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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.


***POSTSCRIPT***

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 -  http://uk.copify.com/pages/terms) 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.

29 comments:

  1. There's not much to add to your highly amusing article. Except i can't believe Um-bongo is still on sale. Maybe it is.

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    1. I knew the guy who wrote the Um-bongo line. I also met the bloke who came up with 'boom-boom-boom-boom - Esso Blue', which you won't have heard of.

      Andy and Phil were their names. Still are, probably.

      Excellent post, by the way.

      Delete
    2. http://www.bringbackumbongo.co.uk/

      I approve.

      The Congo (DRC particularly) is notoriously sectarian these days; they could do with a banner to unite under.

      Delete
  2. I don't know if it is right now, but I think Facebook nostalgia pressure-groups are bringing about a renaissance, if that's not too grandiose a term, in Um-Bongo retail.

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  3. Wait, they don't pay prime rates on a Content Mill? Color me shocked.

    ಠ_ಠ

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  4. Clearly, Martin Harrison is an idiot. Maybe I could get sued as well. 'Let's do it!

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  5. That was my exact experience with Demand Media Studios, down to the inane 200-word application. I was granted a 4 out of 5 designation, which meant I would be paid $30 USD for a 600-word piece. Since I am expert on healthcare and medical research, I chose to be slotted in "Health and Fitness." Because medicine is a technical and regulated field, I saw that my options were alternative health such as breathing and and strength-building. Even worse, I would have a byline for the world to see attached to an article with meaningless content. It isn't worth killing my career for $30, which is a handsome pay by content mill standards.

    I am grateful you wrote this feature. Your humor made me laugh at what was otherwise a miserable situation.

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    1. Thanks for reading. I guess there are way more of these companies in the US, so I suppose it may be an indication of things to come over here! :-/

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  6. Despite disagreeing with a good deal of this post, I found it very amusing, and a good read.

    The only points I have a problem with are the seeming contempt for Copify over demanding you remove references to their clients name. Regardless of whether or not they wanted to be awkward, I imagine a more pressing concern was the risk of THEM being sued by their clients, whom they have this confidentiality agreement with. More a case of cover their arses, than suppressing the voice of the little guy.

    The other point I find hard to swallow is the sentiment that two hundred words of rubbish for £2, regardless of who is to blame, is an offence against professional copywriters everywhere.

    I do use Copify to supplement "real" copywriting work, and I view the difference between the two in the same way I view the difference between a McDonald's and a gourmet restaurant. Yes, a properly prepared meal, with care and attention, is much better (and more expensive) than a Big Mac and fries, but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for both.

    Ultimately, I feel education is the key. If there are a sufficient number of businesses out there that are willing to pay bottom-dollar for poor to middling writing (of course, my Copify assignments are outstanding works of literature) copy, then so be it. Our job as copywriters should be to educate the potential clients as the risks of using such a service.

    After all we can't stop people going into McDonald's, but we can tell them in detail how they will die of high cholesterol if they eat that crap every day. And, if that doesn't work, I have no problem selling them the burger to make money.

    Sorry for the long reply. Good article.

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    1. Hi John. Thanks for giving an inside perspective.

      I think my reaction to their legal threat was more emotional than rational, and had I actually considered the implications of naming the client I wouldn't have done so. On reflection, there was nothing unreasonable about them asking to have that removed and I was probably a bit childish/opportunistic in highlighting that so much - but that's just how I was feeling at the time.

      I'm still offended by the idea of paying even an amateur writer 1p per word, but perhaps some people can just write a hell of a lot faster than me?

      I take comfort in the Thomas Mann quote: "A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

      I'm currently attempting to put together a more reflective article on this subject. Interestingly you're the third person to use a fast-food analogy when talking about Copify.

      Cheers,

      Alex

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    2. Hmm, perhaps there's something in that analogy.

      I admit, Copify would be a worthless proposition for me if were a slower writer, but there's a quote I agree with (and I'm ashamed I can't find the name of the author who said it) that was something along the lines of "Show me a person who can write twice as fast, and I will show you a person who writes half as well".

      Or, simply put, I'd be taking a lot longer to write 500 words of "real" copy than I do with 500 words of content mill copy, but, that's what they're paying for.

      I look forward to your next article.

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    3. After reading my comments back, I realise they don't paint my Copify work in a particularly good light, and, as it is fast becoming a significant source of income, I thought I'd add a little caveat... just in case any potential clients are reading.

