Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is About to Lose Their Author Base?

Note: This post has been edited upon receipt of several emails from Helium staffer Stephanie Silverstein. See notes below in red where applicable.

With popular 'knowledge site' blindsiding their authors with massive changes right before Christmas, many of the site's freelance writers are looking for other websites that might give them a better deal for their 400+ word informational articles.

Let’s take a look at how Helium has changed over the past few years. The site was originally set up to allow multiple articles to be written to a particular title, and members of the community 'rated' articles in pairs to organize them (hopefully with the best articles ending up on top of the heap).

The payments offered were revenue share only, and articles could never be deleted, but the authors were welcome to publish them elsewhere, having only given Helium ‘non-exclusive rights’.

The first major change came when stars were instituted. Each writer now had a ‘writing grade’, which was based on how many articles they had written plus their average ranking for each article compared to others in its title.

Upfront payments were also offered, with 50 cents being awarded for each writing star an author possessed. This was soon revised to enforce a 'first five' rule, meaning that only the first five writers to post to a title obtained an upfront.

Those who wrote the very first article to an empty title received an extra dollar as an ‘empty title bonus’. Many ‘five star’ writers began to achieve considerable monthly earnings at $3.50 per article written to an ‘empty’, plus ad revenue from their rapidly growing portfolios.

In addition to these earning possibilities, Helium also ran contests, and brought in outside buyers to post projects on the ‘Marketplace’. Multiple writers could submit articles; any the buyer did not select and pay for would ‘transition’ to the main site with a ‘kill fee’ from Helium based on the author’s writing stars.

Writers gave up all rights to articles sold to these outside buyers. They retained ownership of the articles which ‘transitioned’, granting Helium only non-exclusive rights as before. In rare cases, articles would not transition, and would be returned unpaid for to the author who could publish them elsewhere.

Helium’s latest change has undercut the basis of their former program and left writers floundering. Upfront payments have been discontinued for titles on the main site. The second, fourth and fifth writing stars are rendered irrelevant, with the first and third stars allowing access to certain marketplace projects.

A handful of staff and volunteers have been charged with filling the marketplace with several thousand titles a month - most of which are product or 'how to' oriented and designed to attract large advertisers. Silverstein says that they plan to offer a wide range of titles and they just haven't had time to load them all yet.

Anyone who submits an article to these titles agrees to hand over exclusive rights to Helium - meaning authors can’t use the material anywhere else, ever. The top article (as graded by staff and volunteers and ratings, says Silverstein) will receive a small payment of $0-5. The next four will receive a $0-3 payment. Yes, those ranges start at ‘$0’. Silverstein says that the ones marked $0 will not have exclusive rights taken. Silverstein says "We expect the top end to be much higher; currently, we anticipate the range of $2-$15 for selected articles and $1-$10 for non-selected articles that transition. " As of this update, three titles have been added at $15/10, four have been added $10/7, and five at $8/5.

The chosen articles will transition to Helium proper, and also receive ad revenue. The rest of the articles will transition and receive no upfront, but will receive ad revenue. (correction...?: Silverstein says "No article would transition without earning an upfront payment or transition credit unless it was submitted to a title listed for a $0 upfront payment." Comments made on the Helium boards indicate any article not chosen for an upfront payment will either (A) transition and be eligible for ad revenue without exclusive rights being taken by Helium; or (B) will not transition and will be deleted with all rights retained by the writer. Apparently the most articles rewarded with an upfront or transition payment in a title will be five - one at top rate of pay, and four at the lesser rate.) Once an article is submitted to marketplace, the author cannot refuse the payment offered and take back rights to their article.

What does this mean for five star Helium writers? Instead of a $3.50 guaranteed payment, they must cross their fingers and hope their article is selected for an upfront, which unless they ‘win’ the contest like setup, will max out at $3 (correction: max is now $10 for a non 'winning' $15 article) and could be much less.

Helium’s reaction to writer outrage has been condescending (from the point of view of this writer and many Helium members who have spoken out on the boards and elsewhere or contacted this writer directly.). “Trust us!” has been the main mantra, along with “Everyone will make more money off ad revenue - stop being greedy.” Writers disagree, and many feel unable to write effectively to the range of titles presented - which they say lean heavily towards product reviews and away from true ‘knowledge titles’.

