Is This the Beginning of the End for Zerys?

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UPDATE, 6/17/16, 12:17 PM EST: I’ve been removed and banned from both the writer worksite, which I’ve belonged to for more than three years with more than a hundred satisfied clients, as well as the forums, ostensibly in response to this less-than-complimentary (though entirely truthful) blog. No notification, no emails, nothing. My credentials were simply yanked without a word. Apparently it’s easier to censor dissenters than actually admit that you’re sinking your own ship. Adios, Zerys, and good riddance!


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.


Zerys, aka Interact Media, is a content mill writing site designed for freelance work. In terms of ease-of-use hierarchy, I’d put it below Textbroker in terms of user interface, but slightly above TB in terms of earning potential. For many freelance writers, it was a backup income stream to hit up when the other “eggs” in our basket didn’t look terribly promising. In short, not fantastic, but not the worst either.

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.

 

 

 

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Making the Cut: The Commission Percentage

Whether you are currently writing for a “mill” style writing site (where a list of jobs are posted and you pick, work and turn your piece in within the site itself) or just considering it, commission percentages are an important thing to consider.

Essentially, because the site is acting as a “go-between,” furnishing the job list and taking responsibility for things like the interface, payment arrangements, consistency in pay and so on, they take a cut of what you earn. The industry standard is right around 30%, but the way that’s expressed can vary greatly.

Determining Your Actual Freelance Pay Rate

Some freelance writing sites force you to do the math before taking a piece, expressing your pay as a whole – for example, a 300 word piece might be advertised as a $15 payout, but in reality, you’ll only make $10 after the commission is removed prior to payout. Others are up front and state exactly what you’ll pay, taking their cut behind the scenes. The latter is definitely preferable to most of us for the sake of ease, but it also keeps writers somewhat in the dark as far as what the client actually pays. Here is, to the best of my knowledge, a rundown of commission percentages that a few popular freelance writing sites charge:

HireWriters: 23% (Writer earns $7.70 for a $10 job; $1.00 withdrawal fee)

WriterAccess: 30% (Writer earns $7.00 for a $10 job; There are no fees for payout.)

(Note, 8/17/16: more sites coming as I can figure them out!)

It’s hardly a comprehensive list, but figuring out what *writers* make is actually surprisingly difficult. WriterAccess is essentially the only site that takes pains to inform clients about what’s actually being paid out, the rest seem to hide behind charts and complicated onboarding processes. (Zerys, in particular, is an absolute nightmare as a “client.” That’s a whole different blog post for yours truly, but suffice it to say I would have given up and gone elsewhere almost immediately).

Beware of “Restructuring”

Upwork (aka ODesk aka Elance) has also undergone a recent “improvement” in their freelance commission pricing structure, effectively penalizing one-off client/writer collaborations under a $500 budget by doubling their commission percentage from 10% to 20%. Ongoing collaborations, called contracts, can earn a “break” that essentially translates to what they were making before. Looks like they’re following the much-reviled eBay seller fee school of doing business.

….And a Shift to Pay Windows

If there was a refrain in the song of freelancing, it would be some combination of not putting all your eggs in one basket, nor counting those eggs before they hatch. Paypal is by and large the main method for freelance writer site payouts, but a shift in their way of doing business has spelled trouble for pay consistency on the writers’ end. Where a firm payday was once the norm – the 1st, 9th, 15th, and so on – pay ranges seem to be the norm now, with WriterAccess having shifted paydates from single-day payouts on the 5th and 22nd to potential date ranges: the “7th -11th” and the “22nd – 26th” – paying all of their writers at once on an unknown day within the range (most writers plan for the last day, and are usually smart to do so.)

WriterAccess, at the least, pays reliably: Zerys recently sent an email after missing their stated pay window for the second period in a row. Here’s the gist of the email they sent disappointed writers, courtesy of my writing peer Carrie:

“…I wanted to give you up an update on your Zerys payment. Unfortunately, some of our valued writers will be experiencing a delay this pay period. The delay was caused due to a spike in last-minute content approvals. We do our best to estimate how much money we need to transfer to Paypal to cover our writer costs, but sometimes this is difficult because we pay right up to midnight the night of the last day of the pay period. Since it can take up to 5 days to transfer additional funds, this can sometimes lead to payments taking longer than we would like.

We apologize about any inconvenience this has caused you. We are working on making several changes to our pay periods and payment processes to address these issues, including working with Paypal to see if they can speed up their funds transfer times in the future.

Some writers should see payments later today. All other writers should be paid in the next day or two.

Thanks for your patience and understanding. We really appreciate all you do.”

There’s a lot to mull over when it comes to payments, but the moral of this story is to do some digging before you sign up with a platform. Within a single platform, it’s easy to become complacent with rates and commission percentages for wont of comparison. Be sure to poke your head up now and then and make sure what you’re pulling in is fair compensation within the industry at large!