A Decade Of Contract Cheating – What Shape Is The Bespoke Essay Industry In Today?

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 7

This is the seventh in a 10 part series looking at the changing world of contract cheating that has emerged since the term was first publicised in a research paper and presentation in June 2006.


How Big Is The Essay Industry?

Although the term contract cheating was originally introduced to define the behaviour where students purchased assignments online from sites aimed at computing contractors, the term has since become synonymous with a much wider range of cheating. None of the contributors to contract cheating are more visible now than the burgeoning industry of essay writing and assignment production services, which state that they will deliver bespoke assessments to students, which can be submitted to beat any text matching software designed to detect plagiarism.

In this post, I want to look at how the current shape of this ever-changing essay industry and some of the mechanisms through which this can be estimated.

There are many estimates out there about just how big the essay industry is, including those circulated by the cheating industry itself.

The most common figure I’ve seen in 2016 has been that the essay industry raises £200 million GBP of annual revenue. That’s based on figures quoted by UK Essays owner Barclay Littlewood, dating back to interpolation following a 2006 interview that he gave to Guardian. I tend to use the phrase “tens of millions” for media work, but I have also spoken about the £200 million GBP figure, which has no doubt helped to lend it some credibility.

Other estimates are still alarming, but fall below £200 million GBP. In their 2014 paper “The Essay Industry“, Owings and Nelson calculated a bottom-line figure of $100 million USD per year (£75 million GBP based on the exchange rate in September 2016). This estimate was based largely on observing the turnaround time of essay orders. They also suggested that the $100 million USD figure could be higher still. In several places in the paper, they used cautionary and toned down their estimate. Although I do not completely agree with all of their assumptions regarding market capacity and standard pricing, if their interpretation is to be believed, a higher worth for the paper mill industry can be suggested.

In 2016, David Burton of Essay Writer told the Daily Telegraph the industry was worth £100 million GBP a year. This is a lower figure than Barclay Littlewood is associated with, but one that still looks credible.

An overall range of between £100 million GBP and £200 million GBP is certainly believable based on these sources.

In a June 2016 interview with the Daily Telegraph, one firm claimed that the average purchase from them was for £350 GBP. Although many buyers pay less than this, the average is no doubt increased through cross-sells, further editing to a sold essay, where requests are for large documents such as dissertations and where assignments are needed faster than standard turnaround times.

Using the £350 GBP average purchase price as a base line, for a business worth £100 million GBP per year, this would indicate that over 250,000 essays were sold. For a business worth £200 million GBP per year, this would indicate sales of over 500,000 essays.

Those estimates of the scale of the essay industry may be low. They focus solely on the revenue generated through traditional essay mill style writing services.

As previous work has indicated, students also use other services to have original work produced for them, such as private tutors.

They can also outsource their assignments to agency sites, such as Freelancer and Fiverr.com and potentially pay much lower rates than £350 GBP per essay.

So, if the financial figures are to be believed, the overall money in the essay industry is likely to be higher than stated above. The number of essays sold is also likely to be substantially more.

But how realistic are these numbers? In this article, I also want to consider other data available on the Internet that can help to understand the changing shape of the essay writing industry.


How Many Sizeable Essay Mills Are Out There?

One question that can be asked is, how many major essay mills are there that are currently trading?

There are some websites that provide lists of known essay mills. But, the quality of these lists is questionable.

A quick check of standard essay mill lists reveals many sites that are no longer functional. It shows other sites clinging to outdated design principles. This suggests that these essay mills have been largely abandoned.

There are essay sites listed that just sell collections of previously written essays. Each of these essays may have been outdated or may have been sold multiple times. As these did not strictly fall within the contract cheating definition of producing original work, it would not be sensible to consider these further.

One site found on a list of essay services still offered to fax orders for original work to students. Presumably, orders from this site would then need to be retyped, or could be handed in with tell-tale footers identifying the essay writing service. That also showed that outdated lists were not useful to consider.

Having rejected the use of current online lists of essay mills, I instead developed a two stage search process.

Stage 1 – I used multiple search methods to generate a list of around 1000 candidate essay mills.

Stage 2 – I analysed the reported traffic to the site (the number of recorded visitors) to produce a manageable list of essay mills that I considered sizeable.

