What Does Cheap Copy Cost?

December 17th, 2007 by Bob Bly

Today a potential client said he could not hire me to write his Web copy because I am too expensive.

He then informed me that he had two bids from other copywriters who would write his 18-page Web site for $1,000.

That comes to $55 per page of Web copy.

My question: what kind of copy do you think this marketer will get for $55 a page?

If it takes the writer 4 hours — including research and rewrites — to write each page, his hourly rate is $13.88.

Has copywriting become a total commodity? Or do the words on the page or screen still matter?

What level professional copywriter works for $13.88 an hour?

I am reminded of John Ruskin’s famous quote:

“”There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey.”

There seems to be no shortage of buyers who want to pay less and get worse for so many things today — including copy.

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This entry was posted on Monday, December 17th, 2007 at 12:38 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

32 responses about “What Does Cheap Copy Cost?”

  1. Simon Smith said:

    I think it also depends on the professionalism of the client. People who know the value of a professional respect the cost of a professional. For what it’s worth (and it’s too early to tell), we now position our copywriting services as having higher fees but lower costs, arguing that by paying less our clients may save money up front, but will risk losing money through missed deadlines, missed opportunities, budget overruns and worse. And I truly believe this to be the case.

  2. C. E. Reid said:

    I’ve experienced this scenario many times with my technology consulting business. I agree with Simon. It’s price vs. cost. For theses types of scenarios, I let the potential client go with price. My approach is pay me now what I asked for, based on your specifications and the quality technology consulting we provide OR pay us double when you call us back to fix the cheaper person’s disaster.

    Bob – I read your book on copying writing back in the early 90s and it helped me put my “home grown” technology consulting company on the map. Thanx for your advice.

  3. Ted Grigg said:

    I have also lost work due to price.

    But as a direct marketing consultant, my problem is that a prospect sometimes does not become a client because he wants me to focus on what he sees as the problem. And I know darn well that what he sees is not the real problem.

    So my higher price reflects helping these prospect companies to see the forest for the trees. But they just don’t know enough to understand that they suffer from a misdiagnosis. So the less experienced consultant who does exactly what these clients say wins the day.

    But to tell you the truth, I would rather work for a more experienced client who knows what he’s doing. Working with such a client is a lot more fun. He lets me do what I do best — increase the ROI for his business. What’s more, he pays me what I’m worth.

    So count yourself fortunate for not working with someone who will never understand your unique talents.

  4. Ardath Albee said:

    Hi Bob,

    I think getting hung up on price means your potential client doesn’t understand the value of what good website content can provide. Since a website is often the first introduction to a company’s future customers, the impression it makes and the content’s ability to engage and motivate are huge considerations. If the content is like everyone else’s and doesn’t differentiate the company from its competitors, then all he has is a bunch of blah, blah, blah that won’t deliver what he envisions.

    From my viewpoint, there is “strategy” involved with web content(any content, actually). Words on a page are quite different than strategic content that engages and persuades website visitors to take action. So, is the customer buying words on a page or strategic content?

    Ardath

  5. Dianna Huff said:

    Bob,

    I just had this happen to me. The prospect went with a less expensive writer. I got an email a couple of weeks ago that began, “Help! The writer we used provided terrible copy.”

    This has happened many times over the years.

  6. Lorraine said:

    Hi Bob:

    A client who expects to pay $1,000 for an 18-page website isn’t looking for quality copy. He’s looking for page-filling text.

    Maybe his cheap price quotes came from outsourced scriveners. I’ve seen outsourced overseas copywriting services offer copy at these prices. Scary.

  7. Competitive Freelancer said:

    Maybe the other bidders’ blogs weren’t full of typos and misspellings.

