I’ve used contributed and/ or free content before. But, it brings it’s own set of difficulties. Before you jump into this, thinking how much easier your life will be consider the following:
1) Unless you want content geared to website promotion, you may be out of luck. The main topic of free content is about site promotion, one way or another. This is changing, slowly. As you find articles to use the well will run dry. Eventually you may find you are spending more time looking for fresh content than it would have taken to write it yourself. If you do find a good writer this way, keep in contact and ask if they have other articles you could use.
2) People who post to free content sites don’t always read the rules. I’ve had authors demand I stop using their content. Some claimed it had expiry dates, some claimed the full article was never meant to be used, just a teaser with a link back to their own site. One expected me to change the format of my pages to suit her article. Before you use a free content site, read the rules, be aware of them. Before using any free content send an email to the writer. Give them an outline of how the content will be used, keep it short and simple.
3) Formatting is hell. Do I need to elaborate? If you have ever cut and pasted a large body of text to a site you are familiar with the backspace and up and down keys on your keyboard. The most aggravating part of using content which you cut and paste from another site is making it fit into your own site’s layout. Yes, this is a small thing but over time it is seriously aggravating. Ask if all contributed content can be sent to you in plain text files. You can at least hope.
4) Grammar, punctuation and spelling. I’m not a dictionary myself but I try to learn from my mistakes, I proofread and I run spellcheck. I don’t understand why everyone who writes can’t do the same. But, you may find yourself editing a lot of contributed content.
I’m not against using free or contributed content but it’s not the perfect answer to filling up your zine with greatness. On the plus side, you won’t be the only one talking. It is good to have more than your own voice, ideas and experiences. It’s great to have something you can rely on when you’re pressed for time, out of ideas or just don’t want to write. Making contacts and networking is another plus. But, it’s not all free and easy. Be aware of the pitfalls.