Demand Studios’ IPO Reveals More Reasons Writers Should be Wary

In case you haven’t yet heard, content farm Demand Studios is planning a $125 million initial public offering. This was not unexpected. We’ve already got the drill down — content mills pay freelance writers peanuts, and then go public or get acquired for $100 million-plus.

But there’s a difference here from Associated Content’s recent acquisition by Yahoo! An IPO requires a hefty public filing, in which the company has to disclose tons of facts about their business. (Since Yahoo is so big and AC so relatively small, Yahoo didn’t have to disclose much about the acquisition to its shareholders.) The IPO filing, known as an S-1, is long. But here in brief are a few important things the filing reveals about Demand Studios’ business that writers should know:

DS is losing money. That’s right, they pay you only $15 for an article, and they still haven’t figured out how to make a profit off you! Can you believe it? They’ve got 10,000 writers creating 5,700 pieces of content a day, but that apparently isn’t enough critical mass to make a profitable business model.

If I were staking my income on what DS does, I’d be seriously worried about that. Unprofitable companies eventually go bust, for the most part. Essentially, DS needs the IPO money to stay afloat! After all their executive talk about how they’re the new media model that’s going to flatten traditional media. Yeah, we’ll see about that. A lot of print publications are still making money, you know.

DS’s markup is 260 percent. DS pays you $15, and the filing reveals they make an average of $54 per article. Yet, they are still hemorrhaging cash. The company lost $14.2 million on $170 million of revenue in 2008; in 2009, it was a $22 million loss on nearly $200 million in income. They seem to have improved a bit in the first half this year, only losing $6 million on $114 million. Wow, I bet if you put content up on your own site and sold ads against it, you could figure out how to make a profit…and you could keep all the profit for yourself!

I’d love to know, with what DS pays editors, where the fat is in this business model that’s making it unprofitable. It’s kind of stunning that they’re trying an IPO with this profitability record, but surprisingly, about 40 percent of companies trying the public markets right now aren’t in the black. Sort of a weird return to the dot-com days going on.

DS is in danger of being branded spam by Google. They disclose this in the section on the possible competitive threats to their business. Hmm, if that happens and Google decides to screen DS out, poof! No more Demand! A lot of Internet-watchers believe at some point Google has to find a way to screen out these sites or users are going to turn to other search engines in their search for better-quality content.

DS makes much of its money from domain-selling and domain-squatting. Turns out more than 40 percent of its revenue is from eNom, not even from the content mill. People buy domain names from eNom, and eNom runs Google ads on empty Web sites to get revenue. Weird, huh?

DS’s timing shows it’s desperate. The IPO market has perked up a bit this year from its dead stop last year, but most IPOs aren’t doing very well. The majority have gone down after issue, which is bad news for company founders and backers. The down market means only companies that HAVE to get some money right now are trying an IPO. DS could no doubt get more money if they waited a year or two. But apparently they can’t wait.

The upside here — founders and investors may not end up with much. They have to wait three months after the IPO before they can cash any of their shares, and the way the market’s been going, they may not do very well.

As many people know, I have never written for DS or any of their ilk. But I still think it’ll be pretty sweet if we can watch the folks who perpetrate this crime against fair wages get hosed on their big IPO payday.

The other thing to know is just because a company’s filed an IPO doesn’t mean it’ll go — they still have to get enough big investors interested to price it and make it go. We’ll see, given its unprofitability, if DS can sell investors on the deal.

Ready to move up from content mills? Learn how to grow your writing income in my new community, Freelance Writers Den — get your questions answered by freelance-writing pros, take e-courses, attend live events, and much more.

Photo via Flickr user Tjeerd

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92 comments on “Demand Studios’ IPO Reveals More Reasons Writers Should be Wary
  1. Rose says:

    That's a real eye opener. I've been approved to write with them for two months now and I haven't submitted any articles yet. I just can justify writing for so little money. Thank you for sharing! I think I'll stick to my normal writing and blogging clients.

