Helium Marketplace Sputters and Stalls. Does AssociatedContent.com fly steady?

Amid a continuing trend of publisher disingenuousness, Helium staffers offer “we’re working on solving this problem”  reassurances to Marketplace writers who grow increasingly disheartened.  As part of the solution Helium is supposedly now requiring deposits from publishers who post Marketplace requests, but no mention is made of what happens to those deposits if publishers do not buy.  Helium has compensated some writers when publishers fail to follow through (BostonNOW, when it folded – but curiously not all writers to the BostonNOW titles, just some “special” writers).

No doubt Helium will deny that Marketplace is in trouble, but all evidence available to outside observers indicates that Marketplace is nose down and gaining momentum in the wrong direction.  Most worrying for Marketplace writers is Helium’s refusal to directly answer pressing questions.  The top querry?

  • Why can’t Helium Marketplace writers know where their work is being published?

“Answers” have been supplied, but they are unsatisfactory and circular in logic.  Apparently Marketplace publishers require anonymity so that competitors won’t steal their ideas for web content.  But competitors can already easily check the Marketplace listings and see that somebody is looking for content.  They are surely shrewd enough to know who their competitors are, if it even matters at all, which I doubt. 

Anyway, Helium’s responses do not in any way explain why Helium is not willing to divulge the publication information of sold articles to the writers of those articles.  Though this question has been posed many times on Helium’s community boards, it has not ever been addressed adequately.  Writers can only assume that Helium somehow benefits from keeping them in the dark.

The fact that Marketplace writers find Helium’s lack of response troubling is borne out by the pronounced reticence of Marketplace writers who formerly took great interest in Marketplace goings on.  These would be a group of writers who regularly sold work, not only because they are gifted writers, but because of their discernment, their inclination to rely on supported facts and – to put it plainly – their critical thinking skills and intelligence.  This is the group of writers who have grown silent – a telling trend.  Perhaps they no longer care. 

An “upgrade” preceding the recent decline in open discussion on Heluim’s community boards may have something to do with this.  One of the “improvements” is a much less accessible community forum.   The “Community” button has been demoted from a promintent tab at the top of the Helium home page, to an unobtrusive menu item available only to Helium members on their “My Helium” page.  Certainly this is no accident.  As far as I’ve noticed, nobody has asked about this.  Very strange.  What ever Helium’s intent, community participation has declined dramatically.

And with this Helium is effectively carving out a niche for itself as a nice place for the hobby writer, not for serious writes who might ask serious and uncomfortable questions.  A very select few writers have used Helium as a spring board to better writing venues, but these are writers who would have made it anyway, one way or another.

Like those other wirters, this one has grown tired of Helium’s song and dance over publisher identity and the fate of purchased articles.  Despite having sold several hundred dollars worth of work (close to 12,000 words), I have not a single portfolio worthy clip (Helium’s latest line is that you can always simply reference an an “article sold to a Helium Marketplace publisher”.  Give me a break!  Are they serious?  This is where a writer with any confidence at all – and I do mean ANY – walks out of the meeting.).  So, I’m investigating other writing venues.  That’s the point of this blog anyway. 

In addition to other ventures that I’ll describe later, I am writing at AssociatedContent.com.  Based on my experience so far, and from what I’ve heard from other writers at AC, I am no where near convinced that AC is good for making money.  Nor am I thus far a believer in the value of publishing at AC for sake of exposure.

AC is open about its pay per page view ($1.50 per thousand views).  This is a good strategy for AC.  People like to be able to guage their progress and will be satisfied with very little reward as long as they can watch it accumulate.  While Helium attempts to give this to writers with real-time penny earning data (but with no page per view data – a rather opaque policy), AC reveals of how many page views an article racks up, and a writer’s approximate earnings per page view, (much more satisfyingly transparent).   That said, page view earnings are almost equally dismal at AC as they are at Helium.  A writer has to be thoroughly convinced their work is otherwise worthless to invest time in writing for page views on somebody elses website.

For the sake of this exercise I’m pretending I think my work is otherwise worthless.  So far I’ve posted slightly fewer than ten articles at AC, all for page view earnings only.  I’ve been paid a little more than $1.50 and have accumulated a little more than fifty cents more that I’ll receive when I reach payout threshold ($1.50) again.  This far exceeds my page view earnings per article at Helium.  However, the comparison is not direct since the type of articles I write for each site is different.

As for up front payment, AC does not have a set up that is equivalent to Helium’s Marketplace.  Rather, AC selects content providers (what AC calls its writers) to receive “Calls for Content” based on previously submitted writing.  A new writer at AC will not have access to Calls that offer up front payment, but will have the opportunity to claim page-view-pay-only calls, which might be the first rung on the ladder that leads to up front payment, but AC is not up front about this.

(Writers may also submit articles on topic of their own choice for up front payment review.  I’ve tried this once so far, with no success.)

This past week I have finally received some Calls that offer as much as $4 up front payment, in addition to page view pay.  I have selected (“claimed”) two of these and will submit them by the beginning of next week.  At that point they’ll be subject to review by AC’s Content Managers, and I’ll find out if I receive payment.  I’ve heard tales that a writer may be paid as much as $20 for an article, and I’ve seen Calls for as much as $25 on AC’s main page Calls for Content, but these are not accessible to mere plebes like me. 

