Ebyline: Raising the Bar for Online Content?

The general consensus among professional writers is that content mills are pulling down standards for online writing (personally, I think the content mill debate is more complex). As a response, Ebyline has launched as a content marketplace directed specifically at professional journalists. The goal is to work with editors (hopefully at name-brand publications) to assign stories to freelancers. The recently-launched site makes submissions, approval and payment more automatic.

Ebyline relies on a vetting process: applicants must be approved, based on submitting a description of one’s journalistic career, a few clips, educational information and a list of companies that one has written for in the past. I completed an application in the process of writing this post, but as of the time it went live, I haven’t heard back on the status of my application. I do feel strongly that the application process is biased against freelance journalists: it seems specifically geared towards journalists who have newsroom experience but have switched to freelancing because of layoffs or similar situations. The founders of the startup – Bill Momary and Allen Narcisse — are former newspaper journalists from the L.A. Times and several backers have similar print credentials. There’s no effort in the application process to determine whether a journalist is a decent freelancer, which requires different skills than excelling in the newsroom and that’s a lack that can make a major difference in the type of work the site will see.

Making Money with Ebyline

In part, Ebyline is selling itself as a tool to help editors manage their submissions process and network with more freelancers than they might be able to handle through one-on-one communications (face-to-face meetings, phone calls and so on). The site also offers publications a way to earn money by syndicating their own articles to other newspapers and sites. All of this is done with the intention of convincing big name publications to sign on. Variety is one of the preliminary publishers using the service, along with The Texas Observer and ProPublica. That means that freelancers can hopefully expect to work with higher-paying publications by signing on with the service.

I do have some concerns about what the actual pay rates will be at the end of the day, however. Ebyline takes an eight percent cut on each transaction and it seems to be on the freelancer’s end of things (although I was not able to confirm it). Also, from my experiences with other sites that promise to manage any part of the submissions or editorial process, it seems likely that over time, editors using services like Ebyline will drop the prices they pay. It’s not a question of content — rather, there are several factors to consider:

  • Editors are likely to save their best pay rates for those freelancers they really want to keep on board, not the ones they find and can easily replace through some online tool.
  • Services like Ebyline aren’t going to make any changes in the newspaper market as far as helping publishers bring in significant revenues, and most print publications are continuing to tighten their belts.
  • This sort of process will likely eliminate kill fees, the expectation that most publications will pay for expenses and the other numbers that tend to add up.

In many cases, these problems are already in the pipeline for freelancers. But I fully expect Ebyline and similar tools to exacerbate the issue.

That said, I do see some benefits for the tool, at least from the freelancer’s point of view. Accessing an editor at Variety or a similarly well-known publication is pretty hard and anything that makes it easier to access better paying gigs makes writers’ lives easier. I’d recommend giving Ebyline a try if it fits in with your goals for your writing. The worst case scenario is that you do an assignment, figure out it isn’t for you and drop it from your freelancing efforts. After all, there’s at least a little more of a guarantee that you’ll get paid — Ebyline can’t afford to stiff freelancers, while some publications have been known to play fast and loose with payments.

More Information on Ebyline

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