  2. Angela West says:

    Great article Carol!!

  3. Cathy Miller says:

    Great information here, Carol.

    I wonder if the 10,000 writers are active or just those who signed on. I signed up a couple of years ago, but never submitted anything – mostly due to the fact that when I found out more about it, I knew it wasn't my cup of tea. I still get emails (that I just delete).

    Maybe the thought of Google changing the rules is a major threat to them. I read somewhere that Demand Studio's ad agreements expire with Google in the next couple of years. As someone who does extensive research for my health care niche, I would love to see credible sources instead of some e-How article hit page 1 of Google.

  4. Carol Tice says:

    @Rose — I'm still just absolutely stunned to learn they're unprofitable. They're making $200M a year on autopilot nearly, online, and they can't retain a dime of it? Let's just say I'M not investing!

    @Cathy — Yes, many have commented that the 10,000 figure they throw around is kind of baloney. Clearly, way fewer writers are actively working for DS at any given time.

    The scarier thing to contemplate is how much work it is for them to keep that channel stuffed with serfs willing to slave at these prices. Eventually, as the economy improves, they may find it impossible to keep the content churning at even this rate, much less ramping it further.

    You're right that their Google agreement are coming up for expiration…so that's another question mark in their future.

  5. James says:

    Let me just play devil's advocate here for a moment, and not just because I regularly write for Demand Studios.

    a) It's quite normal for start-up companies, especially Internet companies to not make a profit in the first several years of being in operation. Heck, YouTube is still struggling to get in the black. I don't see this as a sign that Demand Studios is teetering on the brink of destruction, I just see it as a sign that they follow the traditional pattern for start-up companies: spend a bunch of years in the red, show you have a business model that will eventually turn a profit (even if it hasn't yet), gobble up investors and maybe get an IPO and….BOOM all of a sudden the money starts pouring in.

    b) As far as how much money you can make at Demand Studios, I'm here to tell you that it's really not that hard to make $75/hr doing it. I do (on days that I can get myself to stop surfing the internet so much). When I really buckle down and focus, I can write three $25 stories like it's nothing. The way I do all my freelancing work is boiling it down to a minimum per-hour rate (whether I'm billing by the hour or by the project or by the word) so I haven't yet figured out why I am supposed to feel inferior because I choose to dedicate a portion of my time writing for them, since they're willing to pay me $75/hr and some of my other clients aren't.

    c) I still don't understand why freelancers are so threatened by companies like Demand Studios. It's like comparing apples to oranges. The level of writing just isn't up to par with other types of freelance writing out there, and it never will be. Most of the people who write for Demand aren't ever going to be able to compete for the higher-paying jobs.

    I'm not convinced yet that the watering down of the freelance market has more to do with companies like Demand Studios than it does with the utter annihilation of the journalism market. There are hundreds of out-of-work journalists out there who have flooded the market, making it harder to find gigs and pushing down prices. That will all naturally level itself out again, I imagine, as the economy picks up and the weaker of the freelancers out there move on to other opportunities.

    All in all, I hate to see freelancers spend their time fretting over the likes of Demand Studios. They're the McDonald's of the freelancing world (except they pay by the burger sold, not by the hour). That doesn't mean that 4-star restaurants are all going to be going out of business any time soon.

  6. Carol Tice says:

    Hey James —

    As a longtime business reporter, I'm very surprised they're not profitable, as their business just seems very low cost. I'm hoping as the IPO proceeds they have to explain more about their model so we can learn whether it's a typical startup curve, or more of a drugstore.com thing, where a decade later they still don't make money…because the idea just isn't a profitable one.

    Wouldn't it be funny, too, if it turned out it was more profitable to hire well-paid journalists to write stories than to pay $20 an article for something written in 20 minutes?