More specifically, I completed Stage 1 of the essay mill identification process using the following methods:

Google search – using a privae incognito search and standard terms like “buy essay” and “write essay” to identifying high ranking matches. Paid Google Adwords matches were ignored. To expand the data, the term “USA” was also added to searches, although when searched for on the UK version of Google these still showed a heavy bias to UK domains (.co.uk etc). The term “essay” was kept here, even though often alternatives, such as “assignment” may be more appropriate now in many disciplines.

Well-known sites – I included sites that I was aware of that had received a large amount of publicity through the media or through offline advertising. Notable out of this process was that UK Essay, often considered the most prominent site to the UK media, did not rank at all for the Google search terms used.

Review sites – Some high ranking search engine matches turned out to be for review sites, those sites which seem to provide comparative reviews of different essay mills to help students to make a sensible choice. In reality, these sites tend to focus on the commission payments available when a student clicks through the review and places an order. The review site list was useful though. Following the links from the review site through a manual crawling process identified several further candidates essay mills for the main pool.

Similar sites – Sites generated using the above list were augmented by searching for them using similar site services. In particular, SpyFu and Alexa.com to look for sites aimed at the same target audience.

The Stage 1 search process used cannot be considered exhaustive, as not all search terms were analysed and some sites likely rank well only to specific audiences and may be targeted through geographical location or academic subject area. Other searches ended when their seemed to be no further likelihood of useful returns. For instance, Google searches revealed small and outdated sites, linked to sub-pages on larger sites, or listed sites that did not supply bespoke essays. Likewise, the similar site searches ended when these did not seem to be yielding any fresh results. Further, no attempt was made to focus on sites relying on paid traffic, or to use social searches or video searches to identify suitable parts of the essay industry.

For Stage 2 of the process, I took the filtered and manageable list of results from Stage 1 and analysed these through Wolfram Alpha to identify if the sites had sufficient traffic to be considered. Wolfram Alpha uses several factors to estimate the number of expected site visitors. These include looking at the overall volume of traffic on the Internet (a massive number) and the Alexa rank of the site in the question. This is a not a completely foolproof process, as some sites may have just referred traffic to another site. However, this process left exactly 20 sites of different sizes to be considered – a manageable number.


Analysing Visits To 20 Sizeable Essay Mills

The table below shows the 20 websites identified as sizeable, sorted from the most visits to the most visits.

There is a substantial difference in size between the sites, with the front-runner, UK Essays, supplying 78.7% of the total hits per month and 83.0% of the total unique visitors. UK Essays also had a much higher Alexa rank than the other sites identified. However, it does need to be stressed again that other high performing sites may be missing from the analysis, particularly including the equivalent of UK Essays in various non-UK markets.

hits per day visits per day Alexa rank
ukessays.com 230000 160000 30707
ultius.com 12000 6100 476259
oxbridgeessays.com 6000 5000 653796
essay.uk.com 5500 5000 665702
AustralianWritings.com 8000 2900 811333
NinjaEssays.com 8600 2900 819205
superiorpapers.com 3900 3600 905436
affordablepapers.com 4700 1200 1508607
unemployedprofessors.com 2700 890 1967075
grademiners.co.uk 2100 1100 2045010
speedyessay.co.uk 1100 1100 2231936
essayavenue.co.uk 1900 640 2703989
essaylab.org 720 720 3194829
smartwritingservice.com 1600 320 3859536
essaytigers.co.uk 500 500 4138470
essayempire.co.uk 720 360 4475596
rushessay.com 1700 140 5547748
buyessayonline.org 430 140 6233956
bestessay.com 220 220 6510717
royalessays.co.uk 36 36 8520884
 totals 292426 192866

Not of all of the traffic indicated will be from prospective customers. It may also include workers, for instance writers for the company aimed to find out what writing jobs are available and return the results.


Analysing Historical Changes To Online Essay Mill Visits

Rank2Traffic.com is a useful web property to visits to find out how the size of sites have changed over time.

The graph below, from Rank2Traffic.com, shows the past 7 years traffic history for UK Essays, including noting a substantial growth of the number of people accessing the site using mobile devices. UKEssays7YearsData

The data suggests that UK Essays has seen substantial growth since 2012. There are also noticeable traffic peaks in recent years around December and June time, presumably coinciding with UK coursework deadlines. Note that the Rank2Traffic.com data shows hits per month, compared to hits per day in the Wolfram Alpha data above and the traffic estimation methods used.