  8. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob-
    Someone from a small agency actually told me the only thing their clients are interested in is the graphics. The copy could be greeked in for all their audience would notice. So why should they pay for good copy?
    The answer, of course, is that it depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. If an organization has nothing to say to it’s donors, then yes, their newsletter only needs some nice big graphics.
    But if you need to convince someone to buy or join or donate… you better do it with strong, compelling copy.
    Would that guy pick a surgeon just on price?
    Morty

  9. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Ooops.
    Nasty typo! That should have been “its” donors, not “it’s”!
    I guess it’s (yes, with an apostrophe!) a lesson in being meticulous in everything I write… even blog comments!
    Morty

  10. Jim Phelps said:

    I wonder if part of the problem is the proliferation of personal publishing. There is so much content on the web, so many blogs and websites, that the art and science of copywriting (and writing in general) has been cheapened. There’s a lot of bad/mediocre writing in cyberspace…could it be that many clients just don’t care, and thus, won’t invest in good writing?

  11. Bob Bly said:

    JP: professional writers have always had to contend with the fact that theirs is a “soft skill” and that “anyone can write.” Web 2.0 further promotes that belief, which makes life even tougher for professional writers, especially content writers. You can combat this either by becoming a known guru in a niche (e.g., Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart) or writing copy that generates an ROI that can be measured.

  12. Michael said:

    Well, #7, that might be the case had weblogs been mentioned as part of the bidding process. But it seems the client was simply driven by price. Funny that.

  13. Kevin said:

    I’ve run into the same issue in other careers I have and had. In the financial services business, there’s always someone willing to work for less or an advisory service available that’s cheaper. My response to these tire-kickers is: You can certainly find someone cheaper than me and perhaps someone more investment-savvy than me, but you won’t find someone both cheaper and better!

    In my stint in the seafood business, price often was king. The trick was to find clients who appreciated good quality seafood that was free of chemicals and other “quality enhancers”. These clients recognized good quality, demanded it, and were willing to pay for it. With these clients, we developed a kind of partnership for the benefit of both in serving the end-user.

    I think the same can be said for copywriting. Finding good clients that appreciate the quality copy you deliver, understand the difference and are willing to pay for it, is the goal. Those that don’t and won’t will flee to the next cheaper vendor, so they’re not the client you’re going to build a long-term business on. In addition, demonstrating your marketing, consulting and partnership skills as a copywriter can go a long way in showing the client the value-added benefit they’re getting by hiring you. IMHO. Thanks.

  14. Robert Rosenthal said:

    When some prospects say they want to be “cost-effective” they’re simply looking to minimize costs and aren’t really interested in the effectiveness side of the equation. In these cases cost minimization — rather than quality, profits, and ROI — is the ultimate goal.

    Two things I’ve said to buyers of creative services in these cases:
    a) If that cheap solution fails, it may be the most expensive option of all.
    b) No one ever went before a board of directors and said, “The campaign bombed but I’m proud of the fact that we paid next to nothing to create it.”

  15. Stacey Mathis, Copywriter for the Parent Market said:

    JP, yes, I believe, across the board, it’s the proliferation of personal publishing. If I can broadcast myself in front of a camera on the web, I’m worthy of a TV show. What’s the difference? If I know my life story and an Internet publisher will publish it, I can write my autobiography. Anne Frank did it. What’s the difference? If I can carry on a typewritten conversation on my cell phone, I can write marketing copy. What’s the difference? But, JP, the effect of this level of ignorance eventually leads to my response to RR.

    RR, eventually, they will have no choice, but to be interested in the effectiveness side of the equation, because such reckless penny-pinching catches up and begins to manifest – negatively impacting on ROI, and, inevitably, causing a decrease in profits. There are many reasons so many businesses fail in their first year, and sloppy, thus ineffective marketing (which includes, shoddy copywriting) is right up there on the top of the list of reasons.

  16. James Palmer said:

    Writing has always been considered a commodity. It’s one of those things that everyone thinks they could do if only they had the time. I actually had a Web writing client who told me he could write the copy for his Website, but he just didnt’ have the time. For all I know he could have, but he paid me what I asked, and was happy with the result.

