Demand Media Shifts from “Content Farm” Approach, Writers Lose Income Source

    October 10, 2011
    Chris Crum

Demand Media, with its site eHow, has essentially been the poster child for the term “content farm” – something the company has done much to distance itself from. CEO Richard Rosenblatt has said flat out that he doesn’t consider what the company does to be a “content farm”. Fair enough, but plenty disagreed.

Do you think Demand Media is moving in the right direction? Let us know in the comments.

Eventually, Google’s Panda update, sometimes referred to as the “farmer” update caught up with eHow, but the damage wasn’t as bad as one could have imagined. However, as we told you about earlier this year, the company did begin a large effort to boost eHow’s reputation and content quality. This included new feedback tools for readers, partnerships for niche content, and the deletion/further editing of a lot of articles.

During Demand Media’s last earnings call, it said that it had already removed 300,000 articles. After a recent iteration of Google’s Panda update, we reached out to the company for comment, and VP, Corporate Communications Kristen Moore told us, “I can tell you that we’ve been really pleased with the pace and the results of the new initiatives we announced and implemented in the spring to ensure tighter controls around quality on eHow and across our studio model. We’ll be providing a more specific update on those initiatives and what our sites have seen relative to the Panda updates when we announce Q3 earnings in just a few weeks.”

Since then, Demand Media Studios has sent out the following email to writers and editors (hat tip to Noah Davis):

Dear Writers and Editors,
We realize there has been recent concern around assignment availability. We know many of you rely on Demand Media Studios as a regular income source and as a way to grow your careers. For those reasons and others, we want to be as transparent as we can about the future.
In just a few years, we’ve worked together to grow the library to an astounding 3 million articles. While eHow has been the main publisher of content produced by DMS writers, we’ve also developed other writing outlets on our own properties like and LIVESTRONG.COM as well as through partnerships like and USAToday. With our library already so comprehensive, we saw the opportunity to shift our focus to more targeted categories and other forms of content such as slide shows, video series and feature articles. Good examples of these new formats can be found on  eHow and LIVESTRONG.COM.
None of this would have been possible without having spent so many years working with you, our writers and editors, to build our comprehensive library.
Looking ahead, as we continue to publish articles for eHow and our other sites, we want to be sure we are building on what already exists, not replicating it. This is not to say we will stop assigning standard titles in How to and Topic View format for But it does mean that we will have fewer assignments for the foreseeable future.
However, we will continue to add more publishers and sections as we’ve done over the years, and ultimately the work and opportunities will grow for our best writers and editors. We are also excited to completely execute on our vision of having the most qualified writers and editors working on titles within their areas of expertise.
In order for this to happen, we need to make sure of a few things:

• That only executable, valid and unique titles make it to your Work Desk.
• That every article is written and copy edited by a qualified professional with background, knowledge or experience in the topic.
• That every article has the appropriate format and word count for the topic to be comprehensively covered.

We will also be putting additional focus on helping you grow within your fields. This means offering ways for you to gain exposure on our sites and new tools for you to promote yourself and your work. We will send additional updates and information on assignments going forward. We will also set up some new avenues for you to ask questions and offer feedback. For the time being, if you have any additional questions, please use this forum thread.
Best Regards,
Demand Media Studios Team

This, along with the aforementioned eHow content clean-up initiative, seems to signal a drastically different content strategy than what Demand Media has come to be known for – the “content farm” (or call it what you like) strategy. That’s a strategy, mind you, was generally about writing assignments based on what people are searching for, and including numerous articles on the same topics, covering a variety of different title options. The strategy worked for Google search visibility. No question about it. At least it did for a while. That doesn’t mean that they’re not assigning content based on “demand,” but it seems to be less about saturating the web with run of the mill content.

The company has also talked a lot this year about the increasing diversity in its traffic sources, and its earnings reports have indicated the company is not completely reliant on Google.

We reached out for further comment on the company’s evolving strategy, but they’d not comment on my specific questions. They did say, however, that they’ll be sharing more details in the weeks to come around the new tools they’ll be using to help promote writers, as mentioned in the email.

We’ll certainly be covering the Q3 report when it comes. It’s going to be interesting to hear more about the company’s post Panda content strategy. It may even provide some insight into how others impacted by the update may be able to recover.

Another angle to this whole thing is that a lot of people just lost a source of income, and from the sound of it some of them are taking it pretty hard. In this economy, that’s not hard to believe. In the comments of this article, for example, Vicky Hunter writes:

There were no articles available in the main eHow pool today for the first time ever. All but a few other specialty channels have been empty, as well. Demand’s thousands or writers are panicking on their forums. Crying, screaming, blaming, begging, fighting, pleading for help from fellow writers – even hinting at suicide. No matter what you think about them, you can’t help but feel some real pain for some of these writers. And Demand still won’t be honest about what’s going on, or when things will stabilize. Some of the jumpers are still hanging on at the site, waiting for things to get better, which, at best, means some few articles for some few lucky writers to grab each day.

The bottom must have dropped out, in terms of revenue, for this to happen. I assume the next earnings report will show this. The stock will really tank after that. I feel bad for the writers. Some were making $4,000+ a month, and many were able to keep families afloat during this bad economy – and now it’s all gone, like that – poof.

One major factor about cutting off these writing assignments is the potential loss of the growth curve, which could come back to haunt the company.

That said, in the last report, the company reported a 32% increase in revenue, with 76% growth in cash from operations. You have to remember that the Demand Media Studios isn’t Demand Media’s only source of revenue. Rosenblatt cited not only the company’s content and media business, but its registrar business as providing significant year-over-year growth. ““We plan to build on this momentum by expanding our brand advertising relationships and accelerating our content platform’s international and social media growth initiatives,” he said.

I guess we’ll find out more about those initiatives during the next call.

There are a lot of questions surrounding Demand’s shift in strategy. Has Demand Media taken too drastic an approach to improve quality? Are writers getting the short end of the stick? Is this going to hurt Demand Media in in the long run? Or is this what’s best for the company, and ultimately for search engine results?

We want to know what you think. Let us know in the comments.