Opinion

Felix Salmon

How’s Seeking Alpha’s pay-per-pageview experiment working?

By Felix Salmon
July 6, 2011

Seeking Alpha’s Peter David Jackson has given David Kaplan some hard numbers on how its pay-per-pageview program is getting along after six months in operation. In total, 550 paid contributors have written 8,985 premium articles, and have been paid $517,585 in total.

That works out to $157 per author per month, or $58 per published article; it also means that the typical paid contributor comes up with 2.7 premium articles per month, on average.

All these numbers are likely to rise modestly over time, but they’re very much in line with the pessimistic projections I made when the program launched. For the kind of investment professionals that Seeking Alpha seeks as contributors, $157 per month or $58 per article simply does not constitute what Jackson calls “significant income.” Nor does an average of 2.7 articles per month come anywhere near the stated aim of Seeking Alpha that premium contributors will “park their financial identity” on the site.

And if my own stats are any indication, there’s a huge amount of sheer luck in terms of which articles end up getting pageviews. Over the past 12 months — that’s the 12 months from July 2010 to date — my most popular article is this one, from March 2008. That’s entirely a function of SEO, I’m sure: my old headline happened to coincide with something that people were searching on over the past year.

Jackson didn’t tell Kaplan how much the top contributors ended up making from the program, but it’s fair to assume that the median numbers are significantly lower than the mean. And even at the top of the league table, I suspect that Seeking Alpha’s best-paid contributor is still making less money than its worst-paid employee.

From Seeking Alpha’s perspective, the premium-post program has delivered 8.6 million pageviews per month on average. That compares to total monthly pageviews of 51 million per month, down from 63 million in April. An important part of the whole, to be sure, but still pretty marginal, considering that without the program, most of those posts and pageviews would have appeared in any case. And in terms of marginal extra unique visitors, the numbers are surely minuscule: very few people will have visited SA as a result of the premium program who would not have visited otherwise.

Jackson told Kaplan that “word is getting out that a growing number of people are making serious money from the program.” I follow this stuff pretty closely, and that word hasn’t reached me; what’s more, there’s nothing in the numbers Jackson provided which gives any evidence of this — or even that anyone at all is making serious money from this program. Here’s a question for Jackson: give me a number you consider to be “serious money,” and then tell me how many people are making that much money. If that’s your metric for success, go ahead and make it public!

Comments
11 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

the more “word gets out,” the lower the quality of the resulting contributions will be, as authors write click-bait articles instead of intelligent ones. SA’s editors have proven that they cannot tell the high quality articles from the low quality ones.

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive
 

Maybe there are just so many people capable of writing articles that the market is now more accurately valuing that skill. In the pre-internet days, there was a filtering mechanism called convincing a publisher to print your work; now, the barrier to publication (and cost of) is much lower, so we get to see just how many people there are that are capable of writing something of interest.

So, would-be writers, do you have a second choice for a career?

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive
 

Felix-

With all due respect, you’re either delusional or are purposely (and disingenuously) leaving out any context whatsoever in your analysis.

It’s quite easy to average out the numbers and come to the conclusions you have of “$157 per author per month, or $58 per published article; it also means that the typical paid contributor comes up with 2.7 premium articles per month, on average.” But, again, that approach ignores several key realities.

First, writing is not easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the toughest rackets going. Of course, everyone thinks they can do it, until they actually try and either fail or have a tough go of it. It’s a bit like talk radio. It’s sounds like a great gig – you get to talk for three hours a day! And then you actually go in and realize how incredibly difficult it is to talk for three hours a day and be entertaining, informative, etc. in the process.

Clearly, you are very good at what you do. I consider myself good at what I do. I do not know your history well enough, but I would assume we share some qualities that make us good at what we do and that we’re quite divergent on other counts. But, the one thing that ties us together is our ability to write compelling content that a large enough group of people want to continue to read and get something from.

The point is that achieving what I state here is incredibly difficult. Most people do not have the ability to do it. Therefore, in situations like the one Seeking Alpha sets up, you are going to have a small number of people who produce a majority of the articles and make a majority of the money.

Are you expecting an equilibrium on production and earnings? I hope not. That would suggest that writing is easy and anybody who submits premium articles to Seeking Alpha will (A) get them accepted and (B) be able to keep up the pace to put up numbers that go way above your averages.

If everybody could be that successful, then we’d all be professional hockey players and writers for the Wall
Street Journal.

Lots of people will contribute very few articles to Seeking Alpha’s premium program, thus naturally dragging the average down. Many simply do not have the time due to their primary businesses and many just do not have the inclination to do so.

And, of course, there are many who probably would like to contribute and earn more, but find that writing is just not for them. Some of these folks move on and focus on their strengths or try to get better at writing. Others choose not to look within; opting, instead, to blame everybody else for their inability to make money as a writer.

I think it’s great that you have decided to cover this issue, but I wish you would give it a fair shake.

As for “click-bait articles,” certainly some authors will succumb to this temptation. I can tell you, however, as somebody with more experience than most writing these premium articles, that writing expressly with clicks in mind does not work! I tried it for about a week. And I quickly realized that there’s no rhyme or reason and, like you cannot time the stock market, you cannot guarantee yourself clicks by partaking in some short-sighted and transparent series of ploys.

