Tuesday, 29 January 2013

How I joined, and quickly left, the "Online Copywriting Service" Copify – and how they threatened to sue me

***Update: after reading the original post, Martin Harrison co-founder of Copify sent me a threatening email alleging I'd breached some T&Cs I agreed to upon signing up for his website. The following post has been amended to conceal the name of the specific client the job advert herein refers to – even though it was but one example of many – and I've added a postscript to clarify this.***

I'm a copywriter and I'm looking for extra copywriting work; so I decided to join Copify.

I decided to join Copify even though I'd heard numerous tales of their low, low rates and controversial payment-per-word policy (handily rounded-up here by Andrew Nattan) – and even though I'd accepted by implication of my membership of the Professional Copywriters' Network their own (quite specific) rates as a "starting point for negotiations".

I decided to join Copify because some extra work I was expecting to kick off recently has fallen through, and I could do with a few extra gigs to keep me in Pinot Noir and HobNobs. And I've not lately got any work through the Professional Copywriters' Network, or People Per Hour, or oDesk, or any of the other jobsites I'm signed up to.

So I thought I'd sign up to Copify and find out for myself – because one ought to find things out for one's self – just how viable their offering is for a jobbing freelance writer.

To prove my credentials I had to provide references from satisfied customers, people I'd worked for or former course tutors write 200 words about how the "London Olympics" – not the official title of the event, but that's what they called it – had impacted the local environment.

This task was eerily reminiscent of a question in my A-level General Studies exam, which I aced with a smooth D-grade by answering via the medium of a crude pencil-sketched diagram.

My pencil kept breaking on the screen though, so I wrote this:

The 2012 Summer Olympics, imaginatively branded as London 2012, was an international multi-sport event that took place last year, mainly in the capital city of the UK.  
The successful bid to host the games was welcomed as a victory for the UK’s international profile; but the controversial nature of such large-scale events soon brought out Britons’ inherent factionalism and reduced politicians and people alike to argumentative wrecks. It was said that the games would either be completely brilliant and unmissable – worthy of booking extended holidays on the off-chance that the soon-to-be notorious ticket lottery would deliver – or an utter disaster, reducing the capital to a state of smouldering rubble habitable only to mutant viruses and refugees from war-torn third-world nations who had made their way to London 2012 under the guise of expert pole-vaulters, etc. 
In reality, it was fine: buses ran on time; nobody famous was killed; and even the most cynical among us ended up watching some on TV and enjoying it.  
There is, however, a tall building in Ilford comprising serviced apartments which is officially branded as “Stratford East”, despite being a good four miles east of where the games took place.  
This is known as “legacy”.

To my surprise, given that I hadn't actually addressed the subject matter satisfactorily, this was accepted within 24 hours and proved sufficient to earn me a little "professional" badge on my profile:

At least that's what I saw when I logged in to my dashboard. I presume nobody can view my public profile as I haven't yet been rated, or indeed completed any jobs for Copify's clients. Nor do I intend to. And here's why:

The above is a typical job ad on Copify.

First, I draw your attention to the payment: £2.00. (Two pounds.)

The company (CENSORED: no referred traffic for you, small furniture company) would like a 200-word blog on the subject of "British Bespoke Furniture". They say the purpose of the blog is to "inform the audience", but they are lying through their bespoke maple-veneer MDF holes; no 200-word blog required to include the "keywords" "British Bespoke Furniture, Bespoke Furniture Manufacture" naturally - not stuffed, mind you - within its famine-starved 200-word body is intended to inform any furniture-buying audience about anything, regardless of the catchiness of its title.

Unless said audience crosses over on the Venn diagram of bespoke-furniture-website-visiting-morons into the "people with a passing knowledge of SEO trends over the years" circle; because this kind of bloodless digital swill that blogs up the arteries of the world-wide web exists solely as the result of clueless retail hacks acting on the ill advice of near-sighted SEO agencies who were no doubt paid far more for their shit ideas stolen off equally shit online forums than a "professional" "copywriter" ever will be to churn out this vapid bullshit into an unsuspecting digital wasteland.

But imagine how many you'd need to complete to 

feed your hamster, let alone your family of five?
Nobody will ever read this proposed blog post.

And, whatever your rubbish SEO agency has told you, Google will not reward you for flinging this kind of sand-blasted gristle into its face. Search engines are already becoming fairly able to tell the difference between "informing" articles and pointless content pages that nobody ever spends more than three seconds on after following a link.