      My thoughts on the whole "fast food" analogy, and writing for (literally) pennies are as stated - if it takes someone twenty minutes to write a good, 200 word post, and you want to pay them £2.00, you're effectively asking them to work for £6 p/hr, which is barely above minimum wage, and what's the point of being a skilled writer if you're barely making minimum wage. So, if you're wondering why I bother with Copify despite that, it's because I don't view this service in the same light as similar services that I have tried that gave me the impression that 1p per word is all you'll ever get. For one thing, you can form relationships with clients on Copify, and direct orders mean higher rates of pay, and there are higher paying jobs than the basic 1p per word rate, as well the Professional status.

      I'll admit, my use of Copify is banking on some early work for little money paying off in the future. If, after dozens and dozens of five star rated jobs, I'm still banging out 200 word SEO posts for £2.00, I may need to revisit my position. But, for the moment, I'm optimistic.

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  7. I'm having great fun reading all of the rants about copify and other 'mills'... I know, I understand why we should not write for them. But I have hungry mouths to feed, and while I wait for magazines to respond and brilliant ideas to happen, I can bang out 200 words in 7 minutes.

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  8. Hey Alexander,

    I've actually had experience with Martin the guy you mention in this post. In fact I've been a client of Copify. I took advantage of their freebie and will hopefully be using the same copy writer again.

    I know not many people do this, but I felt appropriate that using the service (for free!) to include additional funds (okay, only a small amount) but I can appreciate that the freelancer needs to eat.

    I think you're complaining mainly because you're nose has come out of joint and far to regularly people are hitting the internet to complain when things go wrong and yet, no one wants to hit the internet when things go right because 'it should always go right'.

    As "Nan Sheppard" has said, if you're hungry, you'll type, if you're not hungry don't use their service.

    I'd recommend Copify personally.

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    1. I was doing a bit of research to find some additional work when I stumbled across Alexanders very entertaining and illuminating piece. Sure, his nose is out of joint, as would mine be. People only usually complain when their nose is out of joint. That's what complaining is all about. Ideally, your nose should be set right at the end of the complaints procedure and we move on. However, all this aside, I paused and then decided to respond to your Nan Sheppard quote. It misses the point, if taken literally (and why not?), unless you really do want talented copywriters to work just to put bread in their mouths. Copify need to make a profit, I would expect you want to make a profit in your business. So do does the copywriter. If people have a skill you need, pay for it and build the cost into your business model. The quote you use is demeaning and disrespectful. In any case, if it's true, I ask you to reflect on this: Are you recommending that others buy a cheap, and by inference, a low quality service? Do you provide a cheap, low quality service or product? If not, why not? Perhaps it's because you need to make a profit...or do you work 'just to eat'?

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  9. This Martin Harrison is one of the rudest, most unprofessional people I have ever encountered. Having only joined the site a couple of days ago, I decided to try my hands at a couple of descriptions for ebay. One of them requested a 250 word description for a garden storage box for £3.50 - absolute terrible pay, by the way, and any self-respecting freelance writer would naturally wrinkle their nose at this; but as with Mr Velky, some of my work had fallen through and I could have done with the extra income. I wrote as requested and sent it off. I received it back from this client who was paying tuppence - he told me I needed to talk about multiple storage boxes, not just one (despite the fact there was only one box provided in the link). Naturally confused, I messaged the moderator and queried this - his response was remarkably derogatory, telling me it was hardly difficult to comprehend and that OBVIOUSLY the client was talking about numerous boxes, it's just they 'weren't on the page yet'. And I was meant to know this how? I informed him that the instructions have been unclear. His snappy was response was 'Can you do it or not?! I see you have made mistakes on other jobs provided!" (My other jobs had not even provided me with feedback yet.) I almost laughed out loud. This is how this Martin person treats the very people who are providing him with an income? When they ask him for help or advice, he sneers at them and makes derogatory comments? I was amazed that this disgusting man could speak with such audacity and I asked him what his name was, for at this point I had no idea who I was speaking to. He immediately became defensive and said, "Why do you need to know that?" I told him I wanted to know who I was speaking to. He replied by saying he had no time for this and was I going to edit the copy or not? I told him that no, I was not, because there was no way I was going to provide a service that would put more in the pocket of this foul individual. I informed him that I fully intended to expose the conversation I had with him on my blog, review sites and every internet site I could think of, in order that people should be warned. You get paid peanuts and you get spoke to like you're a piece of dung. All the while feeding this gruesome man's bank account. He immediately started bleating erratically on about 'legal action' which I found extremely funny. I responded by saying to him that if he intended to spend thousands of pounds pursuing legal action then he was welcome to. After all, one must always consult a solicitor when one is being exposed for being a rude, exploitative coward who hides behind a computer screen spouting off, yet cannot even have the guts to give me his name. It appears that the threat of 'legal action' as well as a computer screen are the ultimate weapons that Harrison hides behind. I welcome Harrison to spend thousands on hunting me down due to a blog post that will show him for what he truly is; undoubtedly, he'll be broke by the end of it, but it's the principle, not the money, that counts, isn't that right, Harrison?

