I recently wrote an opinion piece defending Demand Studios after another blogger chose to label them as a scam based on the fact that their pay is somewhat low and they make frequent requests for rewrites of articles. I still side with Demand Studios on that issue, but I do want to point out a better (though not perfect) article about Demand Studios at ReadWriteWeb. This article doesn’t try to portray the writers as victims but rather tries to analyze the effect of such a large content mill on the Internet as a whole. The basic premise is that Demand Studios has a content creation system in place (using both automation and live reviewers) that results in an assembly-line style article that RWW compares to Henry Ford’s original automobile production line. The article takes issue with the quality of the content being produced, and that is a more legitimate criticism than the exploitation of writers.
4000 Articles a Day
According to the RWW piece, Demand Studios produces approximately 4000 articles a day through its combination of freelancers and editors. The one issue that I have with the article is that they use this as an indictment of the quality. They ask:
The bigger question is: there are surely many examples of good Demand Media content on the Web, but how many of the 4,000 articles it produces every day aren’t?
To me this is a poor argument. Yes, I’m sure that some of the 4000 articles aren’t great, but no one can judge what the percentage of this is so it is a specious question. I mainly read blogs by single authors. Mass produced blogs leave me a little cold. As a follower of individuals I can tell you that even the best bloggers put out lousy articles on occasion. Lord knows I do. No one is brilliant every day.
The better point the article makes is that the Demand Studios assembly line style and fast turnaround time creates a certain sameness to the articles being written, that there is a Demand Studios style, and it isn’t very interesting or incisive. I don’t read enough of their types of articles (like I said, I follow individual bloggers) to know if this is true, but it seems like a legitimate possibility.
In the Eighties the Definition of a Content Mill was “Associated Press”
Way back in the eighties, I served as the Associated Press Wire Editor for my college newspaper. Having an AP feed back then was as close as you could get to having Google News now. Article after article printed out on the dot matrix printer they provided, and I looked at them all (while dressed in my linen Miami Vice jacket) to see if they were relevant. I can tell you that AP’s style (they do have their own stylebook after all) was pretty bland even then. For most articles, you got the facts, and nothing but the facts. There was little room for color or individuality. A single article might get published in 500 different newspapers all over the world. Any sort of colorful writing had to be killed in case someone out there didn’t get it, or worse, was offended by it. Another interesting similarity between the Associated Press and Demand Studios is that AP has always used a number of low-paid writers (they call them stringers) to freelance for them. In the eighties, the saying was, “You can’t spell stupid without UPI and you can’t spell cheap without AP.”
Obviously Demand Studios is not identical to AP. The journalistic standards and the general level of talent at AP are considerably higher than at Demand Studios. AP is more selective about who they hire and more stringent about the sources for their articles.Â It is the similarities though, not the differences, that catch my eye. Both organizations tap a worldwide pool of writers. Both organizations exist to provide content to other organizations. Both organizations rely heavily on freelance work. Most importantly, both organizations have writing philosophies based on a universal cookie-cutter style.
I believe that sort of generic writing was the beginning of the end for newspapers, and I think that it can only have limited success on the Internet. A certain number of people will be satisfied with these articles, and search engines may never be able to tell good articles from bad articles, but there will always be plenty of room for individuals with distinctive voices to keep writing. A loyal audience that comes back again and again is in most cases preferable to a large number of casual readers who never return.
Demand Studios is a company that is filling a content niche quite successfully. The fact that they have enough writers and customers to be publishing 4000 articles a day shows that they are filling a need that exists on both sides. That said, if someone else comes up with a better way to do it, then the market will change again. I think Demand Studios does a lot of things well, but I also think there is plenty of room for improvement. If they can make a profit doing things their way, then surely someone who improves on the concept can do even better.