    I don't feel threatened by DS in any way, since I signed two clients in the past month that pay at $1-$2 a word and I'm working on a third one. I'm just on a crusade to help writers understand that they can do better, if they want to. And by the way, I believe if you are really able to churn out 3 DS stories an hour, hour after hour, you are the exception.

    I agree with you about the market saturation right now, and that should naturally right itself as the economy recovers.

    • Laurel says:

      I suppose I'm the exception. I can write five in an hour, have been doing so for a year and am entirely happy with Demand. I don't mean this as an insult to anyone here — I think everyone doing their own thing is what the world is all about — but why are people so negative about this? Why do people talk like $15 per article isn't a fair wage? I have a master's degree; most of my friend's have master's degrees. I make more than any of my friends, get time to travel, get time to spend with my family and have actually improved the clarity of my writing.

      Not all writers can do better; the market simply isn't there. Different skill levels, different experience levels and different lifestyles all kind of come into play here.

      And by the way: every job I had (including teaching at a university) paid less for more time than what I'm making at Demand. (I'll mention that I have other clients, too, but I'm only referring to my Demand wages.) Why aren't people railing against what fast food employees make or what librarians make or what retail clerks make? I would make more working 30 minutes out of every hour in an 8-hour day for Demand than I did when I was a college student working at Target.

      If you can't "churn out 3 DS stories an hour, hour after hour" then don't work for Demand, especially not as your main income source. It really is that simple. This is not the biggest injustice in the history of employment. It seems like a bunch of well-off, spoiled writers complaining about something they either have no stake in or don't have to have a stake in. The people who write for Demand are adults. We make our own decisions — and we're free to leave the company if we don't like it.

      (Not everyone has to make $800 on one article to survive. Seriously.)

      • TiceWrites says:

        I'm always happy to hear from people who are able to make Demand a financial success for them. In talking with many, many writers in my mentoring practice, I do have to say that you DO seem to be the very big exception to the rule.

        We talk like $15 per article isn't a fair wage…because it isn't. I write quick articles on Internet research and personal knowledge, too — at $100. I consider that a fair wage for that type of work.

        For most of the writers I know, they can't churn it out nearly fast enough to make even $20-$30 an hour on Demand, with rewrites and editor interaction figured in. Many report it's not minimum wage for them. Then mills become a trap, where they must write long hours to just barely subsist, and never have time to market their business and move up.

        I think writing these type of articles is a specialized niche that a few people like you are really in the groove with, and it works for you. But for every one like you I've heard from, I've heard 100 tales of woe and desperate pleas to help writers learn how to find other writing clients at higher rates.

        Thanks for sharing your experience. Glad it's working for you. I'm just here to provide facts — like the disclosures in Demand's IPO that showed them to have previously lied about their profitability. I've already heard from mill writers who're looking to diversify because that revelation makes them nervous about Demand's future.

        Wish I felt well-off, much less spoiled…but with 5 mouths to feed around here (one of them leaving for college soon), we're just happy to keep the whole merry-go-round turning.

      • bmccrain says:

        How long are these five-an-hour articles? Maybe I get up and go to the bathroom too much, but it seems impossible to do that. Like Carol mentions, I also can't see how factoring in research, editing and brainstorming you're actually making what you claim.

        What are the articles about? If I was asked to write whatever I wanted without any references to actual fact, I suppose I could come up with five articles an hour.

        What is interaction with editors like? If you spend time on revisions, are you factoring that in?

        How many can/do you do in a day? Does Demand Studios buy everything you write? How many hours are you actually making $75 an hour?

        Somebody show me a check! I don't know if I'll ever believe you can earn well unless I see proof…

        • TiceWrites says:

          Hi Brendan —

          Thanks for commenting! When it comes to Demand and other mills, I find everyone falls into two camps — a small one where they think it's great and claim they can make $40-$75 an hour doing it, and the vast majority of writers, who have either tried and earned minimum wage, or can't even fathom how the math would work.

