Google’s Panda update has wrought a number of changes, some good and some bad, for writers on the Web. One of these comes from the decline of content giant (or, content mill as many would have it) Demand Media Studios, which recently sent out a letter to its writers announcing vague but important changes and “new opportunities” for them to promote themselves. Since the number of titles available from Demand’s general assignment pool has dwindled from over 18,000 to (at last visit) 354, it’s clear that the new push for unduplicated, quality content has hit DMS hard.
More than that, though, it’s knocked a number of writers out of a sure (if relatively small) steady income. DMS pays $15 per piece for a 500 (or so) word article published on eHow. There are other outlets for DMS writers with certain qualifications, such as LiveStrong.com for health and fitness specialists, but the majority of its writers toil for eHow and a few special projects that come along from time to time. Now, DMS tells its writers that it’ll be offering the “best” ones ways to promote themselves and their work rather than ponying up that guaranteed $15 for an accepted piece. Small wonder that the DMS forums are aflame with writers expressing outrage, confusion and cynicism.
But the interesting thing is, that for all its reputation as a “content mill,” DMS has actually been one of the better paying content outlets on the Web, offering anyone who passes their probationary writing period a shot at what’s available for a fee that’s higher than those offered by most other sites of its kind. What’s more, DMS also offers grants for outside projects and other kinds of incentives for its writers. (Disclaimer: I was awarded a DMS Writer’s grant for my Street Ink project on Southwestern street art.) Compare that to some other content sites that pay around a dollar for a 200 word piece, or the jobs posted to eLance and other freelance marketplaces offering to pay anywhere from $5 for a complete blog entry or article, or requiring a writer to “audition” by submitting content for free.
In the days when print was king (before the insatiable hunger for Internet content spawned so many calls for “Work at home – write online! No experience necessary!”), articles in writers’ guides bemoaned the fact that writers could so easily be exploited. Outlets requiring on-spec submissions, or those who promised to pay, oh, nothing, and the agents and publishers making exorbitant fees from promises to read, edit or otherwise prepare a writer’s work for publication all took advantage of writers’ wish for validation in the form of a publication credit. Now, that mindset has happily made the leap to the Web, resulting in two very bad things: a lot of terrible writing, and a lot of skilled, dedicated writers who struggle to make a living because the market for those skills is so terribly devalued.
Google’s on the right track. If content really is king on the internet, where more and more people turn for all their information needs, then it needs to be the very best content available. And that won’t come from untrained writers responding to ads claiming that all they need is a computer and basic grammar skills, and internet marketers willing to pay pennies for the content these writers produce. Professionals paid at rates which reflect their skills and experience will produce that well-researched, well-written content that informs, educates and entertains without compromising quality.
As my tattoo artist always says, “If it’s cheap, it’s not good. And if it’s good, it’s not cheap.”