wtf: this is why the Internet is full of unreadable junk

Have you heard about Demand Media? (I thought I’d mentioned it before, but a search through past posts turned up nothing. I suppose it’s merely the fact that I’m constantly fuming in my head about Demand and its ilk that it seems like I must have ranted it them before.)

Demand Media is a content mill. It pays writers, filmmakers, and editors subminimum wages to churn out bland, “evergreen” how-to articles packed with banal “advice”… but also packed with SEO-happy keywords that generate, in aggregate, enormous profits for Demand. Because online advertisers don’t care if you click on a link that ranks high on search engines, load that page, and instantly bounce away because what’s on the page is useless: a pageview is a pageview, as far as advertisers are concered. This material, in turn, overwhelms the Net with boring, unreadable content and, of course, clutters up search-engine results with material you’re not going to want to read.
It’s not just me who frakkin’ hates Demand Media for all its sins against the Net and against good journalism. Jason Fry at Reinventing the Newsroom:

Your average Demand Media writer makes $15 an article. To make a semi-decent wage, that writer has to write an article in half an hour. Copy editors get paid $3.50 an article. To make a decent wage, they have about seven minutes per copy-edit. Unless you’re writing a very straightforward tutorial on a relatively simple process (an aspect of content farms that doesn’t bother me), it is not possible to write an article of any substance in half an hour. Nor is it possible to copy-edit such an article effectively in seven minutes.

Do you want to read an article that someone slapped together in half an hour? One that was edited by someone paid less than what you’d pay for a cup of fancy coffee? Would you trust a how-to that had been assembled with such little thought?

One freelancer who writes for Demand doesn’t see a problem with this (scroll down to commenter DS Writer):

It only takes me 20 minutes to write a $15 article for DS– really easy, quick-to-research stuff–which nets me $45 per hour.

Remember: This writer thinks it’s a good thing that he can pop out an “article” in 20 minutes.

Now, I don’t even believe in an actual soul, or in karma, but as metaphors, they work: How does any writer with any self-respect participate in this charade? If there’s nothing you won’t do to earn a buck, doesn’t that make you a whore? And aren’t you the worst kind of whore: one who sells oneself cheap?

Demand Media’s own site is proud to announce that it is seeking “experienced, passionate, creative professionals… to lend their talent.” No kidding about the “lend.” Demand is not seeking newcomers who might be willing to work almost for free in return for exposure. Demand wants “experienced, passionate, creative professionals,” to whom it will pay $15 per article.

I saw a supposedly tragic story on CNN the other day about illegal migrant grape pickers in the American Southwest who worked for $15 per hour, work that American citizens turned down. It was considered even more tragic that taxes were taken out of their wages by their employer. But at least that meant that the illegal workers were only getting half the Social Security taxes withheld (the employer pays the other half). As freelancers, Demand’s writers — who are both their own employees and their own employers — can expect to have to pay 15 percent of that $15, plus income taxes.

Where is the sad CNN story about how writers are being treated?

Back to Fry:

Put these two things [cheap writing and cheap editing] together and you compound the mess. You get articles that read like first drafts — haphazardly organized, superficial messes. You get things like this, and this, and this — all Demand content selected as Editor’s Picks for USA Today’s Travel Tips section. These are lousy articles, and USA Today editors should ask hard questions about what being associated with them is doing to their brand. But I’m not saying the writers of those pieces are lousy writers, because it’s not a fair test. Criticizing those writers for creating subpar content in such a situation would be like criticizing auto workers for creating a crummy car when the assembly line’s moving at 40 miles per hour. The poor quality of the writing isn’t the fault of the writers, but a predictable outcome of the business model.

Okay, so: Demand sucks. It may be okay for hacks who have no compunction about farting out useless “content” in 20 minutes, but it isn’t any good for the rest of us: not for readers, not for publishers who value their brands, and certainly not for conscientious writers who have anything unique to say (which can’t be SEO’ed to death), who wish to develop a voice (which Demand is not interested in), who expect to earn a decent living from honest work (not from work that must be gamed to be even moderately well paid), or who want to write anything that requires real research.

Tony Silber at Folio, in a post entitled “Demand Media Can Go to Hell,” rages:

I hope no magazine ever partners with Demand Media. In fact, I hope Demand Media and any site like it goes out of business. They demean and abuse professional content creators, leveraging them to generate revenue from Google ads.

I agree. But it’s too late. Here’s what prompted this post:

Demand Media Extends Content Model To Other Publishers, Hearst And Gannett First To Sign Up

Demand Media on Thursday debuted a new service for publishers to pad their online offerings with the work of independent freelancers. Two of the first properties to employ Content Channels, so-called, include Hearst Corp.’s SFGate.com and Chron.com.

You better believe that Hearst and Gannett — and Demand Media — are making out like bandits on this deal: the Demand writers don’t earn additional revenue when their material appears on highly trafficked sites like SFGate.com. All the earnings — and all the savings that Gannett and Hearst don’t have to spend on actual journalism — is going right into the pockets of these big corporations.

The next time someone bitches about how anyone can post anything they like online, or about stupid blogs about people’s cats, or the rantings of fanboys about comic books, don’t take it. Point them at Demand Media, and at the corporate publishers who buy Demand’s content, and tell them that’s who is to blame. Because no one, mostly, is reading most of those unreadable and pointless blogs and rants. But everyone is reading Gannett and Hearst sites.

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