    Another problem is the new writers who see low-paying assignments on job sites and think they have to take them in order to build their portfolios.

  17. LS said:

    I get that a lot. Web writing clients in particular want to pay the least possible amount, and often they really aren’t that concerned about the quality they get. As long as there are some keywords slapped in there, they don’t care if it reads well or if it even makes sense. The site owners who outsource to India are particularly ridiculous. They get content for a penny a word, but they often have to send it from there to a Western writer to clean up. And when they don’t, they have junk content that no one is interested in reading. That does not equate to a lasting business or a site that is of any value to anyone. That cheap content becomes money wasted.

  18. Me said:

    I don’t know what everyone is talking about. Maybe I’m completely off in my figuring, but almost $14 an hour to type and put together some lines of coding and graphics is at LEAST good pay, if not great. The last time I made that amount of money, I was using large, pnuematic tools on a dangerous construction site that sometimes put me in the water with electric tools. So if you all think $14 an hour is cheap for putting together a site, maybe you should re-evaluate. I’m sure for mself, it would be a pain in the butt, but I’m willing to bet you all have alotta experience and could throw it together alot quicker and better than myself. I don’t want to get into politics on this, but how about myself and my friends who where military? We are supposed to be on duty/call 24/7. By those numbers, we make like less and 50 cents an hour. But yes, people should be receiving like $20-30 an hour for clip art, writing and programming….

  19. LS said:

    This was a discussion about web copy- not web design. And yes, $14 an hour is extremely cheap for that type of work. Of course people in the military should be paid more. I think everyone can agree about that.

    But, you do have to keep in mind that your pay is not the only thing you receive in return- you get inexpensive housing, free health care, reduced-price goods, a pension and a host of other benefits that freelancers don’t get. Out of our pay we have to pay for our own health insurance, all of our living expenses and then somehow save for retirement. If you look at what $14 an hour has to buy, does it really seem like a lot?

  20. Dom King said:

    I’ve tried buying cheap copy before, however it really does take much longer to get it to a useable state. More often thannot I just ended up throwing it away and starting from scratch.

    Now I use Glyphius to improve the quality of my written articles.

  21. Tracey Minella, Copywriter said:

    What type of copy he’ll get will depend on the motives and talent and professionalism of the writer.
    Granted, in most cases, he’ll get half-assed copy at that price.
    However, I recently accepted an assignment at a similarly low rate per page/hour. Why? Because it was an opportunity to work for one of the most famous copywriting gurus in the business and help him launch a new health website.
    Sure, I spent tons of time researching and writing (and happily re-writing if needed), but I was determined to deliver the best articles he’d ever seen.
    There’s value in that experience that can’t be measured in monetary terms. I quoted him a low price so I would land the assignment. Truth is, I probably would have done it for free just for the chance to work for him–and to be able to say that I worked for him.
    It was a great experience. For a guru, he turned out to be an approachable, regular guy. Of course, now that he knows what I can do, I look forward to working with him again in the future and that the experience will be even more valuable!
    So, the low price quote is kind of like the door on the old Mystery Date game. You never know what’s behind it–will it be a dream or a dud?

  22. Martin Russell said:

    Dom,

    Sure you can use Glyphius, but if you can’t touch the reader in the first place it’s a waste of time!

    Type “fdsa” into Glyphius it says it will help your copy sell better. Yeah, right. It’s a great tool, but you still have to know how to sell.

  23. Jim Furr said:

    It sounds like $50
    to
    $100 per hour
    is about right.

    What do you think?

    4 hrs per page
    @$50 per hr
    = 200 per page
    x 18 pages
    = $3,600 total

    or

    $7,200 @ $100 per hour

    Like to hear some feedback,

    Jim

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  25. becky said:

    @Tracy – but now that you’ve worked for him at such low wages, how will you now justify what you really should be paid?

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