Archive for August, 2011

Less Than Penny Dreadfuls*

August 30, 2011

I’ve just finished a booklet about a splendid hotel in Morocco and the work it does with the local community (Kasbah du Toubkal) and found the designer on Elance, one of the web’s biggest outsourcing sites. Not only is Alison a damned good designer and a joy to work with, but we got quite chatty in the to-and-fro of discussing the design. She gets quite a bit of work from Elance, so I decided to have a shufti to see if it might augment the pittance that so-called ‘full-time professional journalism’ brings in these days.

Anyone old enough to remember Round the Horne will remember Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick as the pair of queens who camped it up as Julian and Sandy. Quite often Hugh Paddick, who played Julian would get himself all upset, and the outrageous Sandy would scream out in a piercing falsetto, “He was livid, he was. He was livid!” I can’t say I was livid when I saw the rates some of these ‘writers’ were prepared to prostitute themselves for, but good God, I was pretty bloody upset.

I trolled through the projects on offer for article writing and creative writing, and there seemed to be a fair bit of blog and website related stuff, so I clicked on one that wanted 50 articles a week. “Some going, that,” I thought, but could be worth a few bob. ‘Few’ being the operative word, as it turned out. Three dollars an article. To the Brits that’s £1.83 and to the rest of you Europeans it’s €2.06 – for five hundred words. That’s twenty five thousand words for £91.50, or €103 if you are writing it in Spain. That’s about half a book for under a hundred quid!

It got worse. Seventy-five dollars for thirty-five articles of 775 words each ($2.14 an article) or fifty articles of between 250-500 words for the princely sum of $1.20-$2.50 each, depending on length. I began to think that the chap who was offering €111 for twenty-five articles of 300 words ($4.44 each) was being pretty bloody generous. And don’t forget to halve that if you are English or two-thirds it if you are somebody else in Europe to get the value in proper money.

And they didn’t just want any old dogsbody writing for these heinous rates. Oh no, you have to be a native English speaker, have perfect grammar, top flight SEO skills, and a hundred-and-one-things besides.

I had a look at some of the writers individual pages to try and gauge what sort of rates they were getting. Some of the projects were written in a couple of lines of gibberish, but most were pretty explicit.

Hello,

I need approx 500-1000 unique articles creating across approx. 5-10 niche topics, approx. 200-500 words per article.

I would like for these articles to be unique, but its acceptable (and indeed probably cost efficient) for them to be spun by an article spinning tool.

In other words, you could create 50 articles and spin them 10 times over to create 500 unique articles – or you could take 5 articles and spin them to create the 500.

I suppose it depends on how they will be spun, and the quality of the tool/tactic doing the spinning.

But its important that the articles should be unique (to a search engine), and readable (to a human being).

Most important of all, I would like the articles to be readable to a person, and not at first glance obviously created by a spinner.

For example “to trade the stock exchanges is actually quite easy if you know what you are doing” should not be spun to some gobbledygook like “to exchange the stock exchange is probably nearly simple if you think what you are actioning”.

A little explanation is probably needed here. ‘Spinning’ is re-writing an article using the same words as the original, usually done by special software. You get something akin to an on-line translation of the lesser kind and then have to correct the grammar, spelling and punctuation…in other words, virtually re-write it. So what our friend here is saying is that he wants unique articles, i.e. different, but it’s okay to use spinning software on five single articles to spin each one one-hundred times to give a total of five hundred articles. Are you still with me?

So I tried some spinning software, and the result was, not surprisingly, complete and utter balderdash. The example he uses at the end about the stock exchange is perfect. And for these pristine five-hundred unique articles he was paying the enormous sum of €320 – 64cents each, a figure so low it’s not even worth calculating the exchange rate. But saddest of all, Someone had actually accepted it.

I continued flicking through the pages, and came across this little gem from someone wanting thirty five-hundred word articles about his chosen subject for a $200 fee.

We are the first ever company to teach Psyche-type (Personality Type Theory based on Carl Jung’s work, codified by Myers & Briggs), offering courses in Psyche-Type for anyone from parents to students to senior business executives.

We have written the outline of the page and are searching for someone to polish it up. Obviously, a knowledge or interest in Psyche-Type or the Myers-Briggs system would be advantageous. This a highly conceptual product, so we need someone who can sell this as a holistic idea/concept – i.e. Psyche-Type is the key to understanding the mysteries of the human mind; it helps people understand their unique gifts and then begin to find beauty in the different gifts of others!

Whoever won the bid had to have a good understanding and working knowledge of whatever this babble was about, which is far more than I could admit to. The winner, one Jahcen from the US who has a team of ‘professional and dedicated writers and designers who bring together your ideas and our words to beat the competition’s ass’ (the last few words are mine, but you get the drift) was obviously pretty well read, because she knew a whole lot about dentistry (twenty-five articles), fashion (60-page ebook), watches (one-hundred articles) and landscape gardening ($650 for a 52-lesson course on truing (turning?) a backyard into a tropical oasis), so I guess she’d be pretty au fait with Psyche-type, don’t you think.

To be fair, some writers have made pretty considerable sums over the years. One had a total income of  $79,334 over a five-year period, but that still comes down to only £806.93/€911.40 a month, not a figure likely to keep the wolf from the door. And she is one of the miniscule minority. The competition is such that anyone who joined Elance over the last couple of years would probably make more money walking dogs. So I guess I’d better get out looking for people with pooches.

