If you’ve looked into ways to make money online, you’ve almost certainly come across Amazon Mechanical Turk. MTurk is perhaps the most reviewed micro-task site.
Team Clark decided to put this flexible job opportunity to the test.
Thousands of Americans earn money each day by completing HITs, or Human Intelligence Tasks, via MTurk. Businesses submit HITs to the website. Workers sift through the long list of small jobs to accept and submit them for payment.
In this article, I’ll examine what starting as an MTurk worker looks like in 2021, whether it’s worth grinding through the early stage pains, how much money you can make with MTurk and what types of tasks you can perform.
Table of Contents
- What Is Mechanical Turk and How Does It Work?
- What You Need To Know About MTurk
- Amazon Mechanical Turk: Scripts & Community Resources
- MTurk Pros
- MTurk Cons
- FAQs About MTurk
What Is Mechanical Turk and How Does It Work?
|Hourly wages||Pennies to $10+|
|Payout methods||Cash, gift cards|
|Pay periods||3, 7, 14 or 30 days|
Created by Amazon in 2005, Mechanical Turk allows independent contractors to earn money by completing small tasks known as HITs.
Amazon named MTurk after a chess-playing “machine” in the 1800s that concealed a living chess master. The initial concept posited that humans are better than computers, or artificial intelligence, in completing some online tasks.
Amazon Mechanical Turk charges requesters (anyone who wants to job out a task to MTurk workers) a fee of at least 20%.
I reviewed MTurk over a two-week period. The HITs I saw paid as little as $0.01 and as much as $18. There appeared to be several hundred thousand HITs available at any given time.
Workers in the United States and India can earn cash from MTurk. Everyone else has to receive their earnings through Amazon gift cards.
Legitimate Work From Home Opportunity: What You Need To Know About MTurk
How Much Money I Earned With MTurk
I earned $7.95 on the platform after spending 20 hours trying to figure it out. That’s $0.40 per hour.
There are a decent number of seemingly credible reviewers who claim they’ve earned more than $10 an hour through MTurk. It’s also clear that if I totally committed to making money online with Amazon Mechanical Turk, I could eventually earn more per hour than I did during my research. But the early days seemed to me, as a new user, quite discouraging.
I estimate that if I had continued working with MTurk now, I’d make about $2 per hour. Once I reached 1,000 HITs completed and become more familiar with the best third-party tools, I could see approaching the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour). But it would probably take me 80 more hours, minimum, to reach that rate of pay.
A 2018 study of MTurk found that just 4% of workers reached the federal minimum wage. That same study found that the median pay rate was about $1.77 per hour.
After spending many hours reading reviews and comments of people who claim to be long-time, loyal Turkers, the anecdotal evidence suggests that people aren’t making that much in 2021. Reading reviews and comments of people who claim to be longtime, loyal Turkers, it seems quite possible that the median MTurk pay rate has declined since the study.
One recent Reddit commenter suggested that workers flooded the platform once COVID-19 hit with the surge in demand allowing requesters to pay less. After interacting with other survey and micro-task sites, I share the suspicion of many other MTurkers that this tends to get worse over time, as demand increases and the companies try to squeeze out more profits.
MTurk in 2021: More Competition, Harder on Beginners
Having tested many survey and micro-task sites, I didn’t expect MTurk to be the most complicated. It’s a big brand name associated with Amazon and frequently discussed in the media.
But from the beginning of my MTurk research, it proved to be challenging.
When you apply for MTurk, you have to wait at least 48 hours to get approved or rejected. It takes longer if your 48-hour hold intersects with the weekend.
I got rejected twice. I vaguely remember trying the service in 2012, which I confirmed via old emails. But every week, a number of Reddit users claim to get rejected with no explanation. Sometimes they’re granted access weeks or months later. I eventually got access by using a different email address.
My memory of MTurk nine years ago is a little fuzzy. But I recall it being easier to get access to tasks. Team Clark reviewed Amazon Mechanical Turk in 2018. Reading that article, other accounts of MTurk from 2018 and 2019 and recent Reddit comments, competition for almost all MTurk tasks seems much higher than it was even a few years ago.
To be eligible to work on many of the tasks, you have to have completed a lot of others, sometimes at least 5,000. I’d estimate that only one in 20 HITs were available to me when I started my MTurk research. They seemed to be bottom-of-the-barrel HITs that typically paid $0.01.
