Free Rice: Addictive, but is it a scam?

Addictive. Very addictive – I’ve managed to donate 1830 ‘grains of rice through the UN to help end world hunger’.

free rice

However I’ve only managed to get to level 44 – and then only once. There are 50 levels.

Here’s the deal. Each time you get an answer right, 10 grains of rice are donated through the UN. The money comes from the displayed ads – and the advertisers are solid brands, as you can see.

Here’s the issue:

freerice growth

There have been 1.2 billion grains given out so far. That’s 120m correct answers – call it 130m pageviews.

At a CPM ($ per 1000 impressions) of, say, $20, that’s $2.6 million in income. At a CPM of 10 that’s $1.3m. <update – apparently these are way too high> They feel like a good range, but really I’m just guessing here. Does anyone know what sort of rates these guys would be paying? I’m confident that the revenue is at least $1m though – it could be much higher, but as you see, it will not be lower.

Rice is light: 1000 grains is about 26 grams, so 10 grains is about 0.26 grams.

Rice is cheap: 1 bagged metric tonne is $350, FOB (in the ship) at source.

So 1.2 billion rice grains is about 3,120 tonnes <update – wrong by 2 magnitudes>, or $1.09m FOB.

Therefore the site owners are making everything above a CPM of about $8.

Advertisers – if you are paying more than that, then you are enriching one John Breen [update: dead link removed], who is a very smart cookie who just happens to have also collected $1m for global poverty efforts.

I love this, and I love the moral dilemma aspect as well. Is it right to enrich John Breen when you are also enriching poor children?

My answer is yes – as the $1m worth of rice is $1m more rice than the UN had before, and you’ve had some enjoyment along the way. Your opinion may differ, and perhaps John Breen is a non profit, and the funds channeled to worthy causes or business building?

<update>

thanks for the comments picking up the rather undeliberate errors. I’ve now corrected them and put in the latest numbers

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
This entry was posted in Business, Global Macro Trends, Internet Business and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

69 Responses to Free Rice: Addictive, but is it a scam?

  1. benkepes says:

    As you say a moral dilemma. But I guess no more so than a myriad of other “charities”. How much of the money raised by church based charities ends up somewhere other than the intended destination. How much foreign aid gets diverted for the betterment of corrupt officials – such is the game that is international charity.

    What would be rally interesting would be to see a comparative analysis of effectiveness between charity and microfinance

    Give a man a fish……

    • Abby Ravera says:

      I’m a little late to the table on this one! I work for WFP, as the Freerice community manager. Freerice is owned by and supports the WFP’s work through donated rice and raised awareness. (If you would like to email me at WFP to confirm my identity you’re welcome to.)

      We’re a small team, and I can confirm that 100% of the funds raised through the site are donated. We have only one part-time staff member, whose salary is covered by donations to WFP.

      We appreciate skepticism, and understand the need for it. However, Freerice really does what it says it does. Rice is purchased locally, meaning that the local economy is supported for a long term solution to hunger (and saving on transportation costs).

      And we have a birthday coming up – 5 years, 5 million people fed, and so we’re celebrating for 5 days :) You can find out more here: http://Freerice.com/birthday

  2. Pingback: Support or dependency? | diversity.net.nz

  3. Irving says:

    Addictive is the right word, and fun too. I donated 1000 grains in about 10 minutes. I don’t care if Breen is making money off of it, as long as the bulk of the rice gets to the poor and needy.

  4. Jacqui says:

    In the US you can buy display advertising traffic for as low as $1 to $2 CPM.

  5. sethmeister says:

    Don’t know. Would be surprised if he was making more than $5 CPM. Probably more in the range that Jacqui mention of $1 – $2 CPM.

  6. Sacreeta says:

    Does that mean he has to pay tax on the profit?

    I’ve seen some blogs and sites that find his tactics questionable, but the freerice site does say that Poverty.com is their sister site, and they are working to have about 22 countries agree to paying 0.7% of the annual income to the United Nations World Food Program. If all the countries came together, then sites like his wouldn’t be necessary.

    I hope he’s not skimming off the top, the advertisers are getting a good tax shelter, and what they are paying you would think would cover the costs to run the site. People like all of you above will catch on if he’s running a scam, not much gets past bloggers, and if it’s a scam, it won’t last long.