Basing further analysis solely on the shape of the graph, this suggests around a 10 times increase in overall UK Essays traffic between mid 2012 and mid 2016, or a 5 times increase if only desktop traffic is taken into account.

UK Essays itself claimed a 10% increase in business year-on-year in a June 2016 interview with the Daily Telegraph. They also claimed that they had 50 full time staff, including 20 people working in quality control and a full team of offsite freelance writers. This suggests a booming business, albeit one where the percentage of visitors to the UK Essays site who are buying original assignments is also declining. The large increase in the number of visitors using mobile devices may also be contributing to what appears to be a reduction in conversion rates.

One large group of essay writing sites attempting to attract affiliates suggests that the traffic they send will convert at 8%. That seems high, but may be true for that particular audience (the so-called warm traffic who have already been convinced to buy an essay by the referring site).

UK Essays themselves suggest that they had 16,000 paying customers in 2015. It is not clear if repeat customers are included within this calculation, or if there are further orders that need to be added to that total. This should equate to them making around 50 sales per day in 2016 if the business growth is consistent with what they have stated in previous years. Comparing this figure to the 160,000 visits per day estimated by Wolfram Alpha suggests that their conversion rate is 0.031% – a much lower conversion than the 8% suggested elsewhere.

I suspect that the conversion rate on a standard essay mill lies somewhere between the figures, but this is most likely nearer the lower end than the upper end, particularly where traffic is not pre-sold and closely targeted.

It may be interesting to consider that, even if conversion was only at 0.031% across the 20 sites selected, the traffic levels stated would indicate 21,823 sales per year across the 20 sites in the sample.

A standard price of £350 GBP per essay through this route would also suggest total business revenue of just £8 million GBP per year.

Both of the figures for the number of essays sold and the amount of revenue going through the industry are still substantial, but they are way below the values typically quoted in the media. It may be that the media figures are being inflated to make the industry seem more substantial than it is.


Thoughts About The Size Of The Essay Industry

The figures and estimates used in this article are crude and allow elements of this post have a scientific grounding, the estimates cannot be considered complete or scientific.

There is scope for a more thorough and scientific analysis of the shape of the essay industry.

For this to be more complete, this needs to analyse the different routes that students can use to get assignments produced for them and the typical size of orders through those routes. The pricing models used in the essay industry are varied and my feeling is that this will show a sizeable low end and higher end market for essay writing services.

A more complete method of estimating the number of large suppliers of essays is also needed, bearing in mind that many smaller websites are really just shells of larger websites (that is, they may be advertising the same supplier, but under a different name for marketing purposes).

Even my crude analysis indicates a lower bound of the size of the essay industry of £10 million GBP per year. Adding in the long-tail of essay orders through other routes, a value of £20 million GBP per year sounds likely and a value of £50 million per year would still fall within sensible scientific boundaries. But estimates of £100 million GBP per year and £200 million GBP per year look unlikely (and the idea that the business was at £200 million GBP in 2006 looks ludricious.

I’m happy to stick with my preferred quote that the essay market is annually selling “tens of millions”.


This article is part of a series of posts looking at the developments in contract cheating over the past 10 years. Take a look at the other parts of the 10 in 10 contract cheating series.

A Decade Of Contract Cheating – The Growth Of Essay Outsourcing To Fiverr.com

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 6

This is the sixth in a 10 part series looking at the changes that have surrounded contract cheating since the term was first publicised in a research paper and presentation in June 2006.


The Agency Site Model For Contract Cheating

When I first published and presented on contract cheating, the wider research centered around the agency site model, a visible process of auction, where students gave details of the work that they wanted completing and third parties bid financially to complete the work for them.

The agency site model is still visibly in operation, although it is now only one of a large number of ways that students are using to outsource their work.

In many cases, the agency site process is not as visible as it once was. Some requests for students to have essays written and assignments completed for them are now private, so that only the student can see the offers that they are receiving.

Essay mills have also started to use the agency site model. They solicit work from students at a set price, usually based on the number of pages, then use an internal competitive auction process, whereby their workers compete to be the lowest bidder and to “win” the opportunity to complete the work for the student.