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  10. So while he was busy banging on about consulting solicitors, not much different to a screaming toddler who's threatening to throw his bottle of milk on the floor if he doesn't get his favourite dummy, I told him I had half a mind to pursue some legal action of my own, citing unprofessional conduct. His behaviour as a business professional has been absolutely outrageous and I have the evidence to prove it. I've watched CEOs, managers and supervisors topple from their professions because of the way they have treated employees or agency contracts; Harrison is certainly not exempt from this, just because he is behind a computer screen and operating on the internet. His final words to me before deleting my account were, "My name is Martin Harrison, you can call me on etc etc as I don't have time for bun fights'. Yet, despite telling me he did not have time to give me his name, he seemed to have plenty of time (half an hour it appeared) to engage in this 'bun fight' as he called it. He then told me he was sorry I felt that way, when I informed him I would be looking into legal matters against him. Clearly, Harrison has no training of how to conduct himself in business affairs and I shall be highlighting this to the legal profession, as well as the trading standards who must monitor every business, online and offline. Therefore, will everyone who has had issues with this incompetent unprofessional please contact me in order to provide me with evidence that can be used against him.

    One more thing - Brian Martin, I have to say your post is utter bilge. This line in particular is just plain pathetic: "If you're hungry, you'll type, if you're not hungry, don't use their service" It's a bit like saying to all those hungry kids in Bangladesh who are slaving away in factories for Primark, that if they're 'not hungry' not to bother slaving away. But fact is, they don't have a choice BUT TO BE HUNGRY. Hence, they have no choice BUT to work, regardless of how you dress it up with your words. Exploitation at its very worse. Then again, you are a Client, so it's natural you'd only see it from the exploitative point of view.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Perhaps you would like to look at a brand new copywriting website just launched. www.seocopywritingdirect.com offers writers the chance to take an initial exam, and then earn according to their result. UK based, we're working hard to reward good writers, but we're relying on writers to promote the site. Take a look and see what you think.

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  13. I had to write 200 words on the legacy of the London Olympics, which I did in a few minutes. I was rejected the next day (despite having written something similar as a full article and seen it published elsewhere.) But when they said that "Unfortunatly your application was unsuccessful' I looked at their spelling mistake in 'unfortunately' and chuckled at the irony. And then moved on.

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  14. http://adierose-fiction.com/2013/11/25/copify-review/

    I'm probably due for one of those T + Cs e-mails. I've just had a strop with Copify over their crappy pay and rude clients. Someone told me to re-write a piece because it wasn't passing Copyscape. The reason for that was all the company culture bull that they wanted included. Go figure.

    And the rate was £2.00 a post, should anyone ask ;)

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  15. Alexander

    Did you ever get to the bottom of Martin Harrison's actual copywriting experience? I did a couple of months on Copify, well one month of real work, to pay some urgent bills.

    It ended badly, apparently I was not taking these 200-word masterpieces seriously enough and in every 3000 words there were at least a couple of mistakes. That just isn't good enough, I know...

    But I am left with the feeling he doesn't actually know that much about copywriting at all and does not have the experience to judge others.

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  16. God. I thought I was the only one. He is possibly the rudest, most arrogant person I've ever spoken to. I was using the site and was ticking along fine and then one day I received an article back that was apparently full of mistakes, then I was told this wasn't the first time it had happened. That was bullshit, as I'd never had issues before. Either way getting kicked off that site was one of the best things that happened to me, as it meant I had the time to find legitimate writing work. I wish I still had all his messages, I'd love for people to see what he's really like.

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  17. I would like to hire you as a copywriter, but regrettably blogspot does not have the option of connecting with their bloggers other than on the comments pages.

    Bee

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    1. Hi Bee. You can contact me through LinkeIn if you want: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/alexandervelky

      Thanks,

      Alex

      Delete
  18. Did you ever find out how to close your Copify account?

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  19. Nice post, written straight from the heart, to penetrate the hearts of humiliated writers!

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  20. I'm so glad I actually research things on the internet before I make any decisions with my life. Thanks for the info, will be avoiding this one!

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  21. Right...well, I shall be steering clear then. Thank goodness I checked this site out before signing up. Yes, some of us need to put food on the table, but I would prefer to do so without being sold off for slave labour.

    Thank you!

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