All this I have figured out by reading the AC community boards.  Some official posts by AC staffers offer a bit of good information.  However, do not count on helpful responses directly from the “community”.  Instead you’ll likely receive acerbic and sometimes biting replies that seem to gratify a self appointed little posse of AC members who patrol the boards vigilantly.  They love to toss around big words and mundane banter that excludes newcomers, and congratulate themselves for getting paid as much as $20 per article.  This is sad.  In all, the AC community boards are a waste of time for the purposeful writer.  

Next post will contain some interesting AC related links and an update on my copious AC earnings and publishing accomplishments and frustrations.   I’ll probably be moving on from AC after that since I’m not feeling enthusiastic about wasting too much of my time.  As for Helium, I’m not counting them out of the game, but Marketplace has no listings that are attractive to me at present, and offer prices have sharply declined, so…

  • Update June 20, 2008:

I have sold an article to Associated Content for $4!  I can see now how AC seduces members into producing masses of content.  Within hours of submitting my article is was published and I will receive $4 in my paypal account in a few days.  It is fun to be paid immediately, and the article was easy to write.  However, this still amount to a less than minimum wage rate of compensation.   Truly skilled writers can earn much much more. 

  • Here are a few of those promised links, just to start:

 USC Annenberg On Line Journalism Review (Read this) – http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/070326grier/


Silicon Valley Insiderhttp://www.alleyinsider.com/companies/associated_content


My Lot ( A bunch of AC users trying to figure out how AC works) http://www.mylot.com/w/lists/7_62910/default.aspx


Venture Beat – http://venturebeat.com/2007/08/01/associated-contents-bold-media-strategy-relying-on-google/


Barefoot Scribbles (a prominent AC member’s blog) – http://thebarefoot.wordpress.com/2008/06/16/associated-content-begins-distribution-payments/


Assignment Zero (Interview with Luke Beatty, Founder of Associated Content) – http://zero.newassignment.net/filed/luke_beatty_power_brokering_new_media_democracy


Mashable Social Network (Some dirt on plagiarism at AC) – http://mashable.com/2007/12/04/associated-content-plagarism-2/

Also see http://mashable.com/2007/12/01/associated-content-plagarism/



Associated Content’s Blogspot bloghttp://associatedcontent.blogspot.com/2006_01_01_archive.html


Westword, Denver News (Ham sandwich fiasco at AC) – http://www.westword.com/2007-05-10/news/ham-it-up/full



4 responses to “Helium Marketplace Sputters and Stalls. Does AssociatedContent.com fly steady?

  1. I am an Associated Content writer as well as a Helium writer. I have given up on Helium until they fix the marketplace. My chief complaint, not being able to stop marketplace articles from transitioning to Helium.

    If I spend a lot of time to research and write an article and it doesn’t get purchased, I want the option of selling it elsewhere. Instead it gets put on helium’s site and I earn pennies.

    AC has more google juice which means more page views. I enjoy the boards, but yes they can be harsh. If you go to the workshop thread you can usually get very good help for your articles.

    Good luck!

  2. I like to think I leave a fair balance of acerbic and helpful postings in the AC forums. I find them invaluable.

  3. Hi! I’m not sure how long ago these posts were written, but I’d love to address concerns, and I open up anyone to write to me directly too at bwhitlock@helium.com.

    Helium’s Freelance Marketplace is a unique publishing platform for the 100s of niche magazine, website and — increasingly — newspaper publishers looking to meet their content needs by contracting with our writers. The pay outdistances most web content pay, averaging $35-$100 plus per article. Some of our writers are pulling in 1,000 per month on Marketplace titles alone.

    In encourage any freelancer to keep an RSS feed going from this page, register for free, and earn where you can: http://www.helium.com/marketplace?placement=13060.

    Professional writers tend to use Helium as a moonlighting gig — expanding revenue streams and experience. Yes, you don’t get direct clips to add to your portfolio — and this is a drawback.

    Why do publishers prefer anonymity? Many are building up their sites and are not ready to be out there for view yet. Most do not want to allow their competitors to scoop their content ideas.

    Helium is aware writers want money and clips to add to portfolios, but we decided to maximize our writers earning chances in a market desperate for content and looking for new sources for content in an publishing market struggling with cutbacks.

    If you are a professional writer, pocket the added earnings, and check the new postings daily. If you are a writer building up your portfolio, use our regular site — now with upfront payments for all informative articles (began Nov 1) — and craft your portfolio as you choose. Helium interferes very little with your content, except to give SEO direction on new titles, and there are no waiting periods.

    If you’d like to continue this discussion write to me directly: bwhitlock@helium.com.

    Barbara Whitlock

  4. Thank you for you comments Barbara. The post was written mid June 2008. Since then Marketplace has changed and grown. In my estimation it’s demonstrated itself to be a good representation of the character of Helium as a whole–a dynamic place for writers to try new things, and an impressively open venue for professional level communication and debate.

    Marketplace remains the best place I’ve found so far to get a toe hold in the world of Internet writing. For our readers here, I’ve had a chance to talk with fellow Helium writers on the Helium community forum and outside, and the figures Barbara has cited about potential earnings for good writers at Helium are correct. To those who don’t enjoy success in Marketplace, the thing to keep in mind is this applies to GOOD writers, not mediocre writers.

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