Extending beyond the traditional work looking at Freelancer.com, Rentacoder.com and other agency sites, I’ve started to look at some of the more hidden services that students are using for contract cheating.


The Joys Of Fiverr.com

I’ve mentioned Fiverr in several of my talks and indeed first recorded a video looking at the ease of contract cheating through Fiverr.com back in 2012.

Since that time, the amount of cheating going on through Fiverr.com has grown substantially.

Like many other agency sites that students are using for contract cheating, at the face of it, Fiverr.com operates under a legitimate business model. Fiverr is a site where workers advertise services that they are willing to complete for $5 USD and up. When the site first launched, all Fiverr services were $5 USD each, but changes to the market have led to sellers being able to charge more to add further components to the order or to provide faster delivery.

Many of the offers available are useful or humorous. You can hire someone at the other side of the world to sing Happy Birthday to you over the Internet, or get a graphic designer to develop a new business logo. But offers for academic work are also visible across the site.

A search of Fiverr.com for the term “essay writing” shows 821 different offers matching this search term. An example showing the first screen of returned search results is included below:


All of the top matches are clear examples of contract cheating, with advertising like “I will professionally write your essay“, “I will offer academic writing services“, an offer to “do math” and the statement “I will write a 600 word history related essay“. On Fiverr.com, as begun to be the case elsewhere, niche advertising of subjects and specialities is visible. The image provided by one advertiser promises 2 1/2 hour delivery.

A more detailed analysis of the 821 results also shows some offers of the related areas of proof reading and essay tutoring. Despite this, it is clear that most of the 921 results are from individual writers and writing agencies. A quick look at the more detailed adverts for the 12 sellers shown in the image shows offers of “plagiarism-free work” and several with substantial numbers of previous reviews (the highest being 296 reviews). This suggests that the volume of contract cheating going through Fiverr.com is substantial.

821 providers is also likely to be an underestimate of the capacity available to help student cheating that is available on Fiverr.com. Other searches, such as a look for “term papers” provide further results, as do requests for “assignments“, as well as more specialist subject terms like “computer programming“. As with many contract cheating providers, there are also offers to provide PowerPoint slides for student presentations, to attend online tests and exams on behalf of the student and even services aimed at time-stretched academics and researchers.


Beyond The Surface Of Contract Cheating On Fiverr.com

As well as the visible adverts for contract cheating services on Fiverr.com, the site also operates an alternative approach using the agency model that was prominently seen in my earlier contract cheating research.

Buyers on the site can put in a request for a task that they’d like completing. They get a series of personalised offers sent back to them. Observations suggest that these are for much lower prices than traditional essay mills would charge.

I decided to put the deeper contract cheating opportunities available on Fiverr.com to the test.

In 2015, I took part in a contract cheating investigation with the Fake Britain TV programme, shown on BBC1. One of the essay writing firms also has this conveniently archived on their site. although it’s not appropriate for me to link to it from here.

The TV programme contracted out a variant on one of my previous assignments (a 1500 to 2000 word literature review) to see how easy this assignment would be to cheat on. After a £275 payment, the TV programme received a professionally formatted document. This process took just three days. And, as the quote from me which was used on TV attests, I saw this as a good piece of work and worth a mark of around 65%.

I also ran the literature review through Turnitin. There was no evidence of unoriginality, which is the benefit of hiring a third party writer. There were a few small indications that this was produced by a non-native English speaker, but in the world of anonymous marking and where imperfections in work would be expected, this would not be likely to raise any alarm bells.

That particular assignment of mine is now retired (and actually already had a few differences to the ones I’d used in class to make it more TV friendly). I’ve never reused assignments anyway. What I have done is to follow student behaviour and use Fiverr.com to get price quotes for completing the same assignment. Like students requesting work do today, I deliberately provided only an overview of the assignment, along with a request for academic sources and that the work should be plagiarism free. I also used the offers already visible on the site to suggest what I thought would be an appropriate price point ($20 USD). I also asked for a three day turnaround to model the time taken by the TV investigation.

Even as a long-standing researcher in the field, the results I received back still surprised me!


16 Direct Contract Cheating Offers

Requests for custom orders on Fiverr.com are sent out directly to likely workers. These workers then have the opportunity to provide a custom quotation (a pricing bid) to complete the work. Some workers go further and also provide an associated pitch about why they should be chosen. As you may expect, a lot more information about the prospective hire can also be viewed, including their profile page, previous review comments and the details of the standard services that they advertise they are providing.