    Atleast it’s getting people talking about solving the world hunger struggles, and websites like Poverty.com, and the United Nations World Food Program are getting noticed.

    And I completely agree,

    Feed a man a fish…

  7. elrambo says:

    How does it stack up against other charities?

    http://www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html

  8. Pingback: Free Rice update « Economic Objectorvism

  9. joyangel123 says:

    It would be ridiculous to think that the guy running it would not profit in some way. If he didn’t I think he would not be doing it or he would keep all of it for himself. It is when people say something is totally free that is when you should get worried. No one does anything for free. There is always a way they benefit. Usually it is for getting you to their sites in hopes that you find an ad you are interested in to click on.

    Joyangel1123

    http://gatesofrighteousness.blogspot.com

  10. Stu says:

    I agree that it is “okay”. No moral dilemma for me. After all, the guy just as easily could have created some other addictive game and given nothing to charity.

    And as has been already mentioned, administrative costs (often including a tidy paycheck to those at the head) eat into a good chunk of a lot of charity dollars.

    If the rice guy is taking a little off the top, it is probably a lot less than what most charities take.

  11. MJ says:

    I just added Free Rice in Facebook too! Not sure if it’s really working to help in giving free rice.

    It says: For every word you get right, we will donate 10 grains of rice to a hungry person through an international aid agency!

  12. Ruth P says:

    Lance, Can I quote your message in a short article I am doing for a club newsletter? Ruth

    • turd mcnugget says:

      you know i hate free rice. it its terrible that they are scaming little poor children

      • Lance Wiggs says:

        we are not sure whether they are scamming or not – I suspect not.

        • ILoveCharity says:

          Lance–THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT YOU DON’T SUSPECT THAT THEY ARE SCAMMING!!!

          (I do appreciate you for speaking your opinion, though.)

      • ILoveCharity says:

        I don’t think that they are scamming. And by the way, I am one of those “poor little children”. I think that it is wonderful that there is a site that gets everyone involved with the idea of helping people. You should take another look at their site and see what you think of it.

  13. ben preven says:

    It’s not a moral dilemma. It’s an IQ test. You failed.

  14. Pingback: Women of the world unite! Free rice, and the poppy question continues… « the soapbox

  15. Charles says:

    Your figures are based on CPM ad rates. The links that you show and that I have seen are CPA links through Linkshare. The advertiser doesn’t pay unless you click through and actually buy something (or apply for a credit card). Just like the link I put as my website for the American Express Blue Cash Rewards Consumer Credit Card. You can visit the site all day. Even click through to American Express’ site. Until you actually apply for and get a card, they wouldn’t get paid. Or for the retailers, you would have to buy something.

    I do notice that the link for advertising here is a email link, so maybe he is hoping that by generating enough hype, he can get CPM advertisers.

    Another possibility is that he is hoping you click on the links and then at some point within the cookie period, you do buy from the retailer or get a AMEX card and so he gets paid.

    Otherwise, I don’t see how he is getting money, much less distributing it.

    Another strange thing is that the advertisers are on the bottom of the screen. I had to either scroll down or resize my window to see them. This is not considered a good way to have people click on them.

    Best guess at the moment…he hoping to build this big through viral marketing and then monetize it.

    It also looks like he is using a thesaurus instead of a dictionary for the terms. I fluctuate around 45. Oh well.

  16. Jso says:

    Nice idea, but rice tastes awful.

    Um, besides that, I can imagine what is going to happen to this rice. It goes into the hands of dictators, and they feed birds with it while people die of starvation. I think it was Zimbabwe or South Africa or whatever that had a large amount of farms become barren.

  17. kmcdade says:

    Scam? No — but is this really the best way to help people? Probably not. You’d do better just giving money directly to a charitable organization. Especially one that puts most of its money directly into action.

    • FreeRice Supporter :) says:

      But for those of us who don’t have the money available to be able to donate large enough amounts of money that would end up being useful, this is a great website where ANYONE can help – even four year olds who don’t get allowances.

  18. Oberon says:

    The link I used is to my blog, where I am hosting a “Free Rice 1000 Grain Daily Challenge”. I was looking for more info on FreeRice, and ended up here. Thanks for the post! I’m ok with Mr. Breen making a little green, as long as his idea is doing some good. Gods know we pay plenty of people a hell of a lot more for doing completely useless, or even obstructive things.