A quick scan of the marketplace reveals numerous financial / business titles such as 'how to use market intelligence to enhance supply chain management', as well as plenty of technical titles, pet titles, video gaming titles, auto repair based titles such as 'how to change a power steering pump', and controversial health titles including 'link between chemicals in cosmetics and ADD' as well as pharmaceutical titles. (Again, Silverstein promises a wider range will be available soon, stating: "Our current or first pass is probably not a great example set.")

Be that as it may.... Many writers are either disgusted at the narrow range of titles offered, insulted by the low payments proffered for exclusive rights, or offended at being forced into a ‘contest’ for upfront payments after having already proven themselves on Helium’s platform.

Many Heliumites are looking for a new place to earn money - and even channel managers are walking away, vowing to limit their future Helium participation to 'rating only' in order to continue receiving ad revenue. These members say they can get a better deal on upfronts elsewhere, like AC (recently acquired by Yahoo Contributors Network).

Note - This was originally written not in first person. Since I've been directly contacted by a Helium employee and assured that my input is important to them, I'll add some commentary here.

I won't recant what I said about the condescension showed on the boards. I was appalled by some of the stuff that was posted by mods and volunteers against writers who questioned the system. I'm still not impressed with the marketplace titles yet, either - I feel a grave mistake was made in rolling this massive change out half baked and on the weekend with obviously incapable forum mods and volunteers left to address the fallout.

(I just received another email from Silverstein stating the announcement was made on Thursday and they thought that would give them plenty of time to address all issues. I don't know about others but I received my official email at Friday, 4 PM EST, just before close of business for the weekend at

I firmly believe that this would have run much more smoothly IF a competent person had been asked to prepare a post to accurately address anticipated questions and concerns, IF Helium STAFF had been present in force to provide CORRECT answers to questions, IF the change hadn't been introduced on a WEEKEND at the beginning of December, IF the marketplace had been fully ready to go and organized, and IF the ability to propose titles to the new MP had been in place.

We'll see. I consider myself fairly unbiased because I am not as invested in Helium; I'm a full-time professional freelance writer and I don't do rev share sites as a rule - Helium was a springboard for me rather than a home as it has become to so many.

Next week: Alternatives to


  1. Interesting read. One a personal note, any change is hard to swallow, especially when the previous version worked well for you. I will have to take a wait and see attitude. In this field, I have learned that nothing is ever permanent and it is always best to have your keyboard involved in many arenas.

  2. Very informative...much more so than the email I received from Helium explaining the new changes. As Veronica suggested, I suppose we will all have to take a "wait and see" attitude. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more even tweaks to the payment system in Helium's future.

  3. I don't trust this new system. From the moment I received the change email I got a bad feeling. Things were good as they were, so why try to fix something that isn't broken.

  4. As a former "channel steward" and Helium writer, I just hope that others are not so easily swayed by the empty promises they are making. I was banned from the boards, when I was trying to get clarification, as were others.

  5. I told you so two years ago that it will NOT last and that Helium is basically dishonest!

  6. I became disillusioned with Helium when I became a steward and got a glimpse behind the scenes - suffice to say I felt Helium was not being honest with its writers then (that was over two years ago). I lost all confidence that Helium would be fair to its members, and so it has proved.

    I'm so glad I made the move then, because once I got up the courage to venture outside Helium, I found that several other revenue-sharing sites paid much better, while allowing you to keep all rights to your articles. To any Helium writers unsure what to do, I say - get out there and explore the alternatives, like Hubpages, Infobarrel and BrightHub.

  7. Hey you hacks! I totally came up with the idea to start a Hack Writer's Guild this morning, just googled it to make sure there weren't a million, and you're on top of the list.

    You got the name, you got the blog, and the google search top of the pile. Why in the living FUCK haven't any of you pinheads posted anything since 2010? Everyone got a job? You all quit drinking? Come on. If you're done with the name let it go and delete your presence so someone with ambition and just a little touch of vision can have it.