The number of custom responses provided is limited to the first people to reply. I believe that the maximum is 15 custom offers. One worker actually provided me with two offers (with different pricing depending on how quickly I wanted my custom paper back), so I consider that 16 personalised offers from 15 providers. Although I didn’t monitor exactly how long it took to receive the offers, all of the slots were filled within a few hours (not a huge surprise to me due to the essay writing capacity visible on Fiverr.com).

The 16 offers received had fees ranging from $5 USD to $50 USD, with an average (mean) of $25.59 USD. 9 of the 16 offers (56.25%) came in at exactly the $20 USD price point that I’d suggested.

The turnaround times offered were between 1 and 3 days. 5 of the 16 offers (31.25%) also included free revisions in their pricing, with 2 of the 16 (12.5%) offering unlimited revisions. Although the other providers did not complete the revisions field, the escrow system in use at Fiverr.com means that the worker does not receive the money until they have delivered a satisfactory service, so an element of protection and an expectation of revisions already exists.

The providers who responded were spread around the world, with their stated countries including Australia, India, Pakistan, Kenya and the United States. Those largely match the expected demographics of essay providers as seen in previous studies. Although the majority of the unique bidders (6 out of 15, 40%) stated that they were in the United States, this also has to be viewed with caution. Advertising a US presence could also be seen as a good marketing ploy and there appear to be ways to get Fiverr accounts approved at the same time as hiding a real country of origin. In one of these US advertised cases, the associated English did not seem to me to be that of a native speaker.

4 of the 15 bidders (26.7%) provided personalised text along with their offer, focusing on the pricing or assignment details. A further 2 out of the 15 bidders (13.3%) filled in that field, but the text did not clearly relate to the project (for instance, one of these was offering to provide web content, rather than academic work). This likely shows workers who are quickly bidding for a large number of opportunities.

One area that may be of particular concern is that 2 of the 15 bidders (13.3%) making personalised offers also said that they would provide the Turnitin report for their work. There is a black market operating that provides access to Turnitin and which adds another big selling point to the arsenals of custom paper writers.

A closer examination of the profiles of the bidders revealed several with excellent credentials. On average, they had 21.4 reviews for previous work, including one provider with 136 reviews and claiming to hold an MBA. Another advertised their specialisation as writing medical and nursing papers. One provider advertised themselves as working in academia in a research field. Another pushed their use of up-to-date sources (as older sources can ring alarm bells in some academic fields). A further worker offered to send samples of the academic work that they were currently completing for others, something that may be of concern to anyone currently hiring them and expecting anonymity.

Only 12 out of the 15 unique bidders (80%) advertised essay writing work on their profile. The others bid for the work but did not already offer it. This suggests that the number of workers available to write essays on Fiverr.com may be much higher than those who are actively advertising to do so.


Should Fiverr.com Be Of Concern To The Academic Communities Interested In Contract Cheating?

This initial look at the contract cheating taking place on Fiverr.com has revealed another large section of the contract cheating market that has quietly begun operating.

Several of the people bidding to complete the literature review for me looked suitable for hire, having good credentials, proof of having delivered to previous customers and low price points (a fraction of the amount paid to an essay mill in the previous study with Fake Britain).

Although I have not had the work completed, the indicators are that there are several writers able to produce high quality work. It may also be the case that the writers students are able to directly connect with here would otherwise be working as the backbone of an essay mill.

A big lesson here is that the contract cheating industry is continuing to evolve. Although some companies charge relatively high prices and can profit off the back of students, there are other emerging technologies that connect students directly with writers and agencies for much lower costs.

There is no easy way to detect contract cheating using Fiverr.com, so this is where continued work on preventative approaches to contract cheating is needed.


This article is part of a series of posts looking at how the contract cheating world has changed over the past 10 years. Take a look at the other parts of the 10 in 10 contract cheating series here


A Decade Of Contract Cheating – Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism – Identifying The Usage Of Contract Cheating Sites Video

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 5

This is the fifth in a 10 part series looking at the developments in contract cheating since the term was first used in a research paper and presentation in June 2006.