    Thanks, and if you are so inclined, please sign up for my Challenge!

    -Dave (Oberon)

  19. JS says:

    Hello,
    I think your calculations are wrong by a factor of two:

    Using your indices 1.2 billion rice grains comes to 31.2 tonnes
    And 31.2 tonnes x $350/tonne = $10,920FOB

    Am I wrong?

  20. KE says:

    I was looking for more info on FreeRice too. Does anyone know how to contact Mr. John Breen? (email, phone, regular mail, etc.) Thanks!

  21. Jeff says:

    I agree w/ JS, his calculations are incorrect. I’m surprised it took you all so long to check the math. It’s not a factor of 2, it’s a factor of 100, or 10^2.

    1.2 billion grains of rice = 31.2 tonnes, not 3120 tonnes.

    This is assuming the rest of your information is accurate.

    It seems like you used 10 grains = 26 grams.

    However, this means that he should be charging about $0.084 CPM, or 8.4 cents per thousand pageviews. Or $84 per million page views.

    This seems fairly cheap, but given the amount of time each page is viewed, unobstrusiveness of the ads (they’re just logos, really), perhaps he’s really not charging more than $100 per million hits.

  22. Jeff says:

    I agree w/ JS, his calculations are incorrect. I’m surprised it took you all so long to check the math. It’s not a factor of 2, it’s a factor of 100, or 10^2.

    1.2 billion grains of rice = 31.2 tonnes, not 3120 tonnes.

    This is assuming the rest of your information is accurate.

    It seems like you used 10 grains = 26 grams by mistake.

    However, this means that he should be charging about $0.084 CPM, or 8.4 cents per thousand pageviews. Or $84 per million page views.

    This seems very cheap, but given the amount of time each page is viewed, unobstrusiveness of the ads (they’re just logos, really), perhaps he’s really not charging more than $100 per million hits.

  23. Pingback: FreeRice: 350m pageviews and at least $320k profit « Lance Wiggs

  24. David Agnew says:

    The freerice site states: “Does FreeRice make any money from this?
    No, it does not. FreeRice runs the site at no profit.”

    FreeRice could be lying, but I wouldn’t make such a charge without some good evidence. What I see here is a lot of supposition and fuzzy math. If you’re right, your charge is a public service… but be responsible!

    One thing which you fail to consider is distribution of the food to the hungry. You talk about the price of rice as a commodity, but that’s undoubtedly a fraction of the total cost. It must be bagged and transported to villages under difficult circumstances.

    And to Jso, who wrote, “It goes into the hands of dictators, and they feed birds with it while people die of starvation.” – do you have any evidence? Sure, shit happens, but that doesn’t discredit all of the work of the UN World Food Program, which has a vast amount of experience in the field.

    Also, the WFP states: “Wherever possible, the World Food Program buys food locally to support local farmers and the local economy.”

  25. Pat Thompson says:

    “I can imagine what is going to happen to this rice. It goes into the hands of dictators, and they feed birds with it while people die of starvation.”

    I recently saw the Doctors Without Borders traveling refugee camp exhibition, and can tell you that the World Food Program is where DWB’s camps get all of their food.

    So it’s likely that this rice is going to refugees and displaced people in Darfur, Colombia, and the (too many) other places where DWB is working.

  26. joy says:

    Don’t know about scam. It’s a good idea with or without the charity angle. I’ve gone from level 37 to level 45 in 20,000 grains, and at one point even reached level 46! My EFL students are enjoying it and it’s helping their vocabulary levels. Who’s the loser?

  27. joy says:

    After 24,500 grains I reached level 47, starting at 37. So it’s possible, JS – just do some learning. The site doesn’t claim to be a total charity site. Only that it will donate to charity a percentage of it’s earnings. I don’t see the problem, to be honest. Well, maybe it focusses more on the charity side, but it does explain that it’s not only – if you read the small print. Hell, look at microsoft – a bigger scam you will never meet!

  28. Jack says:

    This would be a good article, if you weren’t making up numbers out of your head, and trying to bash a charity based on fictional profits.

    If this guy is making a huge amount of overflow, then it’s because the site is more popular than he anticipated. I count that as a good thing. Successful charities tend to make money. It is bothersome, but it’s a fact of life.

