Update: Examiner.com explains low wages, hyperlocal strategy


Examiner.com doesn't want its writers to quit their day jobs. After I wrote about my experience earning $35 for 25 articles at Examiner.com, a representative at Examiner.com got back to me to elaborate on the site's compensation policy and business model.

I was right to think of the site as a good way to build exposure rather than my bank account, according to Justin Jimenez, director of marketing and public relations at Examiner.com. “We definitely try to be very clear and transparent that this isn't a 'quit your day job' opportunity,” he told me. 

“It's great exposure, but in terms of payment per post, [it] may not be exactly what you're looking for in terms of freelance pay,” he added.

Jimenez said the site's contributors, or "examiners," are often passionate about a particular topic, whether for self-promotion or another incentive, like a theater aficionado who can now go to plays for free. “The monetary compensation is definitely secondary,” he said.

"We're not in the business of exploiting people for low wages but we want to make sure that people are able to talk about what they're excited about,” Jimenez said.

Some people do make a living as examiners, but they're the minority, Jimenez said. Typical examiners might be able to pay some bills or buy a few beers, as in my analogy.

"We are happy that we are able to at least compensate something,” Jimenez said.

Examiner.com bases compensation on variables such as subscriptions, page view traffic and session length. While Jimenez didn't offer further specifics, he clarified that examiners are not paid more for time served as examiners; it's all the same algorithm. It goes without saying that the longer you write, the larger audience you tend to build.


Content farm?

As I've said before, the term “content farm” (or content mill or factory, if you prefer) is an ambiguous buzzword; it's not clear what constitutes a content farm. The term is often defined as news outlets that churn out high-volume, low-quality content that does well in search.

Jimenez understands that the definition of “content farm” is evolving, but he said Examiner.com does not consider itself a content farm because it doesn't value content beforehand by looking at keywords and trends — the approach followed by Associated Content and Demand Media, which Jimenez said are “really leading the content farm movement.”

I call Examiner.com a hyperlocal content farm, lumped in with sites like AOL's Patch, which puts them in a different category from some of the search-based content farms. Examiner.com is pretty much as hyperlocal as it gets, leveraging experts or enthusiasts about certain topics in hundreds of regions.

Jimenez sums up the strategy as “local and complete.” It might not always be lucrative advertising-wise to have a "Portland pet health examiner," but part of Examiner.com's model is to go deep into local markets. The sites don't cover breaking news, but rather than covering the news of a local fire, “we very well could have a firefighter that is an examiner, talking about what it's like to be fighting on the front lines,” said Jimenez.

What do you think: Is it fair to pay writers in exposure rather than real dollars? Does Examiner.com's hyperlocal approach serve an important role in online publishing, or is the model a slippery slope for content standards on the Web? Join the discussion below.

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