Articles I thought would blow it up received below average numbers, while ones I thought would be duds have lit it up. Too many variables exist that exist beyond the author’s control.

As a contributor, I have learned that if I focus on a consistent voice and style and do my best to provide value (a different perspective, new information, or a unique take on information) and actionable ideas, the pageviews come as well as a larger following. And I can tell you, firsthand, David Jackson believes in a partnership between Seeking Alpha and contributor. It’s all about what you want to make of it. It’s truly a case of my success ultimately equals their success and vice-versa.

Thanks,
Rocco Pendola
http://seekingalpha.com/author/rocco-pen dola

Posted by composed_trade | Report as abusive
 

And, by the way, it’s David Jackson, not Peter.

Posted by composed_trade | Report as abusive
 

@Mr. Pendola: I’m a little unsure of the point you’re trying to make. I agree that writing is difficult but I don’t see how that has anything to do with the fact that according to the numbers above, the average published SA article pays $58.

Even if that number is greatly skewed toward the top (which I guess is the point you’re trying to make), and let’s say SA pays $400 for high quality content, that’s still not very much money for an article that takes any longer than 2 or 3 hours. And in that case the money really sucks for most everyone else. If that’s so and is indicative of the industry, I’m quite glad that I’m not a writer.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive
 

The point is that, if you can efficiently produce compelling articles, like Felix does on his blog, you will likely do better than that average and you will produce at a level where even $58 per article is not bad, assuming writing for Seeking Alpha amounts to a part-time job and/or a supplement/complement for the other things you are other doing (trading, investing, running a fund, doing research, writing elsewhere, etc.). And, for some, writing two articles a day that produce about $100 a day (I get most of my pageviews right out of the gate, as the content is not “evergreen”) is all they need or want to live a good life. If you cannot make a minimum of $25K per year doing the job, you’re either not trying hard enough (and probably for good reason) or work/life of a writer is just not your bag. If you take the time and can do the job, you’ll make one heck of a part-time (1/2 to 3/4-time) income.

Posted by composed_trade | Report as abusive
 

I’ve been writing professionally for over 20 years, about a third of that full time (granted, in technology, not finance). My minimum fee for work for hire is about ten times the average Felix cites. Two articles a day (including research, interviews, and writing) is full time work (yes, it is), and $25K a year is pretty much starvation wages for that level of effort.

I’m one of the better ones at what I do, but I’m not at the top of the heap. Still, I would leave the Seeking Alphas of the world to prey upon new English graduates who are deluded enough to think it’s a stepping stone to a satisfying career in journalism.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive
 

Rocco Pendola – I haven’t read your pieces, so don’t take this personally, but I don’t think it’s debatable that Seeking Alpha’s editors do not know the difference between a good “premium” piece and a bad one (in terms of factual accuracy, market acuity, etc) – they know which ones readers are likely to want to read, however, and that is precisely the problem.

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive
 

I will make one more post to this thread.

While I think the debate is worthy, every time it occurs the same dichotomy presents itself. You have people who have “been writing professionally for over 20 years” come in and degrade the way the media — in this case, the written media — is changing. It’s quite comical, in many ways, that these same people likely embrace other changing technologies and entertainment/information mediums (they have smartphones and tablets, use services such as Netflix and do not think twice about listening to Internet or satellite radio over terrestrial) yet, for some reason, the mere mention of Seeking Alpha and other companies that create and deliver content in ways that do not align with old guard methods and mores raises an immediate ire of defensive dismissiveness. It’s all too predictable and pathetic, really.

More than one way exists to skin a cat. There’s room left for the old guard, no doubt, particularly the old guard entities who choose to adapt to changing times. But, there’s also room for the new breed, just like there is in radio, television, mobile, you name the space. Like it or not, the new breed is here and it’s here to stay.

Posted by composed_trade | Report as abusive
 

@Mr. Pendola: Again, I’m sorry but I don’t see the point that you’re trying to make. What is the new concept that Seeking Alpha is introducing? Obviously, I don’t have a problem with new forms of written media distribution or I wouldn’t be commenting on a blog.

The debate here isn’t about distribution methods (Netflix vs cable, satellite vs radio, etc.), it’s about content, specifically whether or not Seeking Alpha is paying well for financial journalism. I would argue in agreement with Felix that no, according to the rates quoted above, it is not. I’m not quite sure what you are trying to argue.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive
 

I have written many articles for Seeking Alpha and there is more to it then just the payment. Seeking Alpha has allowed my website and me to gain greater exposure, leading to greater visitors to my site.

I have contributed many hours to other well known trading sites and never received a dime or anything else for doing so. SA not only allows but promotes the businesses of contributors.

yes it may be true that on average not much is earned. I would believe like most things earning with SA ends up to follow the 80/20 rule. 20% of the authors make 80% of the earnings and they are the ones that are actually serious about adding value.

As someone who makes a lot more money trading than I do writing (Last quarter I was highly ranked in SA) I have found that I can not dedicate time to research and then writing about the company to earn money with the current program that SA offers. What I can do and sometimes do, is research a company for my trading and then use the information i already know to write up an article. Otherwise the author is largely correct in my opinion. Making $20-30 an hour and having to pay self employment taxes is not the road to riches.

Respectfully,

Robert Weinstein

Posted by 1reason | Report as abusive
 

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