    I would understand how you feel if this charity was asking for your money. When I donate to a charity, I like to hope that a fairly large percentage is making it there. Perhaps advertisers should be wary, but I’m just playing a rice game.

    I don’t care if he’s making money. It takes a minute of my time to play a free game (that I happen to enjoy) that betters my vocabulary and donates food to charity. I think it’s a novel idea.

    P.S. – If you honestly want to prove a point, to dissuade people from this charity, for whatever reason, then do some research, find real facts and numbers, and CITE them here instead of posting your own ridiculous “estimates.”

  29. Pingback: Tech, How to, Guitar, Linux, Dog, Make Money Online with AhTim

  30. Eivind Ravago Dahl says:

    Wasting time and energy trying to figure out whether or not freerice.com is making money is wrong! THINK ABOUT IT!! -If he’s making money, WHO CARES!!! All Forbes 500 CEO’s make millions of dollars, nobody scrutinizes that!! Only if their fees exceed too many MILLIONS of dollars.. leave the guy alone! Saving lives, feeding the poor should never be critisized! But I respect the fact that we don’t willingly accept ANY humanitarian initiative -just trying to put things in perspective!!

  31. Jeff says:

    At the worst – even if it’s a scam and *no* rice goes to the poor … for me it’s free entertainment with at least a modest amount of learning.

  32. Pingback: Free Rice - WickedFire - Affiliate Marketing Forum - Internet Marketing Webmaster SEO Forum

  33. Use a Dictionary says:

    Easy way to keep getting answers and learn at the same time is to look the words up in a dictionary. It makes you read the whole definition. What’s neat is that I’ve discovered words are sometimes used in the wrong context on freerice (although that is rare).

    In most cases I wouldn’t “cheat” but I justified it to myself because by cheating, you donate more rice.

  34. Pingback: Free Rice « Alastair’s blog

  35. Pingback: Teacher eTalk: Making a difference by donating Free Rice

  36. me says:

    Since this is completely wrong, andf the title implies that there is something fishy going on with the website, and this post is the top google search for “free rice scam”, can you go ahead and delete this post?!! You are misleading tons of people! Delete this, and write a new one with an apology and a more accurate explanantion of the website.

    • ILoveCharity says:

      I agree with you, “me”. But I appreciate Lance Wiggs for speaking his opinion–everyone has a right to do that.

  37. Lance Wiggs says:

    “me”
    I’d reply to you directly if your email address was real.

    FWIW I am in the midst of writing another post, and will link it back to here. Sadly on the internet nothing gets deleted, even if you try
    Lance

  38. Callan says:

    I think Lance has raised it as a question, not asserted it as being the case.

    If you can’t question things anymore, things are going to get alot worse alot more than you can imagine.

    • jayeve says:

      Extract from Freerice Website

      ‘Does FreeRice make any money from doing this?

      FreeRice does not make any money from this. FreeRice is a website committed to the cause of ending hunger around the world. It is run entirely for free and at no profit. All money (100%) raised by the site goes to the UN World Food Programme to help feed the hungry. Sponsors make all payments to the UN World Food Programme directly.’

      I have one question – how many of us would do something as amazing as this to help the hungry?

      • Callan says:

        I’m quite shocked at the lack of critical thinking.

        If they wrote that, it must be true?

        Go read the darkness that comes before by R. Scott Bakker.

  39. Pingback: bigincomeop.com

  40. mary says:

    Most charitable organizations pay people to do their work, and despite the common notion that there is “no money” in working for a 501(c)3, there are some pretty handsome salaries out there. (The whining is often from people who are either at the bottom tier of workers who really are not paid well, or from those who hold “executive” positions that are paid well, just not as well as they’d be paid, perhaps, for a similar job in a for-profit business.) Whether or not the freerice dude is making good money is not any different than any other charity.

    Considering I’m not out a single penny for using the site, I’m more than happy to enrich my vocabulary while getting a few grains of rice donated to someone who is hungry, and promoting the site for public awareness and exposure to charitable organizations that address teh issue.

    When I want to donate cash, I make sure I check the financial records of the organization to see how much of my cash will be used for administrative expenses, salaries, and membership drive activities. For this site, though, I’ll let the advertisers do their due diligence, since it’s their cash and their names & brands that will be associated with the freerice website.

