High-End Business Model Helps Freelancer Thrive

Jonathan Blum’s love affair with the Internet is long gone. The freelancer, who has a regular column for TheStreet.com and who writes for such outlets as Entrepreneur Magazine, was an early and prolific blogger and eventually built up a high-volume content flow on his web site, which led to paying gigs and a lucrative career.

At the peak, he and writers to whom he outsourced were producing 150,000 to 200,000 words a year.

“I experimented with everything, algorithms, off-shoring,” he says. “I drank the Kool-Aid. I thought, I will become an expert in all these efficiencies; I’ll become so good at being this cloud-based newsroom.”

So much for that. After the financial crisis, Blum took a good look at what he was doing and decided to go the other way, radically.

“None of it scales. You can’t stay ahead of the curve,” he said. “Once the crash really came along, in 2010 … I pumped a lot of money in,” he said. “I had to hire writers to keep up the traffic. People would just steal it. It became a really, really expensive PR mechanism.”

His response? He retooled his content shop to focus on producing top-quality work for select clients. He is spending a lot more time marketing (often pitching by phone) to those high-paying outlets.

Rather than focusing on volume, his web site, www.blumsday.com, is a brochure for his service.

Free content is a pr tool, he says, not the end in itself.

Blum now has five writers who work with him as independent contractors. “We are absolutely, utterly on the high end,” he says. “Our goal is to win as many Pulitzer prizes every year. We hope to hold on to our premiums.”

He pays a decent rate: Interns make $10 an hour; writers make in the $40-an-hour range. When Blum lands an assignment, they share in the work. For instance, a recent project for Microsoft meant Blum reporting from India, another writer ghostwriting, and a fact-checker helping out.

“Think of us as an on-demand technology commentary and enterprise story team,” says the web site.

Revenue is less than $1 million a year, but Blum says, “I’ve never made more money. Last year we had a record year.”

Not that he believes the future is assured.

“I personally believe the Internet economy will be seen as a classic American mistake, like Prohibition,” he says.

The volume of bad content being poured onto the Internet via social media outlets eventually may overcome any advantage of quality that professional writers bring to the table, he says.

Like him, we’re hoping that’s not the case.

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