More and more internet content is being created by corporations dedicated to fast, utilitarian, and search-friendly web pages. Jessane Collins wrote a post for The Awl that offers a grim look into these so-called “content farms.”
Collins’ story described her “ill-fated stint as a freelance copy editor” at Demand Media, a company that churns out approximately 4,000 articles per day based on topics provided by algorithms based on search engine queries. The result is such scintillating fare as this gem: “How to Draw a Chubby Pony.” Demand Media freelancers are paid starting at $3.50 an article.
Critics argue that the “content farms” create dumbed-down poorly researched article and videos. Some even say the business model is a serious threat to the already-endangered journalism industry.
Collins’ article contains plenty of ammo for critics of content farms. She describes horrifying automated application processes, questionably accurate content, and ridiculous paperwork.
“I was to be an intermediary between the web at large and the raw, reliably weird substance that results from the unlikely union of algorithmically created topic assignments and writers of, shall we say, widely variable competence,” Collins wrote of her role as copy editor.
Regardless of the critics, the “content farms” are finding no shortage of investors and struggling journalists willing to work for low wages.
In May, Yahoo purchased Associated Content for a little over $100 million. Associated Content generates approximately 50,000 pieces of content per month. Demand Media claims to get approximately 96.4 million monthly unique users for its six properties. The company is prepping for an IPO before the end of the month.
Quinn Daly, spokesperson for Demand Media declined to comment on this story, citing a “quiet period” before the impending IPO.
“According to SEC regulations we can’t comment,” Daly told The Observer.
Collins stopped working for Demand after earning an average of $7 an hour rather than $20, which she said “was the lowest freelance editing wage I could begin to justify working for.” Collins might not be willing to work for $7 an hour, but in this difficult climate, many media refugees are clearly willing to take that rate.
Then again, Collins was willing to write for The Awl for free. Collins told The Observer that she wasn’t paid for her post.
“The way I see it, there’s obviously a form of compensation involved which is non monetary, i.e., the platform for telling my story. It’s fair to say that I have different standards for what I’m willing to contribute to the type of projects I believe in vs. the type I don’t, and also for my craft (writing) vs. my trade (editing),” Collins said.
The willingness of writers like Collins to participate in passion projects means that the content farms might not be the only web publishing model with a chance for success. In fact, though Collins wasn’t paid for her post, sources tell The Observer that The Awl has started paying some of its contributors.