          I think what we can conclude is it's a very specialized area of writing, and there are some writers who can make it work well for them. But that it's clearly not a good living for most.

          I really wrote this post because of the concerns I had looking at Demand's financials that the whole thing could go 'pop' at some point, since they're not making money. What I really wanted to say is if you are only writing for Demand…know that they've never made money. And in my many years of business-reporting experience, companies that never make money often go bust.

          I think it's notable that their IPO — filed way back in August — has yet to price, even though the IPO markets have been generally perking back up recently.

          Clearly, they are having a bit of trouble getting investors enthused now that it's come to light they aren't profitable. They may need that IPO cash to keep operating, or to get bought, since they're hemorrhaging money.

          If they can't make a deal, they could close up one day — mills have busted before. So it's really just a word of warning about that for writers who rely on Demand for the bulk of their income. I say, time to diversify.

        • Kathleen says:

          bmccrain,

          I know I am late on replying to your post. You know what I would love to do? I would love to organize a field trip for all of the people who are posting replies on this Demand Studios article that Carol has provided. We’ll rent a bus, get permission slips and we’ll all go to the houses of all the people who have ever claimed that they are just rolling in cash as a result writing for places like Demand Studios, Textbroker, Need-An-Article, etc. and just sit over their shoulders and watch and see how they do it.

          It will be a week-long field trip where we watch people do their research and collect their bullet-proof references in about 30 seconds and then watch them whip out well-written, quality articles in about 7 minutes flat, because that’s about what it would take to make a great living off of these places. Then we’ll sit and watch their earnings just pour into their PayPal accounts.

          As I have stated, I believe that are some people who do really well with Demand Studios and other places, my hat is off to them, maybe they are allowed access to the higher paying articles, but I think that so very rarely ever happens.

          Just wanted to add my two cents.

          Kathleen

          • Carol Tice says:

            Deb Ng, who sold Freelancewritinggigs a while back, was always saying she made $30 an hour…and I think that is in part from getting the higher-paying articles…maybe because of Demand’s sponsorship relationship with her site. I don’t think I’ve ever heard from anyone else who gets more than $15-20 an article from them, though you keep hearing there are better-paying assignments in there somewhere.

            The people I’ve seen who earn well on these places have a particular expertise area — they were a building contractor or a lawyer or something…and they can just sit there leveraging their own knowledge. They’re mostly able to write off the top of their head on the topics, seems to be the secret. For someone who’s just a writer, who’s going to need to research each topic online, it seems like it’s hard for it to pencil out.

    • Greg Rohloff says:

      Carol,

      I edited copy for Demand Studios two years ago for several months. The rate was $3.50 per article, which meant you had to either reject or approve an article in 10-15 minutes, and hope for the best. Some writers were good at their particular style and could be edited in that amount of time. What was frustrating was that so few writers went by the style guidelines, and when I once pointed out that a writer had virtually used word-for-word the same information for two different titles, I asked a supervisor who insisted that the two articles were different enough and that both could be approved. We parted after one supervisor criticized the approval of an article that I had checked with another supervisor and had gotten his approval.

  7. Andrew says:

    It will be interesting to see whether those writers who swear by the DS model will put their money where their mouths are and invest in the company.

  8. Anne Wayman says:

    Good stuff, Carol. Thanks for the research. Parts of your story remind me of the heady days when no internet venture was expected to make money before it went IPO – and most disappeared when the tech bubble burst. I had options in two and actually made some money which I suspect is why DS is trying an IPO now… I'm not surprised they aren't making money – it's not that easy to do on the net – not impossible, but their supposition that there are a ton of people out there willing to pay for articles has always seemed a strange one to me.

    James' comment about the demise of the journalism market is right on and how that will right itself given how few corporations own so much of what used to be journalism is a mystery to me.

    We have indeed been born in interesting times.

    A

  9. Nancy says:

    Demand Studios has approved about 62000 writers when I checked 2 minutes ago, of that, only 10,000 are actually active.