  41. Balchov says:

    Of course you should! This man had an idea that provided rice worth of $1 mil.! I’d find it wrong if he didn’t get anything.

  42. Oshun Rose says:

    It’s absolutely worth it! I have donated around 10,000 grains of rice in just a few days. Admittedly; I have the time. I am bed-ridden and ill, so I have A LOT of time on my hands, with few options on how to spend it (due to my condition).

    It is not a difficult program at all. I get up to level 60 and stay up there. I just research the word in an online dictionary if I don’t know it, or if it’s not in there, I research Google.

    Is using an online dictionary (and occasionally Google) cheating? I think not, especially when you learn the word after a couple of times around anyway. I can do the French easily too, and score a lot of rice quickly that way. They have several good online French dictionaries. I’m a little slower at the Spanish. At worst; I’m learning new vocabulary words, at best I’m helping make this world a little bit better place (I like to hope for the best, it’s in my nature).

    There are also other educational programs to choose from other than Vocabulary. I spend many computer hours working on other causes and charities, but this is definitely one of the most addictive AND educational (LOL).

  43. huberto says:

    rice is good

  44. FreeRice Supporter :) says:

    In my opinion, FreeRice is a great way for EVERYBODY to get in on helping hunger – even and especially those of us who are hit hard by the recession and don’t ahve enough money to make large donations to charity. Even four-year-olds who don’t get allowances can play the easiest levels with their parents, help kids in Africa, learn new words, and have fun – if anything, have fun. :)

  45. ShayShey says:

    He might be making a little, but I don’t think quite that much. He has to pay for the rice, transportation, servers, maintaining the site (because I’m sure he doesn’t do it all by himself with so much traffic) maybe he has to pay for additional programming help, maybe not, but there are tons of outside variables he has to pay for to make this work, it would be irrational to believe that all the money went purely into purchasing rice.

  46. ILoveCharity says:

    I think that freerice.com is a wonderful site. See freerice.com.about/faq to see that the site creators make no profit from this site and are doing this for charity.

    I believe that a site created with these ideas is an amazing thing in this troubled world. I disagree with people that are being pessimistic. If you answer 700 questions, which takes about a half-an-hour for me, then you can donate a cup of rice to the needy.

    I see no problem with this.

  47. Sir Isaac Duke says:

    I believe the sole purpose of this website is something truly great, achieving a higher goal and respect for the less fortunate in a world of despair. Although the numbers seem out of line, whether the some leakage of money is running towards business plans of John Breen, is still far from certainty. Until we really make a statement and bring it up with the U.N. offices, I don’t have any doubt in my mind that we will find the answer to this dilemna.

    • Hi,

      I work for Freerice as the community manager, I just wanted to let you know that John Breen as no involvement in Freerice. He donated the site to the United Nations World Food Programme in 2009, and he certainly made no financial profit between 2007 and 2009. He truly is “just a good guy” who is also very smart.

      If you take a look at whois.net, you will see the domain is registered with WFP, there truly is no secret here.

      Can you let us know what you mean by “the numbers seem out of line”?

      Thanks!
      Abby Ravera

      • Lance Wiggs says:

        Hi Abby This post was written in 2007 – 5 years ago. Lance.

        • Hi Lance, I did notice that :) but Sir Isaac Duke commented in October 2012.

          If possible, perhaps a follow article would be helpful (particularly as we just celebrated our 5 year anniversary, with enough rice raised to feed over 5 million people)? If you’d like to ask me questions for it, I’d be happy to answer them.

          It seems there are still people who do not know how Freerice works, and I’d be really interested in sharing it because it’s a beautifully simple concept.

          Thanks for your response,
          Abby

  48. Mel says:

    I’d love to see a followup article as well. When Googling Freerice, this whole discussion came up towards the top. :(

  49. how many things can I do that are fun AND charitable
    and educational? I m a believer it goes where it should. And I’m not going to bed hungry tonight. so lest he naysayers have at it. Is still feeds people and that’s a GOOD thing as Martha would say.

  50. I know that today about 100 8th graders got excited about practicing vocabulary to fill bags with rice. I don’t care if someone gets paid. I care about educating children and getting them excited to help people around the world who are less fortunate.

Comments are closed.