Michigan Teen Made Viral Buzzfeed Quizzes For Free. Now She’s Cashing In

She also has freelance gigs writing quizzes with media companies on both coasts; a professional publicist, who sits in on her interviews; and a summer internship with USA Today, which, like the Free Press, is part of Gannett and is based in McLean, Virginia.

But more than authoring a book that will retail for $16 and her clever online quizzes, the fresh-faced Grand Valley State University sophomore is part of a bigger debate about the power of the internet.

The discussion she inadvertently spurred has raised questions about the role of unpaid folks, like her, at media companies that generate revenue from their labor and who ultimately may be displacing paid workers.

It’s hardly a new debate, especially in a high-tech age.

Waze, a Google-owned navigation app, relies on thousands of unpaid volunteers to help fine-tune its maps. And there are even advice articles telling business owners how to slice payroll, like this one on the American Express website: “How to Get People to Work for Cheap (or Free).”

Estimates of how much McMahon helped BuzzFeed make have ranged from about $200,000, BuzzFeed’s estimate, to as much as $3.8 million, about 1 percent of the company’s revenue for 2018.

“Digital life, like life in general, has positive and negative aspects,” said Karen McDevitt, a Wayne State University instructor on new media. “Economically, digital media has not really found a sustainable business model. It’s based on virality.”

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