Demand Media Writers Offer Different Viewpoints of Assignment Reduction

    October 15, 2011
    Chris Crum

Demand Media recently alerted Demand Media Studios writers that it would be reducing the amount of assignments it would be given out. As discussed in a recent article, this has left a fair amount of writers without a significant source of income. While that article focused a bit more on Demand’s strategy as a business, we wanted to take a closer look at some perspectives from the writers.

Many have expressed frustration. Some have gone so far as to accuse Demand Media of lying at worst or misleading at best. Others think such claims are way off base. In this article, we’ll take a look at these different points of view.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments. And if you find this subject interesting, please don’t hesitate to share it on Stumbleupon, Facebook, Twitter, +1, etc.

A writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells WebProNews, “I’ve been writing for Demand Studios since 2009 and have only used the income for pocket money, however recently I intended to expand my writing with them. In May 2011 I qualified to write for eHow Money a specialized category for writers with professional experience and the appropriate credentials in addition to my current status as a general writer.”

“I retired as an Assistant Vice President in 2008 from a corporate career in Financial Services in mutual funds from a major financial institution,” they added. “I was a licensed registered principal and have over 30 years experience in financial services and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. My attention was to fulfill a lifelong goal to pursue a fulltime writing career post-retirement. I’ve had extensive business writing experience so I qualified very easily for the general writing and subsequently eHow Money based on my writing ability, business experience and education.”

The writer tells us that they, along with may other Demand Studios writers received vague responses when expressing concern at the lack of assignments. They said they felt “they were being strung along, which is akin to lying.”

“They continually developed new writing categories (eHow Money [and] eHow Garden are examples) as the titles disappeared and the promises that they were providing a better writing experience for their freelance writers,” the writer tells us. “Specifically, shortly after I qualified for eHow Money I contacted the editorial staff because the titles for this category were drastically reduced, and questioned them about qualifying me for a category when the titles were rapidly disappearing. Their response was that they were sorry but working on getting titles out. This is basically the standard response [to] all of their writers when the quantity of titles are questioned. It’s almost as if all of the changes for ‘new writing opportunities’ were a coverup when they were actually taking away the writing opportunities at the same time.”

The writer says Demand Media raised the pay for eHow Money articles, but that there were “no articles to write”.

“Many of the writers were optimistic and waited patiently,” the writer says. “Some writers also encouraged others that more titles would be available via our writers’ forum. There were a significant number of writers earning enough money to pay a good portion of their bills…Writers sincerely believed that they could depend on Demand Studios and continued to write for them because they are one of the few online organizations that pay upfront.”

The writer says they expected this when Demand Media went public and the Panda Update came. “I instinctively knew this was going to be a disaster.”

“It is also very important for the writing community to understand that Demand Studios had and still has writers who provide them with content of the highest professional quality,” the writer adds.

“I’m done with them and will not devote my energy to a company any longer who has no respect for its writers,” the writer tells us. “They’re still making money tens of times over the amount they paid me and all of the other writers.”

This is just the perspective from one writer, but we have seen plenty of other similar tales. Noah Davis at Business Insider shares a response to the freelancer backlash from Demand Media’s Chief Revenue Officer Joanne Bradford: “It’s still one of the largest pools of writing assignments available in the world. We don’t feel like it’s that dramatic of a change because it’s not like every assignment was being taken.”

Our anonymous writer says the response is an “insult.” Davis says he heard from other writers that the quote was “hilarious to those of us who are still working for [Demand Studios].”

Bradford is also quoted as saying, “The folks that are more generalists and have written the short-form how-to articles are finding less assignments. This goes hand-in-hand with our quality improvement and focus on using people who have expertise about the topics they write about.”

Not all Demand Studios writers are so upset though. Some don’t feel that they’ve been misleading at all.

Ken Crawford of The Freelancer Today, for example, has been writing for Demand since July of 2009, and says Demand was his “bread and butter” for quite some time. He acknowledges that things have changed, but he still writes for Demand on a regular basis, he says.

