I’m not making this a very long post, as I’m up to my eyeballs in work these days, but I got an email from freelancer the other day. This isn’t unusual, as they’re particularly fond of sounding their own horns with a fevor usually reserved for vuvuzelas, but I’m more used to reading about silly little contests and the latest site they absorbed.
Now I’ve got that creeping feeling of being really taken advantage of, one I haven’t felt since I left e-Bay over their unconscionable ever-inflated fee structure. Apparently freelancer’s introducing what is essentially pay to play – where once the bids were ordered by time (i.e. first to bid showed up first), then number of ratings (fair in theory, but how can a beginner hope to be heard when some users have ratings in the hundreds and reply to -everything-?), now they are charging for the privilege of getting your bid first.
They’ve made similar moves to eBay’s comedy of errors, going so far as to introduce essentially nonsense features for real hard-earned money. Want to put highlighting on your bid? That’ll be $1. Want to take one of our tests to prove you know English, even though the timer totally gives you time to cheat/google – making it essentially worthless for actual assessment? That’ll be another $2. Want a special profile page to show off your portfolio? That’ll be $15 a month. Oh, and by the way, most of that’s on top of the 10% we take from every bid you win.
Now, if I’m understanding this crazy concept correctly, you put in a “bid” for how much you’re willing to pay to show up on top. Freelancer even helpfully tells you, much like eBay, how much more money you need to pay them to be on top. The top 3 bidders have to pay freelancer the amount they “bid”. The TOP bidder gets their money refunded when they accept and complete the project. The other two? Well, they’re just out of luck, aren’t they?
This structure is designed to invite a “bidding war” in which no one really wins except freelancer. They not only get to keep the ever-increasing bids from the two losers of the top 3, they get to keep, at the least, the money from the top bidder until he or she completes the project, and possibly forever if the project never goes to fruition. This is, of course, in addition to their normal fees.
My problem is this – being in the top spot hasn’t, and never will, guarantee you the job you’re bidding on. In reality, the first bidders in are usually foreign copy pools that dramatically underbid domestic writers and often have glaring spelling and grammatical errors in their bid text. The time difference gives them a leg up on US-based writers when jobs are posted at odd hours, but overall they will generally leap on just about anything posted. Employers don’t take something just because it’s at the top of a list – I’ve been 15th, or 20th and still grabbed jobs because I’m polite, well spoken, and I don’t mind following through. I bid only on jobs I want and can handle, not every blessed one that shows up on the site. This “bidding” system does nothing but take advantage of existing site users that are either disadvantaged by the shift to reviews-first sorting or aren’t of the right caliber to be seen and triumph on their own merit otherwise.
My mother always told me never to take a job that wanted you to spend money to start earning it – and unfortunately, it was bad faith actions like freelancer’s she was warning me against.