When There’s No More Demand…

Yesterday was blessedly slower than most of last week. I managed to get two interviews done, review a client proposal, and work on a side project. Appointments on my very full calendar vaporized. I was somewhat glad for it, though each postponed appointment does have to be rescheduled. Another day.

Good friend and writing chum Kathy Kehrli, whose Screw You! blog is one of my favorites despite her not being able to blog for a while, sent over this link in a email titled “Something to make you smile.” She knows me well, for I’m still grinning days later. The news: it would seem that Demand Media, purveyor of regurgitated schlock and the gatekeeper of writing purgatory, is in trouble.

Having gone public last year, Demand stock went from an initial price of $17 a share up to $25. The price as of 2 pm Monday – $7.76. This after widely published announcements on Friday of the stock “soaring” in Friday trading.

Why is Demand not, well, in demand? Well, supply and, er, demand. Google readjusted the way it ranks web page results last February, a month after Demand went public. To quote the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“The revisions were designed to weed out low-quality content – a description that Google decided applied to some of the rudimentary articles written by thousands of Demand Media freelancers. The content appears on Demand Media’s own websites, including eHow.com and Livestrong.com, as well as a long list of other publishers.”

Yes, they said it. Low-quality content. That would be the same content Demand has been touting proudly as “…high quality articles and videos…” Until Demand comes up with content that’s of the quality Google expects, they will continue to lose page rank.

Will Demand fail? I’m not psychic, but I do think any time you base your business model on undervaluing the end product (and those creating it), you’re going to lose some customer love along the way. To build a business model that so undervalues it that a third party won’t let you play with the big boys – that smells to me like trouble for the “media” company.

Here are my reasons why I think content farms aren’t long for this world:

The writing is mediocre at best. Worse, I’ve often seen articles “written” for these sites that are mirror images of something found on a reputable site. I did a search last week on diverticulosis treatment. The articles from the “content” sites were shadows of those found on MayoClinic.com and WebMD.com. That’s not journalism, nor is it helpful.

The focus is on making money. For themselves. Sure, they tell clients on their sites that they can build a media presence and provide them with this “quality” content. However, the real focus seems to be on how many people they can underpay to write articles they can charge clients a lot more for.

Writers are wising up. It warms my heart to hear writers say “I used to write for them” or “I wanted to, but I read something warning me off.” The first one shows a writer who’s realized a mistake, corrected it, and will spread the word to other writers just starting out. The latter is someone who got intervention before being sucked into the $5-article pit.

Readers don’t really need that much crap. How to Cook Yak articles (oh yes, they did) aren’t exactly in high demand. Nor is one more article on how to wash your car, how to make an envelope, how to pass a drug test, or how to make cantaloupe balls. Also, readers expect the writing to have something new to offer, or at least be written coherently.

Too many copyright laws are being ignored. I know more than one case of outright plagiarism, and I’m sure that’s just scratching the surface. If the people in charge of vetting articles aren’t, stolen content is going to get published. As was the case with an acquaintance’s print book, sometimes the content being lifted includes large sections that are broken up into several “articles” that the “author” then gets five bucks per for. If nothing else, articles are being “reworked”, which means someone’s original content is being rephrased with relatively no work required of the “new author.” It’s still theft no matter what ribbon you wrap it in.

Have you ever worked for a content mill? If so, how did you break free?

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Comments

  • Anonymous February 21, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    I did work for Demand for about a year. I haven't written for them in several months.

    It was easy money while they were pushing out simple titles like "How to put pants on your dog." I made a decent hourly rate because I wrote about things I knew and tried not to spend more than 20 minutes per title. I did not plagiarize or write crap, I simply gave them no more effort than the bare minimum.

    I was in a very bad financial situation when I started working for them. I literally came within days of being kicked out of my apartment and having my car repossessed. I still have lawyers chasing me from that time period. Writing $15 articles allowed me to pay off most of my debts and keep a roof over my head. If I had to make the choice again, I probably would do the same. The job market sucked (and still sucks,) I needed money fast. No one likes cleaning toilets or flipping burgers or writing bland articles for $15 a pop. But you do what you have to.

    Doesn't mean I had to enjoy it, though. It sucked working with gatekeepers with the IQ of slime mold and never knowing how much of my work I wasn't going to get paid for. I was glad to fire them as a client. I'm still struggling with my freelance writing business, but I've made a promise to myself that I will never work for another client or company that treats me so badly again.

    Reply
  • Shakirah Dawud February 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Oh, my: "Do not cook yak, or it will become very tough."
    That's what I get for my insatiable curiosity.
    And I wonder how much of it was lifted from an article on How To Cook Plain Old Beef.

    Reply
  • Shakirah Dawud February 21, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Sorry, meant to put, "Do not OVERcook yak…"

    Reply
  • Jake P February 21, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Shakirah, that's the recipe for "Yak Tartare"!

    And for the record, no, I have never, would never, not ever, with or without green eggs and ham.

    Reply
  • Lori February 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Anon, thank you for posting your story. I get exactly why you did it, and why some others do it. As long as you're able to remove yourself from the situation eventually, no judgments here.

    I've been in that same situation a few times. I was lucky – temp agencies specializing in writing and editing talent kept me going. You're right – you do what you have to. Glad to see you able to escape it!

    Shakirah, either way I think I'll just avoid cooking yak altogether! I'm sure the yak won't mind. 🙂

    Jake, but would you, could you, in a house?

    Reply
  • Dani Alexis February 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    [insert pretty much everything Anonymous said]

    I worked with Demand so that I could pay the immediate bills while learning how freelance writing worked. I stuck with them longer than I otherwise might have only because they hooked up with LegalZoom.com. As an attorney, I hate LegalZoom with a passion, but it was cake to churn out five or six pieces a day on the theme "how to write your own will", and at $25 apiece and about 20 minutes spent on each, it padded my bottom line nicely, especially while I was bedridden with Mysterious Health Issues of Doom during that time.

    (Mysterious Health Issues remain mysterious, but no longer doom-y, which is good.)

    By far the worst part of Demand for me were the one-shot rewrite "requests" from anonymous "copy editors" (many of whom actually edited errors *into* my work. And not just grammar/spelling/mechanics errors, but *substantive errors*. WTH?). Many times, the "rewrite requests" were contradictory, made absolutely no sense, were based on a complete matter of opinion, and/or demanded a rewrite of the entire article – for $0 additional pay, of course.

    I wasted far too much energy seething at some of them, but there's really no recourse. Even the crankiest legitimate editors I've worked with since have been infinitely preferable to Demand's setup – at least one can have a conversation with them.

    Reply