Why Qualifying for New HITs Is Challenging
If you’re eligible for a task, you’ll be able to click “Accept & Work.” If not, you may be able to manually request qualification. Usually, there are criteria such as location, language, number of HITs you’ve completed, the approval percentage of your submitted HITs and more.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to figure out an easy way to determine whether any of my requests actually worked. I suspect that I’d need to stumble upon those same HITs in the long, difficult-to-sort list. There doesn’t seem to be a way to get notified if a task poster approves you.
I tried sorting HITs by those most recently posted. Most of the tasks for which I was eligible were “batches”: groups of similar HITs. Batches tend to be quick, easy and high volume — and tend to pay very little. Maybe getting through a number of these could help me qualify for better tasks, I thought.
It usually took 10 minutes of repeatedly clicking “Accept & Work” before I could access even a single HIT that paid any money (and usually just a penny). Most of the time, I got an error message that said, “There are no more of these HITs available.” It sure seems like navigating MTurk without using scripts and bots puts you at a major disadvantage. I’ll get into those later in this article.
The Stanford Daily articulated this well: “Experienced Turkers use a suite of browser plugins that make searching for and queuing up large numbers of high-paying HITs much easier, leaving lower paying jobs for less-experienced Turkers.”
What Sort of Work Is Available Through Amazon Mechanical Turk?
MTurk gives requesters loose guidelines for what they can hire people to do. Psychologists and university researchers use MTurk a lot to gather data for their work. I’ve also read reports of some bizarre and uncomfortable HITs that seemed unrelated to any business purpose.
Here are some of the typical options:
- Data entry
- Voice recording
- Copy editing
- SEO research
- Verifying text
- Searching for clerical info
Expect To Burn Plenty of Unpaid Hours
I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to qualify for HITs that paid more than pennies.
I needed to piece together bits of information from review sites, Reddit comments and forum posts to uncover tricks that seemed to improve my success rate, and even then, in very small increments.
Many times, I accepted a HIT that seemed promising, wondering why it was still available, only to realize it was technically broken in some way. I’d have to return it without getting compensated for my time.
According to SwiftSalary.com, which reviews online “make money” opportunities, “Navigating the main HITs page in an attempt to find good HITs can be difficult and involve a lot of clicking on bad HITs, reading how much work they expect you to do for a nickel, cursing under your breath, and closing the tab.”
Again, MTurk doesn’t compensate you for any of this downtime.
It felt more like a scavenger hunt with challenging, vague clues and pennies for rewards than a site that belongs in the Mount Rushmore of making money online opportunities.
Amazon Mechanical Turk: Scripts & Community Resources
A typical survey or micro-task site doesn’t qualify as a job replacement. I earned an average of less than $2 per hour reviewing these types of sites.
On narrowly-focused survey sites, I could turn off my mind, listen to a podcast or music and breeze through survey after survey.
It didn’t take long to realize Amazon Mechanical Turk takes much more focus and thought. Also, during my research, I discovered that most of the power users I found around the internet play with a stacked deck such as tools and plug-ins.
It seems possible to approach or even surpass making $10 an hour if you put yourself through MTurk School. If only there were such a thing. There is not. Instead, it’s a trial and error process of learning to use third-party scripts, pouring through community posts and asking questions of veteran Turkers.
I didn’t test each of these potential time savers personally. But if I wanted MTurk to become the equivalent of a part-time job, I’d need to commit hours to scouring these sites upfront.
Try These MTurk Resources
Here are a few resources that may help you:
- MTurkGuide: If you want to read Amazon Mechanical Turk tips and tricks from someone who has done it at a high level for many years, this site is a great place to start.
- MTurkCrowd: A very active forum, MTurkCrowd offers many useful threads. The one that caught my eye: “Daily Work Threads,” in which users provide intel on the HITs available to everyone that day.
- MTurkForum: It seems that MTurkForum is nearly identical to MTurkCrowd but slightly less popular.
- Turkerview: This script allows users to rate and review HITs and requesters. You’ll be able to view crowd-sourced data on hourly wages and ratings based on various criteria. This is big-time. It helps you avoid working on poor HITs and can also point you toward more lucrative ones.
- Turkopticon: This “worker-run advocacy project” also offers crowdsourced reviews of HITs and requesters. It also intends to spurn “shady” requesters from the platform by calling attention to them.
- MTurk Suite: This Chrome and Firefox extension offers a large collection of tools designed to make your experience with MTurk easier. One of the tools is HIT Catcher, which sends “pandas.” In the world of Turkers, “panda” stands for “preview and accept,” which is the language MTurk uses for the button you click to take on tasks. HIT Catcher will automatically accept a HIT repeatedly and fill up your queue. HIT Finder is a color-coded tool that categorizes each task by pay. It also allows you to block certain HITs or requesters so they’re not clogging the list of available HITs.