But there again, doing the research for an Ebook on potato guns sounds fun.

* For anyone who doesn’t know what a penny dreadful is, it was a type of British fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing a penny. Charles Dickens took The Terrific Register every week, and claimed to be frightened out of his wits by it.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

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Mulling over mules

August 14, 2011

Imil, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

I sit on a stone in the shade of a walnut tree and watch a young farrier hammer 3-inch nails though a mule’s hoof, nipping the excess nail off before bending the stub over. It seems over-kill on size, but as I’ve never shod a mule who am I to say?

The mule gives the occasional enquiring look backward and downwards, but other than that stares placidly ahead. New shoes fitted, it’s led away and a blue plastic bag of feed hung around its neck. By the time it begins chomping, another shoeing job has been backed into place and the farrier begins hacking off the bent and split old shoes.

When the muleteer has hobbled his animal to a hug stone he walks across the street and sits under the shade a few stones from me.

“Hello, how are you?” he says.

“Very well”, I reply “And how are you?”

“Very fine, thank you.”

He’s from Armed, the village high above Imlil, and he’s come down to have his mule shod. He’s a mountain guide who, when times are good, will make the regular two-day trips up Jbel Toubkal, seven hours there, four back.

“So how’s business?” I ask

He puts his hand out flat and wiggles it up and down in the universal signal of ‘not so good’

‘Is bad’ he says, ‘not much tourist.’

We sit in comfortable silence for a while, until a mini-bus pulls up in front of the mule park.

“Bus,” he says, and jumps up, walking quickly over to the driver’s side. Words are exchanged and the driver shakes his head, while leaning back in his seat as a passenger points a fat lens at two tethered chomping mules. Photo taken, the bus moves off up the village street.

My new friend wanders back and sits a couple of stones away. We resume our companionable silence. A few minutes later we hear the peeping of a message on his mobile phone. As he takes it out I stand up, shake his hand and tell him I hope it’s a booking for him and his mule.

“Inch’allah!”

Gueliz girl

August 14, 2011

Written while in Morocco a few weeks ago.

I’m a couple of hours early for a meeting in Marrakech, so I take a stroll around the market in Geuliz. Wandering through the crowded alleys, a pretty young girl walks alongside me and says something in French. I apologise, and tell her I don’t speak the language. In beautiful English she asks where I’m from, and I tell her, and say I’m a stranger here and I can’t help her. I’ve no idea what she said, but I’m beginning to get the picture. She gives me a radiant smile and stops at a stall as I wander off.

I’ve got plenty of time to kill so I sit on a wall outside the market and begin making notes. A few moments later the tousle-haired beauty comes out of the main door and turns in my direction. She sees me and smiles.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

I feel like saying, “All the better for seeing you, sweetheart,” but the words that come out are, “Fine, thank you.”

When she asks if I would like to take a coffee with her, there can be no doubt that we are moving into a commercial transaction – she’s a pretty young girl, I’m not a particularly attractive old man – but a chat would have been nice. I turn the coward’s cheek.

“I’m sorry, I’d love to but I’ve got a meeting in ten minutes.” More like ninety, and I wish I had the courage to see the encounter through, but I haven’t

“Do you live here?” I ask.

“I’m from Casablanca and I work here in journalism and communications”

She’s seen my notebook and pen…I’m not fooled.

“So do I. I’m working here, that’s why I have a meeting.”

We look at each other. Her lovely smile has never left her face.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she says, and I shake her long, slim hand as we say goodbye.

I watch her as she walks down the street and crosses the main road. The last I see of her is her tousled head passing between two parked cars.

What’s in a name?

August 14, 2011

I had lunch at the Roma Delhi Pizzeria today. The ‘h’ isn’t a typo. It’s a takeaway and eat-in caff in a basic working class barrio in Valencia that opened a few days ago, taking the place of a Chinese that had at one time been very popular but had obviously lost its appeal of late. Pizza, pasta and poppadoms.

When my friend John said he knew of a place that did a cheap lunch we went to have a look. He’d never eaten there but the menu looked okay. And it was, and so was the Green Pepper Chicken and the Butter Chicken we ordered, although the portions were a bit parsimonious. But the name was the best part of it. It was as if they were hedging their bets, including having a couple of kebab spits slowly turning. The service was crap.

Years ago there used to be a real greasy spoon caff in Blackpool called Egg On Ronnies, which will mean absolutely nothing to anyone who hasn’t heard of Egon Ronay, the originator of restaurant guides. I suppose the joke loses some of the humour if you have to explain it.

I was in a catholic church many moons ago, (purely as a visitor, you understand, I’m no holy roller), and as I was leaving I noticed three narrow slots in the wall, which presumably had a box behind them to collect the coins that were intended to be dropped in. The first was labelled, ‘Church repairs and upkeep’, and the second, ‘Friends of the Parish’. Both reasonably self-explicit, the latter I assume to help with good works in the locality. It was the third one that intrigued, though. This one was labelled, ‘Holy Souls’. Now who could they be? I had no idea, because I’ve never met one, at least so far as I know. I supposed it was yet another way the ‘left footers’ dragged a few bob out of the religiously deluded.