Contently is a New York based startup that is increasingly gaining popularity in the writing community. It is free for writers to join, and super-easy to create a portfolio of your work. You can then share this portfolio with editors and other potential employers. However, it doesn’t stop there.
The main problem with a free marketplace like oDesk or Elance is it degenerates very rapidly. Although theoretically it is a good idea, on a practical basis, it is just a race to the bottom and freelancers compete on price. This is a self-destructing process because when you are trying to pay peanuts, the good freelancers will drop out. The employers will then find the quality pool of freelancers increasingly worse and therefore reduce the average price even further.
This is a common problem that happens at both oDesk and Elance and other freelance marketplaces too. There is no easy and straightforward solution to this problem.
The problem comes down to quality of both jobs and freelancers. These marketplaces were supposed to replace the traditional routes employed by freelancers but haven’t really succeeded. I don’t think the editor of Wired or New Yorker is going on oDesk looking for a writer.
Some popular freelance writers are strongly against spending even a minute on these marketplaces, like Carol Tice of Make A Living Writing. She makes a 6 figure income being a freelance writer. I advise my readers who join these marketplaces to ‘graduate quickly‘.
How Contently Fits In
Contently, for starters, reverses the model on its head. In these freelance marketplaces, the freelancer is going through a ton of low quality jobs to find that one decent paying gig. At Contently, each author creates a strong portfolio and the editors then contact them through the site if they like the author’s previous work. For example, here is my contently portfolio.
I can use my contently portfolio to submit to editors at different magazines and if they like my work, they can offer me a small writing gig and take it from there.
Contently tries to control the quality. I highly doubt I’ll get an email asking me to write an article for $5 through Contently.
Being Selective – Quality Control
Contently is definitely selective. That’s one way it ensures quality. This is how it works – anyone can create a writing portfolio but only a select few are “accepted” into the network. Publishers pay to have the privilege of going through quality writers and journalists at one place and it is free for the writers and journalists.
Once the editor finds the right writer for the job, Contently handles all the logistics and payment.
They have the ‘pro status’ in beta, and I am looking forward to what they offer. Here’s the beginning of an email I got from them –
The editors at Contently spotted your excellent portfolio and have upgraded you to Pro status, which means you can now access premium features, including our Freelance Marketplace. You’re part of an exclusive beta group of journalists from some of the world’s best publications! We mean it. Fewer than 15% of writers make it in.
The company is still new – started in December 2010 but definitely has a lot of potential. It already has a lot of editors looking for freelance writers.
Contently tries to solve a very tricky problem through a mechanism that isn’t completely “free market”. We’ve seen such free marketplace ideas don’t work for quality writers, although the sites would consider themselves successful (just as Amazon’s mechanical Turk can be considered “successful” based on how many tasks are posted, but from an individual point of view, they’ll have to work a day to make enough to feed one person a Subway lunch).
How well it succeeds will continue to depend on the quality of writers/journalists and magazines/editors. It will be a self-enhancing loop if you can get one of them up to the standards. Contently focuses on getting quality freelancers. The editors will come.