Priceonomics obtains and interprets data from the web and filters it into a readily accessible format for use by start-ups, hedge funds, consultants, real estate investors and government entities.
It also maintains a blog that covers business- and data-related topics from unusual and somewhat irreverent perspectives like “Why Can’t We Build a Splash Proof Toilet?” and “Why Does Portland Have So Many Strip Clubs?”
Also atypical is article length, which, while not excessive considering the depth of analysis, exceeds the norm. Most experts recommend a 250- to 400-word average for blogs, based on the assumption that most readers have short attention spans. (If you’re interested, this blog exceeds a thousand words. So assumptions vary.)
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Given the subject matter, it’s not particularly surprising that the average Priceonomics blog post runs about 2,000 words; what’s truly surprising is that the company is willing to pay $1,000 for an article. (Before you rush off to send a submission, keep in mind that there are certain standards to meet and that submitting a blog article is not the same as getting paid for one; Priceonomics estimates the likely acceptance rate to be about 10 percent of all submissions.) That’s more than competitive with print publications, which, according to Freelance Writing, pay anywhere from $100 per 2,000-word article to upwards of $1 per word for the more widely recognized periodicals. However, it is a crazy amount for a blog article when most blogs invite contributions as a way to “get your work read by a wide audience.” Translation: we don’t pay you. Even those that do pay, such as HubPages, don’t render an outright fee; writers get a percentage of ad click revenue from wherever their blogs are reposted. As one Hub blogger describes it, 50 articles nets around $50 a month, or about a dollar an article.
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Why, then, is Priceonomics willing to pay so much? Can a blog really pay back that kind of investment? Maybe.
Content Isn’t the Same as Quality Writing
Blogs started out as the result of an individual using the Internet as a public diary. It turned out that some people could actually make money with their blogs, either by selling ads or promoting products. These days, blogs are in the business of providing content. Not necessarily good content, but content that has links and keywords that Google uses to rate sites and determine rankings in its search engine results. These are valuable marketing tools. But they have little to do with quality writing and articles that people actually read.
Let’s go back to how print publications work. They employ editors who assign article topics but, more importantly, review a writer’s work to ensure it has successfully addressed the topic, has a tone and format consistent with the publication, is grammatically correct and generally meets standards consistent with the publication’s other articles. Moreover, the editors expect to work with professional writers.
By “professional,” there is an expectation that the writer:
- is a skilled communicator whose writing will be interesting and easily understood by the intended readership,
- is expected to provide original work, and, where the work is not original, properly attribute ideas, quotes and other resources used in the article,
- can respond to constructive criticism to revise the article as required to produce a finished draft and
- is due reasonable compensation based on the skills required to produce the final article.
So the difference between a blog for which authors don’t get paid and a professionally written blog is the difference between, say, a high school composition assignment an article you’d read in The New York Times.
Readers of The New York Times pay a subscription for both paper and digital versions of the paper, with the expectation that they will gain access to interesting and well-written content. When you access sites for free on the Internet, well, you get what you pay for. Free content is free in most cases because it hasn’t been produced by a professional (or in many cases is a repost of what’s been posted elsewhere)—you get what you pay for.
Harnessing Content for Marketing
In terms of marketing, each kind of content has its uses. The free stuff isn’t really meant to be read. It serves as a package for links and ads. Either the content owner gets paid when the links and ads are clicked or it provides a gateway to some other site that the content owner actually wants you to see.
For example, someone searches with “how does someone make money selling real estate,” and a bunch of blogs pop up, all of which link to a site where someone is selling a book about how to make money selling real estate.
That’s one kind of Internet marketing. The other is a more akin to traditional publishing and marketing. Let’s go back to Priceonomics. They don’t sell advertising. Nor is the company in the blogging business, i.e., marketing content. It is in the business of selling its ability to obtain web-generated data, sift through it and provide it in an easily digestible format. (Remember what we said editors do?) So the blog serves as an advertisement for the company: it offers an example of the type of information Priceonomics deals with and how it’s relevant to your business needs. The blog is aimed at readers who might be interested in the services Priceonomics provides.
At the very least, the blog creates “buzz” among those who might become prospective customers. There’s no better promotional tool than when a blog subscriber clicks the share button to send to additional potential customers. (The blog about the splash-proof toilet? It got nearly 7,000 views.)
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That’s a valuable marketing tool and is well worth paying for. Our guess is that Priceonomics figures it can pay a premium for high-grade content because it provides its customers with high-grade content for which it charges a premium.
Whether that makes sense for your business depends on the nature of your business and your marketing strategy. If you’re looking at a blog as something more than just an SEO tool, then you should think of it as something you need to pay for, just as you would pay any ad agency to create an ad for your business or write a press release. You may not need to pay as much as Priceonomics. But you need to offer compensation appropriate for the quality you are seeking.