Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Content Aggregator: A Writer's Sweatshop

Hubpages, Life123, Helium, Demand Studios,, Associated Content. What do these names have in common? Answer: They're all online content aggregators. They make big bucks off the advertising that clutter their pages, but pay pennies, if anything, to the writers who provide them with those very pages. And all the while, they pretend to be doing writers a favor, marketing themselves as creating a "community" and a "publishing platform" for writers.

At Demand Studios, where Cockatoo is having a stint even though she realizes what a scam it is, as a writer you have it comparably good. Here you get paid a flat rate per article, as long as it's an article corresponding to one of their pre-approved titles and it sticks close to their strict formatting. (The format varies depending on the type of article required for a particular title.) The pay-rate, given the required word-count, seems decent at first. Then after a couple of articles you start to get a sense of it: the catch.

Or two. No, maybe more like five. Well, maybe 2 with 3 sub-catches.

Catch 1. Unless you're a car mechanic or in the construction trade, chances are you're gonna know zip about the topics of the available titles. Demand Studios markets itself to writers as a place where the writer will be able to write about "their passions." Yeah, except about 60% of the articles available for writing are about cars or auto repair. Of the 30 results on the first page of the travel section, about 25 of the titles were actually about cars and had absolutely nothing to do with travel. Evidently, Demand Studios lets a computer algorithm rather than a human being categorize its titles because it seems every available title related to the Dodge Caravan was put under the travel section.

And just a note: this kind of mis-categorization of titles, including those not auto-related, could be found in all categories. Found under "Fashion": How to get a used-car wholesaler's license in Texas. Under "History": Flank pain and ovarian cysts. Under "Mental Health": Information on Federal Stimulus Checks. Under "Animals": Why does unwanted music play on my computer? This rampant mis-categorization means a lot of the writer's time is wasted combing through irrelevant titles while searching for writable articles - sub-catch #1.

Another maybe 20% of the available articles have to do with building construction and home improvement. The next 10% include titles for articles that, theoretically, could be written about health, business, law, and electronics, maybe a couple of other subjects. The thing is, these, along with the building construction and home improvement articles, would require the expertise of someone who would probably have much better things to do than to write for demand studios. That, or the expertise of someone who doesn't mind doing time-consuming research that cuts their hourly pay rate close to nil - sub-catch #2.

The remaining 10%? Well, Cockatoo would say 5% are questions (each title/topic is given in the form of a question) that are incompatible to their format and, consequently, impossible to write an article for. Example: Under "Careers and Job Advancement": When do I use resistors? This article was supposed to be written in the "Decision" format, meaning it should be 150-200 words, and have an "On the one hand..." section, an "On the other hand section..." and then, finally, a "Bottom-line" section. Um, a resistor is an electronic component that resists the flow of electricity (thanks, Wikipedia). So it seems the only accurate way to answer the question is to say, "Uh, when you need them?" which doesn't exactly fit the format. Or fulfill the word requirement.

And finally the last 5%: the questions that are simply too stupid to answer. Here's a partial list. Keep in mind they're all supposed to be answered in 200 words or less:

"How to get a concealable camera on a Mobster" - under "Criminal Law"

"What car do women like men driving?" - "Personal Fitness"

"Large Head Size and Seizures" - "Fashion"

"Why is the dog walking in circles after a head trauma?" - "Dogs"

"What do you use your Conair bathtub bubbler for?" - "Literature"

"How does David Copperfield perform his illusions?" - "Dogs"

"Why do I smell gas fumes coming from my car?" - "Dogs"

"Which is better: Sauna or Steam?" - "Literature"

"Ear Creases and Heart Disease" - "Fashion"

"Does Jorge Cruise work?" - "Dieting and Nutrition"

"Collective Depression" - "Antiques and Collectibles"

Unanswerable questions and too-stupid topics = more (unpaid) time wasted combing through useless titles = sub-catch #3.

Ok, "to be continued" - Cockatoo's pooped.

Tune in next time for Catch #2, a tip on how to scam Demand Studios back, and more on how content aggregators suck the blood of writers.