UPDATE, 5/25/16, 9:00 PM EST: One of my sources just showed me an email that was sent to his boss, the owner of a very large industry blog, cold-soliciting a partnership with Zerys. The email header and body both lead with an offer to provide “several customized writing samples” for the recipient to choose from. Every letter of the language in the email avoids any mention whatsoever of buying, purchasing or favorite-listing, the supposed “benefits” that Zerys writers were told to be grateful for under the new, improved work-for-free-if-you-want-any-work system. They’ve effectively turned unpaid spec labor into a shiny new selling point for the B2B side of the platform, all at the expense of their writers.
That may have changed.
In a timeless trend championed by eBay for many-a-year, they’ve made so-called improvements to the platform which are at best puzzling and at worst a reason to call it quits at Zerys. In a nutshell, Zerys now expects writers to pen – on spec – a 250 article for new customers, who are in turn encouraged to place duplicate orders in order to find the one they like. On spec, or “on speculation” means that there’s a chance you might be paid for it, but in this case, it’s actually far more likely you will not. Zerys has had a long and difficult history of disgruntled writers who found their work rejected because the client simply no longer needed it, or didn’t want it anymore, not because there was a writing or grammar issue, which should be the only legitimate reasons to reject an order that was written to instructions.
Imagine ordering a hamburger for dinner, looking over it once it arrived, and instructing the waiter to take it back at no charge because you’re no longer hungry, or you realize you really wanted lasagna, or a burger from a rival restaurant. It would be ludicrous, so why is it okay here?
Allow me to present some of the more troubling passages from their lengthy official forum post (Bold emphasis mine):
“IMPORTANT! As stated before, if the buyer likes your work, they may choose to add you to their Favorite Writers List, but may at the same time choose to not purchase the article from you. Of course, it would be better if they did purchase it so you got paid, we encourage you to realize that the most important goal as a Zerys writer is to get added to as many Favorites Lists as possible. In the long run, this is what will maximize your income, not getting paid for one short article under 250 words. Again, that being said, we have included nice hints* to the buyers that make it clear that the writer will great appreciate getting paid for these initial short custom pieces.”
and later on in this horrible, ill-conceived “explanation”
“Secondly, if you think about yourself as owning your own writing business (which you do), then ultimately, writing a few custom paragraphs for a client should be considered part of your marketing costs of doing business – of course, in this case, it may not be a cost at all since the client can choose to pay you for it! Its like giving an initial consultation to a potential new client. In many professions, a free consultation is offered to new potential clients and there is never the chance for payment. In this case, at least you have a good chance of payment. Every company spends a certain amount of money on marketing in order to gain long-term clients. Zerys has spent millions of dollars to build a marketplace and attract content buyers to you**, but ultimately it’s up to you to “close the deal” by proving your ability to them.”
*Yes, they actually said “nice hints.” That is 100% actual quote right there. I’d love to try and pay my rent and utilities with “nice hints,” wouldn’t you?
**I call BS on this one. Their UI is one of the worst experiences in the entire freelance sphere. If they paid millions of dollars for that, they’ve been making seriously bad decisions for a lot longer than we all thought.
As if sentiments like these weren’t troubling enough, Zerys quickly went into spin mode when the writers became very understandably upset about the sudden changes, deleting forum threads and blocking or banning huge swaths of not only the writers that spoke up on the Zerys boards, but writers – myself included – that only spoke up on private forums elsewhere. Apparently, their business model is so deeply in jeopardy that they’ve relied on reports from “double agents” that have access to rival sites’ internal message boards to shut down potential future dissenters on their own boards. It plays out like a campy spy movie, but this is really happening, folks!
Their pay dates have been getting later and later, writer support has been virtually nonexistent for years, and this is the final nail in the coffin as far as many freelancers are concerned. Nearly all of my writing colleagues have sworn off the site for good after this latest fiasco, and I can’t blame them. Perhaps if Zerys had spent some of those theoretical “millions of dollars” on their workforce instead of listing jobs at 7/10ths of a cent per word, they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.
The Freelance Writer Guide is officially REMOVING Zerys / Interact Media from our list of recommended freelancing sites. We cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone, especially our new freelancers, work for a site that clearly has no regard for the freelancers that have supported and sustained its business model for years.