elders, new people will follow you quicker, they’ll see you have a large archive of content etc. The logic being that this is a delayed pay off. It will eventually start to pay off, but it won’t be for a while. For that to be of value, you have to assume that the NewsHub will grow into something substantial, and that you will be rewarded down the line. Even then, the articles we’re contributing are about events happening “now”. They have a shelf life before other news and events make them obsolete, so that archive of content won’t count for much. I’m very dubious that it will grow into anything substantial for one reason; the target path is mainstream.
When you start off as a little indie content producer, you want to be really niche to succeed. It’s completely realistic to aim to become the worldwide goto hub for fans of Swedish Death Metal. When you target the mainstream, you’re going up against the BBC, MSN, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and many, many more. These are billion pound FTSE100 corporations with many decades of loyal readers, listeners, viewers and subscribers. These outlets have TV, radio and newspaper distributions around the country, their audience have habits long engrained as to their goto place to find mainstream news about their interests.
It comes down to why you write, and what you want to achieve by it. For me, it was an insight into the Scottish Independence Referendum, and to campaign for those reading it to vote Yes. I held no illusions that anything I wrote would tip them over, but it’d simply be one drop in the bucket that made the difference. That meant reach. In that area, I’m substantially diminished if I write for the NewsHub. While the referendum is over, the fight for independence is not.
It’s worth pointing out that the internet being a platform that gives content away for free, means it limits the variety of ways to make money for content. If you can’t make much money, you can’t pay that to those who create the content. News organisations the world over have been struggling with this for years now.
I’ll finish by pointing out what you’ve no doubt spotted. It was an inevitable byproduct of this article, not the intent of it. By writing an article targeting all NewsHub contributors, it stimulates this article’s stats on the NewsHub, marking it one that will shoot through the rankings. It might simultaneously be the 1st article I get paid for, and the last one I contribute. This is an entirely personal view, but from where I sit, factoring in all of the above, I don’t see it as being worth contributing to the NewsHub. Do you?