By peddling these blogettes on the subject of nothing, each revolving around the antiquated concept of a couple of keywords, all you're doing, [Furniture company name CENSORED], is chucking two-pound-coins at a brick wall. Or, perhaps more accurately given the horrible reality that must lie behind the existence of this job-ad, at a tramp in an internet cafe.

Hopefully nobody will ever write this proposed blog post either. If only my blog had more existing furniture credentials I could pretty much guarantee it by changing the name of this post to "Informative Bespoke Furniture Blog" or something similar and stealing your coveted #1 slot on the SERPs.

I have hidden my account and will delete it as soon as I can work out how. Not surprisingly, this option is not immediately apparent on Copify's dashboard. Obviously the whole thing is a ridiculous sham and no more attractive an option for any self-respecting writer (professional or aspiring) than an unpaid internship; indeed, less so, as this will only give you a portfolio of bilge.

Who's to blame for all this then?

I don't blame Copify; Copify are providing a service that (really badly run) businesses are happy to exploit. They are a blameless boil on capitalism's bum. Admittedly tweets like the below show a contempt for my profession that could perhaps annoy me, if it was in any way an unusual spectacle:

The targeted client turned them down on this occasion, preferring the option of someone who would "become part of the team". An admirable sentiment; almost as admirable as paying them in the first place would be. But when some writers can afford to work for free for a while, that leaves those who can't (as I could not, when I arrived in London with my writing MA, my debt, and my call-centre destiny writ across my forehead for all but me to see) in a bad place. The sort of place where they insert overwrought parenthetical clauses into sentences willy-nilly.

So, are the writers to blame? These writers, if writers they are, are the sort of writers who sit there frantically banging out 200-word blog posts in the internet cafés and public libraries across the land, their super-noodles going cold in the polythene cup at their side, and half-crushed cartons of Um-Bongo clenched between their brown and crooked teeth. One cannot blame such.

I don't blame the Furniture Imbeciles of the world either. One can't expect them to know anything about the internet, or to care about paying writers a decent wage to do a decent job. They don't want a decent job done. They don't require writers; just people who can type.

Ultimately we must blame the terrible Luddite SEO-agency scum who know all the facts of how the web used to work, but understand nothing of the universal and timeless fact that quality (as a noun, not a fucking adjective) will always win.

And if you can't afford it, you won't get it.


As mentioned at the start of the article, the inclusion of the client-company's name in this blog post was deemed by Copify's co-founder to be in breach of point-four of the terms-and-conditions I obviously didn't bother reading on signing up to the site, and therefore excuse enough to threaten me with legal action.

His email included these lines:

"I'm all for freedom of speech and although I'm obviously unhappy that you have decided to go down this route, I'm happy to let this stand. One thing we can't allow, however, is the publication of the name of the client for whom the copy you have mentioned was ordered. We have a confidentiality agreement in place, (section 4 of our terms of conditions - which your use of the site is legally bound by. This blog post contravenes this clause, which means that we have grounds to take legal action. 
Please remove all references and links to the client's site within 48 hours and refrain from using screenshots or other images elsewhere. Otherwise, we will be forced to instruct our solicitors. 
Martin Harrison
Copify Ltd."

Of course I am no longer using the site, but no doubt remain bound by the agreements I made on signing in.

I'd hate to force anyone to do anything so foul as consort with lawyers, and it's no skin off my nose to deprive a cheap furniture company of the visits it would have got from the links in this blog post; even though said visits (while unlikely to "convert") would undoubtedly outnumber those garnered from the above article for which they paid a writer the princely sum of £2.

I do find it amusing though that somebody who is "all for" freedom of speech would go on so swiftly after reminding me and himself of this fact to articulate a threat that seems to directly conflict with that sentiment.

But this is the same man who uses weasel words to pretend his website pays something resembling a reasonable fee for writing work, which – as someone who has logged in and witnessed that desolate world – I must say it's my opinion that it does not:

He's also unduly fond of using the hashtag #FACTS, implying either that he's sure many people will be interested in his accompanying tweets with reference to their interest in the general trending topic of things factual, or that he doesn't understand the world of Twitter very well just yet. As to whether he understands the world of copy and content at all, or whether his low, low prices for clients ever equal a minimum wage for the website's writers, it's surely not best for me to offer an opinion.