In this post, I want to explore further the development of the issues from my very first conference presentation on contract cheating. I’ve previously provided a slide summary of the Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism talk.

This video blog post explores the issues further, with the level of discussion that’s always hard to include in a written blog post.

One of the areas I pick up in the video ties in well to other discussions in this series, where it looks at the ways in which the marketing of contract cheating sites has changed. You can see several examples from sites from 10 years ago, as well as what they look like know. It’s interesting to see how similar marketing improvements have made their way across the contract cheating sector.

You can follow this link to see the other parts of the 10 in 10 contract cheating series.

A Decade Of Contract Cheating – Eliminating The Successor To Plagiarism – Identifying The Usage Of Contract Cheating Sites

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 4

In this presentation style post, I want to look back at very birth of contract cheating, taking as inspiration the first major talk that I delivered.

Like many of my earlier talks, the slides are not archived online (and the style in which I deliver talks and produce slides has rather changed since then, so that’s probably a good thing).

You can see the slides for the review style presentation on contract cheating on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.


The slides look at the issues surrounding the sites that then existed to sell and archive ready-produced essays. That was an issue then and such sites still exist today, but that type of cheating is much easier to spot now.

Where things have really changed is with the development of sites to produce original work for students. The original paper focus on Rentacoder demonstrated several findings that are still seminal to this field, including the use of contract cheating sites across a whole variety of subjects and types of assignments, as well as this behaviour being repeated and habitual. Although the main supply sites have changed, those findings still inform current research.

There is also some disappointment to be had by the fact that the research field still hasn’t really developed solutions to the contract cheating problem. Although awareness of these sites has developed across staff, awareness has also increased across students, so the access to cheating opportunities for students seems easier.

A decade on, there is certainly scope for more quantitative work on contract cheating, but it is towards the solutions where most attention should be devoted.

The various developments in the past 10 years of contract cheating are covered throughout the 10 in 10 contract cheating series.

A Decade Of Contract Cheating – The Demand For Essay Writing Jobs

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 3

This is the third in a 10 part series looking at how contract cheating has changed since the term was first publicised in a research paper and presentation in June 2006.


The Academic Job Market

One of the lesser spoken about developments in contract cheating has been the emergence of a whole group of writers who are willing to create original work for students.

On the face of it, academic writing services (as these are commonly known), do not look to offer the most appealing employment prospects. The work can be repetitive and includes long periods sat in front of a computer screen. The work is seasonal and demand unpredictable. And, this work is helping students to cheat, an area which should raise ethical concerns for anyone involved in the industry.

So, why do people complete assignments for others and how in demand really is this work? This contract cheating blog post sets out to explore what’s involved.


Who Writes Essays For Other Students?

Although, this used to be an industry that operated behind closed doors, nowadays writers seem much happier talking to academics and the media about what they do and why, as well as publishing their own blog posts (and even books) about their involvement in the industry,

Here are profiles of just a few of the types of people involved in writing essays and preparing bespoke assignments for students,

  1. The Accidental Essay Writer
    There are examples all over the Internet of people who have signed up for online writing jobs, expecting to be writing feature articles or web content, only to discover that most of the work was academic in nature. Other people have signed up looking to deliver tutorial services, only to find that most of the work was actually doing all of the work for students.
    Vic Boyd tells one such story in the Times Higher Education, talking about a website opportunity she was offered that stated “Develop your academic writing career online!” It turned out to involve writing work for students.
  2. The Business Opportunist
    The money involved in writing academic work for students can be good, particularly for writers who are skilled enough to identify assignment types that they can turn around quickly and achieve a high wage for.
    The Shadow Scholar, Ed Dante, for instance talked about making more than $66,000 USD a year as a ghostwriter for student work (and later published a book and a series of blog posts about his academic ghostwriting experience).
    Others have discussed how writing work for students is one of the most lucrative forms of writing jobs out there.
  3. The “Would Rather Be An Academic”
    An unusual culture of writer has developed who state that they would have preferred a lecturing position, including people with PhDs.
    Their academic writing work may then have come about through necessity.
    One such online quote, which also expresses the money available, says:

    I write for an essay mill. The pay can be really good, $50 for an hours work? Ok! Got my PhD in history, but the schools chose to cut jobs and create online courses.

    BBC Radio 4 featured an interview with a UK academic ghostwriting (a summary is available here). He expressed that he was offering this service as revenge for not being able to obtain an academic position.