- r/HITsWorthTurkingFor: This subreddit is another resource to identify HITs that pay a nice hourly rate.
- r/mturk: The main subreddit for MTurk, this includes discussions on a variety of topics.
Here are the best things about Amazon Mechanical Turk:
- Flexible work. No boss, no set hours, no minimum quota, no set location. Those are some of the biggest perks of MTurk and similar sites.
- Potential for wages of $10+ per hour. It seems pretty difficult to earn anywhere close to double-digit wages per hour when you first start. But there are a lot of experienced “Turkers” who claim they’re making that type of money.
- Unlock higher-paying HITs over time. As a corollary to the last point, MTurk seems designed to pay more if you use it more.
- Better variety and volume of work. Compared to similar task-based companies, I found that MTurk offers much more variety and much higher volume of available tasks.
- Abundance of good third-party resources. Because of MTurk’s popularity, there’s an entire ecosystem of third-party bots and scripts you can use. There’s also a surprising number of forums, subreddits and help sites focused entirely on MTurk.
Here are the biggest downsides to Amazon Mechanical Turk:
- No minimum wage. Independent contractors aren’t covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. In other words, MTurk has zero obligation to meet some sort of minimum wage. It’s entirely possible to make pennies per hour.
- Frequent unpaid time. You’ll inevitably spend a lot of time looking for HITs or trying to complete tasks that are poorly explained or have a technical error that prevents you from finishing. Some tasks may also take longer than you anticipate. Expect lots of unpaid downtime.
- Steep learning curve. Compared to the other sites I’ve reviewed, it took more time and effort to figure out how to work on the MTurk platform at even a basic level. I anticipate it would take weeks — or even months — to become an intermediate or advanced user.
- Few available tasks for new folks. At least in my experience, it was a chore looking for HITs that I could accept right away. In addition to that, the HITs I could readily accept tended to pay $0.01 and were difficult or impossible to navigate.
- Approval delays. You’ll have to wait 48 hours before Amazon will approve your request to become an MTurk worker — or longer, if you submit your request after 5 p.m. ET on a Wednesday. There’s no set time limit when you manually request approval to work on a specific HIT. Approval could be nearly instant or you could never be granted approval, and you get no notification either way. Working on MTurk requires patience.
- Competition with superior tools. You’re competing with a savvy group of veterans to get access to the best, highest-paid HITs. If internet comments about MTurking are any indication, it sure seems like the majority of them are using scripts, bots and software to identify and accept the best jobs that MTurk has to offer. It reminds me of a saying in the poker world: If you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, you are the sucker.
Frequently Asked Questions About MTurk
How Much Money Can You Make With MTurk?
I made $0.40 per hour after testing MTurk for 20 hours. Team Clark reviewed Mechanical Turk in 2018 and earned $8.50 an hour. Those are the only things I can say definitively.
There are a number of reviewers, forum and Reddit commenters who claim to make $10 or more per hour. Based on my experience, that’s probably possible but not until you’ve built a substantial history of completing HITs that get approved at a high rate.
Is MTurk Worth Your Time?
If you’re looking for instant gratification or to replace the income you make from your full-time job, in my opinion, MTurk isn’t worth your time.
If you’re willing to burn 10 hours a week for six weeks and work really hard at figuring out the tips and tricks that will make your time with Amazon Mechanical Turk more efficient, it can become worth your time. Especially if you’re only looking for a flexible, part-time way to make money online.
What Are Some MTurk Alternatives?
I’ve tested Clickworker, a micro-task site run by a similar large company. I made significantly more money with Clickworker in my initial test, although I suspect the scales would eventually tip toward MTurk. Clickworker is probably the closest facsimile I’ve come across.
What Taxes Will I Owe Working for MTurk?
In the United States, you’ll be classified as an independent contractor, so the IRS will require you to report any income you earn from MTurk. The IRS doesn’t require companies to send paperwork on your earnings via Form 1099 unless you make $600 or more.
Amazon Mechanical Turk can offer you something more akin to a part-time job than other survey or micro-task sites. However, as of October 2021, you’ll have to wade through a metaphorical field full of mud before it transforms into that. You’ll need strategy, good judgment and tenacity to get to that point.
A job that may pay as much as flipping burgers at McDonald’s, but allows you to work on your own time and from anywhere, may be worth attempting for some people. But outside of the flexibility it offers, MTurk probably is more stressful, more challenging and less reliable than traditional hourly wage jobs.