“The perception of whether Demand lied to writers or not, depends on who you ask,” Crawford tells WebProNews. “To be honest, Demand never lied to anybody or made statements that promised one thing while delivering another. Many of the writers that are accusing Demand of lying are ones who are finding themselves without work. Many of these writers are ones who didn’t apply the guidelines, had high percentages of abandoned rewrites/rejections or were basically writing the thinnest content just to grab the $15 justifying it with ‘you get what you pay for.’ Granted $15 is not a lot for content, but if the writer agrees to the rate of pay they should still put out quality work. Nothing is hidden.”

“Demand has not hidden the fact that changes were coming,” he adds. “Even in the latest announcement, the people claiming lies only scanned the information instead of actually reading it. Ehow is not going away, but there will be less title availability. Face it there are only so many ways you can write ‘How To Boil an Egg’ before you finally have to move on to ‘How To Peel a Boiled Egg.'”

eHow has been talking about its content clean-up initiative for a good portion of the year. This includes the deletion of at least 300,000 articles and a feedback feature that tells the company when users are unsatisfied with content, so it can then be more heavily scrutinized and either deleted or edited as necessary.

“While Demand hasn’t come out and spelled out specifically what they are doing in detail, they haven’t outright lied to anybody,” says Crawford. “People make assumptions on limited knowledge. People make accusations out of fear and anger.”

“The work is still there,” he adds. “I, like many other writers, manage to keep my queue filled daily and write consistently. Sure there are issues with editing consistency and so forth, but the work is there for those that work within the system.”

In our previous article, we mentioned the potential financial impact on Demand Media. Is it possible that less assignments means less growth?

“My gut feeling is that this is a good move for Demand,” says Crawford. “It will ‘weed’ out writers who are simply there to put words on a screen for a quick buck. Demand is making efforts to match both writers and editors in their fields of expertise. It’s a growing process and one that is not without it’s challenges. But looking at it long-term, I believe it will benefit not only Demand Studios and it’s writers but also the reader. Less articles at the moment generated for eHow will bring better quality and, one would hope, more value to the reader.”

“Demand Studios is accountable to the shareholders and not just themselves,” he adds. “While the ‘creative’ plan to show profit over 5 years on content is nice, it is vital that they show profit now. It’s business. They will concentrate in areas that give more of a return on investment. Ehow is still a big part of that process, and as far as I can see it will continue to be a big part.”

Crawford also wanted to make one last point about his own position.

“People tend to think I’m a cheerleader or somehow stir the vat of the DMS Kool-Aid,” he says. “My only affiliation with Demand is that of a service provider, plain and simple. The fact is, Demand fills a void for writers. Unfortunately the way the system was set-up in the past, it also provided income for those who simply wanted to make a quick buck. Regardless if you agree to write for $15 or $100, the end result of a writer’s work should be the same. It’s about quality. It’s about bringing value to your client and the readers. If $15 is beneath you, don’t write for Demand Studios.”

A lot of writers apparently don’t feel like they have much of a choice.

Jennifer Mattern at writes, “I’ve also seen writers’ responses to this news. On one hand it’s difficult for me to have sympathy when we’ve spent so much time and energy here helping writers improve their freelance businesses. The information is out there — not only here, but from many great freelancers such as Lori Widmer, Anne Wayman, and Peter Bowerman, and the folks at Freelance Zone, Freelance Folder, and Freelance Switch. If you want to be a more successful freelance writer, you have seemingly endless information available to help you do that.”

“On the other hand, I can’t help but sympathize with some of these writers,” she says. “The news came somewhat suddenly and not long before the holidays. While it’s true no one should have been relying too heavily on any single client, content mill or not, I know they’ll have a tough road ahead as their own business models are forced into a period of transition.”

It’s not a simple situation. There are other opportunities out there for freelance writers though, and it’s clear that quality is a highly sought after quality to have. I suggest continue improving your skills and writing about what you know about. Prove to your prospective clients that they would be better off with your content.

Content can still goes a long way on the web.

What is your position on this discussion? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.