Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Demand Media Freelancers Feel the Pinch

In addition to my day job, I write. Incessently. And mostly for money.

We're publishing? Sadly, not any longer...
One great source of income has always been Demand Media. The company behind popular websites like and, their modus operendi has always been to create page titles based on popular keywords, then pay freelancers to write the accompanying article.

This type of content flooded search engines. See for yourself - enter "how to" do something and an article from invariably pops up as one of the first choices.

Critics called this process "content farming," citing the fact that the how-to articles provided were very thin on content; generally written quickly and broadly and paraphrased from superior articles that would then be dislodged by the inferior copy in Google's page rankings.

But for freelance writers, it was an amazing opportunity. You would be paid $15 to write an eHow article; which generally took between twenty minutes and half an hour to punch out. With tens of thousands of article titles up for grabs, it was a very good way to make some quick, consistent pocket money - and Demand Media were consummate professionals to work with; paying what they owed promptly and fairly.

Notice I'm writing all this in the past tense.

Because recently, Google changed their search engine algorithms in order to punish so-called "content farming." For people looking for genuine "how-to" articles on the 'net, it was a boon - as they'd be more likely to find useful information than paraphrased eHow content. However, for the literally thousands of freelancers who earned money from Demand Media, it was a nightmare.

Demand Media went from offering upwards of 20,000 available titles for freelancers to tackle to a fraction of that amount. Today, I logged onto my account and saw I had a choice of three. Only one of them - about agricultural farm machinary - was something I was capable of writing about.

From my point of view, it sucks - I've gone from having an easy source of income which could net me a few hundred dollars a month, to just another empty login address. A lot of other writers share my frustration - but I'm not sure I share their wrath:

"The company has been evasive and dishonest for the last few months, giving no notice of the drastic cut in available work," complained one. "What Demand Mediocre Studios did is absolutely unforgivable," hisses another. "The CEO is a pathological liar and hopefully one day he'll get evicted from his home like so many of us writers are about to experience."

They're idiots.

You see, I agree that the situation sucks, but it's not exactly Demand Media's fault. They had a business model based on a specific set of circumstances - the way Google and other search engines ranked content - and now that's changed, they've been forced to change to adapt to it.

And to their credit, they have. Although it might seem like it to us writers, Demand Media haven't shut up shop. Instead Joanne Bradford, Demand Media's Chief Revenue Officer, explained they were shifting their publishing to "focus on using people who have expertise about the topics they write about."

In short, Google is demanding higher quality content, so Demand Media are changing their game to provide it. More general writers like myself, who have been left out in the cold with this shift, have only ourselves to blame.

Right from the beginning, I always feared Demand Media was too good to be true. The amount of work that was available, the respectable rates of pay you received and the ease of getting published seemed like it was going to turn out to be a scam of some sort.

Instead, it was a great gig for thousands of aspiring writers - and for a number of months, we all did very well out of it. Now, we freelancers need to embrace the same challenge the team at Demand Media did: Accept the new state of affairs, adjust our gameplan to suit and - ideally - thrive in this new environment.

It was fun while it lasted. Thanks, Demand Media - and best of luck to both of us.

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