5 Ways to Make Money With Amazon Mechanical Turk

By Xin Lu on 19 July 2010 (Updated 18 July 2011) 7 comments

The Amazon Mechanical Turk or MTurk is a service that was created so that those who need work done can hire thousands of human workers for much less than minimum wage. Each task is called a HIT and it can be as simple as clicking a link and as complex as writing an entire computer program. If you are a worker in the system you will not be compensated very well, but there are quite a few ways the work requesters are profiting from this service.

1. Transcription Company

There are several transcription companies that are quite active on MTurk. They pay the MTurk workers or "Turkers" less than 50 cents for each minute of transcription and sell the end results to various clients. They do control for quality, but the profit margin on these transcriptions is at least 50% to 70% by my calculations. If you have the connections to start a transcription company or just need some transcription done then MTurk would be a great place to source your workers.

2. Content Sourcing

Many requesters seem to be building content sites and they are getting their content for dirt cheap on MTurk. Quality is an issue, but then the same requesters just have more MTurk workers do quality checks on the results they receive. It's quite funny, but I have to admit that it is effective. If you want to get a slew of cheap content fairly quickly then MTurk may be the place to go. The different types of content I have seen vary from polls, quizzes, questions and answers, and articles. Theoretically you could also build a trivia game.

3. Research

There are many research projects conducted on MTurk. Some of the companies that do research on MTurk in turn sell their research results for a profit, and some are actually university researchers who are doing a project. Either way, MTurk is a good source of willing participants for research. When I was in college I often see labs pay research subjects $10 an hour or more just to answer some questions, but now on MTurk researchers can get subjects for as little as 5 cents each.

4. Data Collection and Mining

There are many tasks that ask people to find information. For example, there are batches of jobs that ask for the email address or contact information of certain politicians. Other jobs ask for the email addresses of college financial aid offices. With thousands of people collecting data the jobs are done much faster.

5. Art

The Sheep Market is a quirky project done by Aaron Koblin. Basically, he commissioned 10,000 sheeps facing left on MTurk for 2 cents a piece. The end result was quite fascinating and some of the Turkers actually drew very complex sheep. Now the sheep are selling for $20 a piece and the art piece has been exhibited internationally. If he sells all the sheep he would have made a profit of 100000%.

If you are not in the mood to systematically profit from MTurk, then you could always do a few HITs for a few cents. You do have to be careful not to do the tasks posted by scammers, and these are detailed in a post at the Turker Nation forums. In my research for this article I did a variety of paying tasks and I have to admit that I actually learned quite a few things even though my effective hourly wage was below $2. Many of the tasks are great for people who are bored and want to earn a tiny bit of money. I am thinking of designing some tasks and hiring some Turkers to build something profitable. I'm not quite sure what I would do yet, but the possibilities are endless. What is your idea for using this service?

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Guest's picture
Tai

When I first saw the title of this article, I thought, oh, maybe there is a way that I can increase my payout. Apparently there is not.

Mturk is a big, big waste of time for its users, and I say that as someone who makes $400 off it every year by doing about $1 worth of work a day (which could take 30 minutes to an hour of my day). The ways you describe of "making money" actually cost the workers. I imagine a lot of companies, like CastingWords, could make plenty of money even if they charged $1 per HIT.

Thanks for educating companies and researchers on how to bilk people who are using Mturk to scrape by. I appreciate it.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Well the whole point of this article is that the only way you do profit from MTurk is to make use of the cheap labor you can get. If you are doing the MTurk tasks to scrape by then it's not an effective way to make money.

Guest's picture

I use MTurk strictly to make a little money to use when I buy stuff off of Amazon. I usually do simple tasks (find an email address, take a poll, some simple data entry, etc) and make a few dollars. I never expected to get rich off the site but it's always nice to have a few extra dollars off an Amazon order!

Guest's picture
Guest

This is very depressing. I'm very disappointed to have a WB author encouraging people to take advantage of other people's desperation. "Well the whole point of this article is that the only way you do profit from MTurk is to make use of the cheap labor you can get." Following this life view, the only thing better would be to find a country that still allows slavery and set up a business there. I feel sorry for anyone who can live with themselves with this philosophy.

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David W

On the other hand, WB is urging you to take hold of the entrepreneurial spirit and take advantage of any tools that may be beneficial to you. I read somewhere that most MTurk users are international anyway, in which case the income earned from it may be relatively more substantial. Besides, I thought the get-rich-quick working online schemes died away long ago?

Guest's picture

MTurk can be a great way to put some extra cash in your pocket. Amazon, however, doesn't regulate the site enough so just be aware of some job scams out there waiting to rip you off.

Guest's picture
George

I have used mturk to earn some money. However i can not cash it because mturk doesn't send payments to my country bu i can exchange it for a Amazon gift cad and buy something.