You must decide for yourself.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bad Language: Picking Punctuation Nits in the M&S Café

This is odd, isn't it?

It's unusual to see dashes used on signs in general; but here we have one hanging off the end of a compound noun to introduce a list.

This sign is almost entirely wrong in terms of punctuation and grammar, but let's start with what's right – which is very rarely right in such instances, or ever, nowadays – at least the dash isn't a hyphen.

Now before you get on your high horse and say I've done the same thing just there; I haven't. Those are en-dashes. I copied them from Wikipedia. That's how I roll. (Slowly.)

Yes, I spent most of my time in my only ever full-time corporate copywriting gig trying to prevent people from using free-standing hyphens, and encouraging them to copy-and-paste laboriously from Wikipedia or learn alt-codes. And I spent the rest of the time making tea. Because these are fights worth fighting and nobody else will fight them. Everyone else can have poverty, world hunger and child-abusing African warlords; I'll have free-standing hyphens. Now I'm unemployed freelance I do the same in my spare time.

Okay, now to what's wrong with it. First up: that's a freakin' em-dash. I know an em-dash when I see one. They're all the more conspicuous for almost never being seen outside eighteenth century novels; so, yep: that's definitely one.

But why?

An en-dash would suffice here. Much as the en-dash's bigger (or at least fatter) brother is a pleasing sight in print, the en-dash is really the only dash you can get away with in web use, ad copy or sign-writing. That dash, partly on account of its width, is as likely to introduce itself to the brain as a (pretty negative) mathematical symbol as a bit of punctuation introducing a list.

Also, em-dashes traditionally have no gaps on either side. This is one of the other reasons they rarely introduce clauses in the way en-dashes have done increasingly since the days of modernism, Joyce, Woolf, stream-of-consciousness, evenings spread out against skies like etherized patients, etc. I just checked that poem actually, and Eliot used em-dashes. Bit of trivia for you there. And a bit of a slap in the face for the point I was just making.

Either way, M&S ain't no T. S. Eliot and that em-dash needs to go on a diet or sidle up to the word "coffee" pronto.

Actually, no: it needs to bugger off entirely. Because you can't use a dash to introduce a list. Even if you can, you certainly shouldn't; that's what colons are for.

And while we're on the subject of lists, that list of items ain't too clever either. Aside from the indiscriminate capitalization (another 18th century quirk that's also occasionally used by US hip hop artists on Twitter for some reason, I've noticed), that list is punctuationally defunct. You need either bullet points, semicolons, or to put an "and" between the last two items out of the three. You can have the comma or not. You decide. Depends how much you like Oxford, I guess.

The final thing that annoys me about this inane piece of coffee-themed puffery on the M&S café wall in Haverfordwest that I have to stare at every time I drink my Chai latte while the baby stuffs ham sandwiches into its mouth or actually don't really have to stare at but seem to find that I usually end up staring at anyway is that "peace of mind" is a noun, while both the other listed virtues are adjectives.

If you ever write a list of three things (or any other number) and you're puzzling over it for hours and it still seems shit even though you've listed all the qualities (or defects) you meant to and you've no idea why and you're making a "duuuuuuh" sound and drooling a bit, I can guarantee you 100% of the time it's because the different listed items are different speech parts and do not therefore sit comfortably side-by-side in this manner.

You might say that by going adjective, adjective, compound noun there's a certain kind of adspeak copywritten poetry at work here. You might say that, but you'd be bang wrong.

And who even puts a full stop on a wall? After a 10-word non-sentence? And then not on other bits of wall where they've written stuff?

Whoever wrote this. (Or should that be "whomever"?)

As a closing note, the lack of punctuation in the below farewell incorrectly identifies the visited article as an uncapitalized noun (whether a place or person nobody knows) whose name is "see you again soon".

I'm pretty sure this is not what was meant; and you may think I'm being picky, but I think that if you're a corporate entity – as opposed to say just some dude writing an email, or a memo, or a pornographic missive on a public-toilet wall – then you ought to write your messages properly or else you may as well just poo in your hand and smear "BUY STUFF" on the glass panes of the sliding doors at the entrance to your shop.

Why even shell out on paint if your budget won't stretch to an education?

Or a copywriter?

Yours, invigorated,

A (but not The) Velky.