As traditional print publishing continues to move toward the web, professional writers are feeling the pain. There's more competition for writing gigs and less pay for writers overall.
Enter Joe Coleman, Shane Snow, and Dave Goldberg, who may have just found a way to solve the problem. Their company, Contently, offers an online platform that matches qualified journalists with media outlets and companies, such as Intuit or Bed Bath & Beyond, that are willing to pay them a fair wage for well-written and researched content. Most companies are willing to pay about $1 a word for stories; Contently makes money by taking a small fee from every transaction on the site. At least one writer earned $60,000 last year through the Contently platform. “A big part of our goal in starting the business was to find a way to give journalists meaningful work,” says Snow, a 2010 graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism.
Coleman came up with the idea a few years ago, when he was working at his previous startup, CashCrate.com, which pays people to take surveys and rate products. He needed writers to help him develop content for his site, which he started as a 21-year-old in 2006. “In trying to build up the CashCrate brand, I wanted to add a bunch of content to the site, but not advertorial stuff,” he says. “I wanted real stories aimed at the stay-at-home moms who used the site.” Coleman says he then spent about four months struggling to find writers to do the job.
That disconnect led him to call his friend Snow, who was freelancing after graduating from journalism school. Snow was also working with his friend Dave Goldberg, a programmer, on some entrepreneurial experiments aimed at the intersection of video games and social media. The three began to envision an open marketplace where companies looking for content and pre-screened writers could meet.
Excited by their idea, Coleman moved from Las Vegas to team up with Snow and Goldberg in New York. First up: Mint.com, the personal finance site, was looking for quality content. “That was a turning point for us,” says Snow. The founders raised more than $2 million in capital from investors such as the Founder’s Collective and Lightbank, one of the original backers of Groupon, to help scale the business as rapidly as possible.
Contently currently has more than 4,000 journalists enrolled, including some of Snow’s J-School professors, who can browse writing opportunities from companies like American Express, Rackspace, and The Atlantic. Companies can search the online database for writers who have the experience and expertise they are looking for. All content is submitted through the site, which serves not only as an editing platform, but also an e-payment conduit. Writers get paid directly by Contently, which then bills the companies. Says Coleman: “We feel like we have this giant opportunity to change the entire media industry."