Paying by the word once made sense. When print was beyond popular, writers would receive a generous per word rate, so the compensation included the kind of thoughtful editing necessary to craft an article or other piece to be the perfect length. But this pay per word model doesn't work anymore!
There are exceptions.
Some publishers, online and off, have managed to maintain this pricing model with a great level of integrity. For most, this may be because they are used to the old system--or simply prefer it to keep the tradition alive--or it could be because they are tight with space. This means the per word pay is usually generous, as it's meant to also compensate for time spent editing and revising. Those in this category are normally news sources, magazines, and journals.
Then there are those that need content, but have little concern for quality. Sometimes these are affiliate sites, but these can be spammy sites and URLs hosting malware too. These sites may not even care if the content makes sense, as long as there are keywords involved or the text is "original." They often just know they need an article with so many words for proper keyword density, so that's what they pay for. These usually pay pretty low because they have no reason to include compensation for time spent researching or revising, and they don't really care if there are errors or typos present.
It encourages bad behavior.
Quality content is tight, concise, well-edited content. Every word lends value. When you pay by the word, you are encouraging writers to craft text that is the opposite of this.
A talented writer may be able to slap down well over 1,000 words in an hour, but I can almost guarantee you'll stumble over all sorts of errors in terms of spelling, grammar, agreement, and logic, regardless of how good he or she is. This isn't to mention all the awkward turns of phrase, redundancies, and whatnot that come from trying to write as long and fast as possible for the biggest paycheck. There is no incentive to slow down, reread carefully, make edits, or correct errors--beyond the most glaringly obvious, which could lead to being fired--as doing these activities means the writer is losing money.
Additionally, writing in a way many would consider to be poor gets an incentive with this pay system. Flowery, vague speech loaded with as many extra modifiers as possible brings home more bacon, so why would the writer want to be brief? Awkward turns of phrase and saying things in the most inefficient and roundabout way possible also pumps up paychecks. The resulting writing may "sound" okay and be clean copy, but it often ends up unintelligible and scares readers off.
It suggests you are looking for low quality.
When someone requests a quote with pay per word pricing, it speaks volumes to me, and I'm sure other content professionals get the same impression. When we are contacted by businesses looking to pay per word, we think it means you are searching for something low quality--maybe because you are with those affiliate sites or even suspect URLs mentioned earlier. We don't do drivel to pad pages, and we definitely don't do anything for sites we find to be nefarious or with questionable ethics.
If you are in need of high-quality content, it's a shame because it's most likely not what you will get at a per word price, particularly a low one. Generally speaking, those offering this kind of pricing will be content farms or overseas outsources who may not speak English as a first (or second) language; they often prefer pay per word, as they can easily pad their invoices. Green freelancers who may not be knowledgeable in SEO or the other nuances of contemporary content are also eager to bite on these bids. However, you sometimes can get lucky with these new freelancers--they may have a high skill level and just need feedback and a body of work for their portfolio, but this is rare.
It suggests financial distress.
Your pay per word request indicates a financial issue that many firms won't want to wrestle with. This may not be the case, but for many content developers, this signifies a risk to be avoided.
Asking to pay per word suggests you have a small budget—or no budget. That isn't a problem exactly, but it makes us wonder how small your budget is. Is there a chance you won't be able to pay bills for completed content? Or will a request for monthly content--with a price predicated on this ongoing arrangement--end up being called off after the first month?
And it makes me think that you may be looking for some sort of deal. Based on my experience, when asking a potential client with a pay per word request what kind of content he or she is looking for, the ask ends up being for research-heavy, highly specialized content at what is essentially a fraction of the price.
It suggests you will be a pain.
I had to say it.
You wanting to pay per word makes me think you may want low quality (because your site potentially is out of line with our values) and don't want to pay a lot (because of possible budget trouble). And the model you are asking for goes against our entire philosophy for content creation and undermines the core of what I've tried to instill in my writers. That's not a good start.
On top of it, I'm nervous, wondering where you even got the idea to pay per word in the first place. Again, while there are exceptions to this, it's probably because you are used to dealing with content farms and others who operate by delivering very low quality for very low cost. These are people we can't and won't compete against in terms of price, and we won't bother going head to head with them on quality, as we'd blow them out of the water. While it's trite to compare us to a restaurant, I will: we are like a filet mignon at a fine steak house and they are a greasy spoon hamburger.
This all makes me wonder, what is going to come next?! Are there tight deadlines too? Or will there be a time-consuming content delivery method? Do you want us to post the content online at no additional cost? Or could it be that payments take more than 30 days? Or will you make last-minute, rush add-on requests only on weekends? I could keep going, listing things off that aren't really problems...if we are being paid appropriately.
It's not how we do it...and you shouldn't either.
All of this is why—even when we aren't creating content that is research-heavy or dependent on client interviews and feedback—we operate on an hourly model. Occasionally, we create flat-rate bids for projects that are ongoing and consistent, and these take into account the time that writers, editors, and maybe even graphic artists will need to research, create, and revise the work before it goes live. Pay per word is a thing of the past for Impressa Solutions.
Yes, this post was a bit heavy-handed. I understand most folks looking to pay per word are well intentioned, and my laundry list of fears could be unfounded. And many who offer pay-per-word pricing don't fit the much maligned molds I outlined here. However, because these connotations exist and the situations and scenarios outlined above are real, I would strongly encourage you to stop requesting, encouraging, or accepting pay per word arrangements for your blog posts, article marketing content, website content, social media posts, marketing emails, and more. It's just better for business.