  4. The UK Graduates
    Several examples have emerged of graduates from a UK degree then moving overseas to their home country and offering assignment production services. They would take the skills that they’d developed during their degree and would hence be in demand.
    The article, A Close Encounter With Ghost-Writers, explores several such cases. It also identifies very qualified writers, such as those with doctorates and those with experience teaching in higher education – all areas that I’ve explored in my own research.
  5. The Career Writers
    One of the most concerning developments is the set of writers who look at this as a valuable career path.
    On the face of it, academic writing for students can be a good profession. There’s flexibility to work from home and to not need to keep set hours. It can fit around other responsibilities. It is brain work, rather than manual work. And, there is the potential to earn well for people who know who to identify the correct links.
    But, most of the ghostwriters that I’ve identified in this field seem to be more the equivalent of web content writers. That means, they’re like those people who turn out multiple low quality blog posts every hour, receiving only a few dollars back for a day’s work.
    One such site which helps people to find writing jobs states the likely wage that they’ll receive as an academic writer:

    During the low season the CPP (cost per page) can go as low as $2 – $5, but during the peak season depending on the level of your account, the CPP can go as high as $10 – $20

    From my observations, the lower end of that pay scale is a much more common pay rate for writers, particularly for those in developing economies or whom English is not their first language. A page is approximately 275 words, so writing can cost under 1c per word.
    Still, rates such as these can be considered high in many economies, particularly where work of any kind is in short supply. I’ve even seen examples where freelance workers have asked not to be paid more, for fear that it could bring unwanted attention to them.

Would You “Pay To Work” As An Academic Writer?

A further interesting development is the market in people helping others to get academic writing jobs.

Much of this is financially driven. I’ve seen examples of all of the following ways of making money from other writers:

  • commissions on writer earnings by referring writers to a site
  • paid training packages, showing writers how to pass essay site tests, or how to writers essay in the form that sites like
  • services to take the entrance tests required to get accounts on writing sites
  • services to hide the location of writers, so they can get around location restrictions (for instance, none native writers trying to get the rates advertised for natives)

There are whole online communities where writers discuss the different essay industry providers and try to identify which sites are the best to work for.

A whole black market in developing and selling accounts for essay writing firms has also developed, aimed at those writers who can’t easily get their own accounts.

Although much of this is done through private communities, there are some examples visible on public sites, such as Facebook.


As the image shows, the range of accounts available is huge, covering many popular academic freelancing sites, some of which even have an account balance waiting to be withdrawn. This particular example is largely for the writing market in Kenya, one of many locations where writing jobs are sought after.

The rates for buying writing accounts such as these are not cheap, ranging from anything from $100 USD at the lower end, to $1000 USD for established accounts at the upper end. That would take some time to pay back at the bottom end rate of $2 USD per page. There is also always the risk of accounts being shut down once transferred, particularly if the new owner receives poor feedback.


Should We Address The “Writing Providers” For The Essay Industry?

These are just a few examples of the power behind the online writing industry, particularly when it’s accompanied with many more writers than are ever needed for the demand that is out there. Indeed, there are workers who have complained about the internal competition within the writing industry bringing wages down.

I’ve only included a few examples of the types of writers completing assessment for students here. There are many more examples in the recent talks and keynotes that I’ve delivered.

Indeed, the whole field of who writes what and why is much more complicated than this. I’ve observed a writer online who only likes to take on high level work at MSc or PhD level as he relishes the intellectual challenge. I’ve also spoken to a writer who is happy to complete work on a variety of subjects, regardless if he has any personal experience, but draws the line at subjects that causes him ethical concerns, such as nursing.

Nevertheless, there is good work available for writers who understand the marketing side of the business, how to develop student links and how to charge more for the work that they’re doing.

From an academic perspective, we need to be continuing to address all sections of this writing business. How can we identify the low-end writers who turn out continual turn-key type assessments, but clearly do enough to pass? And, how can we make producing high end assignments impossible, even though there is a lot of money moving around here, so clearly incentives from the writing side for this to continue?

The essay industry continues to be a complex beast.


This article is part of a series of posts looking at the developments in contract cheating over the past 10 years. Take a look at the remaining parts of the 10 in 10 contract cheating series here


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