I first heard about the crowd funded collaborative journalism platform Contributoria from a fellow freelance journalist on a Facebook writer’s group we’re both a part of (30 Days, 30 Queries run by Mridu Khullar Relph). The principle sounded quite interesting—writers submit an article proposal about pretty much anything to the site, name their price and members of the Contributoria community choose which articles they would like to see written. But although it sounds awesome in theory, for me there were a lot of unanswered questions. I decided to dig deeper in an attempt to find out how Contributoria really works.
Backed by the UK’s Guardian Media Group, Contributoria works as a platform for writers who have a story to tell and want to do it on their own terms. Many of the writers on the site are established journalists who may have been able to sell these stories to large media outlets, but by doing so would have to give up creative control or rights that they wanted to retain. Other proposals are written by people eager to break into journalism. But whether you’re an old hand or a newbie, Contributoria allows writers to call the shots, submitting their story proposal and writing it as they see fit.
As part of my research, I submitted two article proposals on Contributoria this month, Girl Power—The Changing Face of Female Education in India, and Moniker Minefield—Changing Your Name in the Time of Social Media. Both are stories that I had previously pitched to my editors at major newsstand magazines, and both received considerable interest, only to be rejected at the last minute. I had already done reporting and research for both stories; all that was left was to find them a home. (Note: Most writers who post proposals on Contributoria haven’t done any work towards the story yet—for the most part, it’s like posting a query letter.)
I wrote the proposals, choosing the angle, how long each piece would be, and naming my price. At first, I thought I would charge about $1 a word, for a 2,000 word story, but that equaled about 1,300 GBP, which translated into over 20,000 points needed by Contributoria backers in order for the story to get commissioned. Considering each person who joins Contributoria for free gets only 50 points a month with which to back proposals, and paid subscribers (either 1.99 or 5.99 GBP monthly) get 150 points per month, this would require mass amounts of social media promotion time that I wasn’t prepared to spend.
I adjusted my Girl Power article to 500 GBP/8,334 points, and Moniker Minefield to 250 GBP/4,167 points. I’ve attempted to alert my networks on Twitter and Facebook, but my efforts would need to be quadrupled to make the deadline of February 28. I posted the articles on February 10, shorting myself 10 days of possible promotion time.
If a proposal does indeed reach its point goal, Contributoria commissions the article. The collaboration model doesn’t stop there. Writers can post their story drafts on the site to be reviewed and commented on by other members of the Contributoria community. If you back an article, you’re encouraged to be an active participant in the writing of it as well, although the writer and the Contributoria editorial team have the final say.
Completed articles are published in Contributoria’s monthly newspaper available as an e-version on their website or as a printed edition available only by delivery. In addition to getting paid the fee they originally requested, writers retain all rights. If any of the stories are picked up for reprint by The Guardian or other media outlets, the writer will be entitled to all additional payment.
Overall, Contributoria seems like an excellent place for writers to be paid for stories that truly matter to them, while retaining creative control. And I truly love the collaborative spirit of the site. But unless your social media circles are truly extensive or you’re some kind of promotional genius, the hurdles of reaching the monthly point goals may prove too high to jump if you want to be paid a decent wage.
If you try it:
- Submit only one article at a time. I posted two proposals simultaneously, but that meant that I was spreading my chances too thin on social media. Instead of focusing my energies on promoting one article proposal, I diffused my chances for both stories by asking for backing for two proposals.
- Ask for the lowest fee you’re comfortable writing for. Many of the publications I write for pay $1 or $2 per word. I went into Contributoria thinking I should make that for my stories here too. And while possible, my social media networks aren’t large enough and I’m not glued to Twitter enough to garner enough points to pay me that kind of money.
- Post your article at the beginning of the month for the best chance. Proposals that reach their targets by the last day of the month are the ones that are commissioned and paid. If you post a proposal mid month, you are giving yourself that much less time to raise awareness and reach your point target.
Despite the hurdles, having an article commissioned on Contributoria still remains a goal for me. If you’re interested in reading and backing my proposals, please do so through the following links. It’s free! The only cost is two minutes of your time to sign up.