Contently and the Rise of Content Marketing

Prospects seem rather gloomy for freelance writers these days. With dying weeklies, draconian magazine contracts, and endless cutbacksContently logo at daily papers and the CBC, it’s sometimes hard to see how freelancing can possibly remain a viable career path. But amid all the journalistic despair there is one area of growth for freelance writers. It’s called content marketing.

With traditional advertising models faltering, companies are looking for ways to create and publish compelling content that will increase their visibility and their brand’s reputation. And there’s a young company in the U.S. that aims to match those companies up with freelance journalists.

Contently’s writer database

Based in New York, Contently was founded in 2010 in response to the disruption in traditional journalism. The company’s website now hosts 13,000 freelancer portfolios, 2500 of which have been upgraded to pro status. Sam Slaughter, the company’s Vice President of Content, says that any writer can set up a profile on Contently.

“We want writers to use that profile to find work other places if they can,” he said this week during a phone interview with Story Board.

“Our primary goal is to provide something that’s really easy and really effective as a home on the web for journalists and writers.”

Contently reviews writers’ profiles and adds those with high quality portfolios to their professional database which, for a monthly fee, is available to brands and publishers. Slaughter says their client list is growing quickly – he estimates 20% growth per month with approximately 100 companies and publishers currently on board.

“We’re finding more and more big companies and name-brand publishers and brands are seeking us out,” he says.

“We’ve basically moved our business so that we’re concentrating more on higher end and higher paying publishers rather than people with very small budgets.”

Most of the work produced by Contently’s writers is editorial-style reportage intended for use as native advertising or on corporate websites. The company doesn’t accept any work that pays less than $115 per story, and Slaughter says some assignments pay as much as $3000 or $4000.

The company’s platform also offers digital tools to streamline the process of companies working with writers.

“There’s software that’ll process a writer’s payment, so any writer that does something for a brand through us gets paid immediately as opposed to having to chase down an invoice,” Slaughter says.

“There’s other software that allows a writer to message a publisher back and forth without ever leaving the Contently environment. There’s lots of different software tools that make us more valuable to both the writers and publishers than just a LinkedIn or Craigslist.”

“Brand storytelling” offers new freelance opportunities

As media outlets continue to struggle, Slaughter believes the type of “brand storytelling” that Contently facilitates is going to be an increasing source of income for freelancers.

“I don’t think it’s the only way forward, but I think it’s an important thing for every freelance writer and journalist to know,” he says.

The rise of content marketing might also have an effect on low quality and low-paying content farm websites. The market for low-quality content, Slaughter says, is dwindling by the day.

“Google no longer wants that stuff to be featured. They don’t want eHow to turn up when you do a search. They want something that’s done with better quality and is more unique and more interesting,” he says.

“And the second thing is that as brands become more invested in creating good content, search results are going to be less important than quality and shareability and the way something reflects on a given brand or a given publisher. I think that’s going to lead to content farms being less relevant and their market share declining.”

What’s next for Contently

Story Board has heard from writers with profiles in Contently’s pro database who, several months in, have yet to be offered any work through the company. Slaughter says that as the company evolves, new opportunities for freelancers will arise.

“The way that we work currently, the marketplace is only one-sided,” he says.

“Writers are in there and they show up in our searches but it’s our clients’ editors that are doing the searching as opposed to writers actively seeking stuff out and pitching people. That’s something that’s going to change. We’re in the process of building a tool that essentially will allow writers to walk in and see what work is available and pitch against that work.”

Slaughter says they’re approaching this change cautiously to ensure that both quality and pay rates remain high.

“The one thing that we don’t want to do is inspire a race to the bottom where people come in and are like ‘I’ll do it for less than this person,’” he says.

“We want to create relationships between writers and publishers. I think that’s where we’ll all see quality work and where everyone will be happy. We like to think of ourselves as helping to place writers in places where they will be happy and where their skills will be best utilized and where they’ll be fairly compensated.”

Where does all of this leave journalism?

For journalists who find the rise of this new corporate writing market unsettling, Slaughter has some words of comfort.

“I’m a journalist and I worry about journalism and the future of it,” he says.

“But it’s always been the advertisers who pay for the human interest stuff and the important research. In the New York Times, the business section is the thing that’s paying for news.”

Slaughter hopes these emerging brand-oriented writing markets will give journalists new sources of income that will allow them to pursue stories that serve the public interest.

“I think what you’re going to see is writers are going to be going out and doing a story for American Express, a story for J.P. Morgan and that’s going to fund their ability to do those stories that they care about.”


Hat tip to Luigi Benetton for sending this story idea our way. Is there a freelance-related topic you’d like to see covered on Story Board? If so, please let us know at

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 9:15 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Marijke Vroomen Durning
    on May 7, 2013 at 6:20 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I filled out my information for Contently several months ago and didn’t hear anything at all until March of this year. I was approached by one company who wanted me on their “team.” I accepted but haven’t heard anything since.

    Then in April, I was approached by another company, same story, they wanted me on their team, but I did hear back and have completed two assignments for them so far. Very simple, basic pieces, low per-word but very decent hourly since they are topics that are very familiar to me.

    The biggest advantage is payment is instant, the moment your piece is approved. I don’t like that you are only paid via PayPal because of the ding if you take your money out, but I do pay for a lot via PP, so I will just leave the finds there unless I need it otherwise.

    • Written by editor
      on May 7, 2013 at 7:04 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      Thanks for sharing your experience! Good to hear it’s working out for you, hope the work keeps coming.

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