  10. Carol Tice says:

    @Nancy — what an interesting statistic! Seems to indicate that only about 1/6th of the writers who try Demand end up doing anything for them.

    Meanwhile, my BNET colleague Erik Sherman adds another important point for writers to bear in mind about Demand: They lie. What are they telling you that might be B.S.?

    Demand has been telling the media they're a highly profitable company for a couple of years now. But what do you know…actually they're not. More from Erik here:

    • Gina says:

      Hi, Carol. I love your blog. I wasaccepted to write for Demand Studios months ago. That was back when they absorbed eHow, kept the good writers and kicked out the revenue writers with all the expertise on short notice. Talk about some angry folks.

      I was really excited at first being accepted to write for eHow on the inside. $15 an article seemed like a sweet deal. Except you're given a dashboard with access to all kinds of titles, some of which I have zero experience.

      Example: How to Make My HP Ml370 G5 DAT 160 USB Bootable

      What?

      There are more like that. Even a simple category like "food" has titles like:

      How to Remove Rub Rail & Rebed Hull Deck Joint

      Meh?

      They come up with these titles using some kind of title generator based on keywords that are most likely to rank.

      Can you imagine all the time it takes to research that before you write then have to wait on the copy editor(s) to approve?

      Plus, Demand Studios has editorial guidelines that would make the most experienced writer gag.

      A lot of rules for $15. It surprises me, too, that they're losing money. Eh…no it doesn't.

      There are a slew of titles on eHow that have to do with automobile maintenance. Mechanics would have a field day. I don't know why they don't hire mechanics who can write.

      So I guess the real problem is that Demand Studios is failing to target writers with the expertise to cover the topics they want written about. That's why so many people are inactive.

      Too much work and time to research a topic you have no expertise in for the pay they're offering.

  11. Nice post. As the CEO of WV Writing Services I cruise the websearching for more useful info to put to use to better serve our customers. I love your post and will be back for more.

  12. I hope Google does weed them out. Would be nice if their karma caught up with them.

    I looked into them when I was in a bad way a couple of years ago, and when I found out what they were paying, my response was, "Are you effing kidding me?"

    Even when I first started out, I earned more than that.

    Needless to say, about two hours after I laughed myself off the chair to the floor, I got hired from a query I sent out — at a living wage.

  13. J says:

    Just an objective observer most of you sound elitist snobbish and threatened by this substitute service provider in a long recession economy. James seemed to have the most well thought out objective response

  14. Carol Tice says:

    I had to laugh when I saw this, J — I had just accepted an $800 article assignment about the minute before. If that makes me a snob, so be it — but I think it just makes me a writer who's trying to feed her family and still have time to eat dinner with them, too.

    I don't think I know anybody who feels threatened by DS and their like. I have many mentees who feel exploited by DS, though.

    I feel DS has affected my earnings and clientele not at all over the past two years of recession. I earned my most ever in 2009…so not sure how I would feel threatened by the existence of low-paying mills that create content for robots to read. All my clients want content that's for people to read, so it's really a different world.

    What I do feel is sad that many writers are getting what I feel is radically underpaid by content mills, and I'm motivated to give them information to help writers earn more. I'm offering up tons of free tips for earning more on this blog, every week. As I said on WAHM.com earlier today, that's the whole agenda. I'm all about — you deserve more money!

    I'm not sure what's elitist or snobby about wanting to lift up all writers to earn a better living. You could call me crazy, though — why don't I leave other writers to earn so little on DS that they can't wait two weeks to get paid by a better client, and keep the competition down in the higher-earning niches? But that's not me. As tribute to those who helped me, I'm now dedicated to helping others move up. Any chance I get, I'm going to do it.

    So… love and hugs, and you deserve fair wages!

  15. Salvador says:

    Hi Carol,

    I signed up with Demand Studios two months ago. What gets me is how inane most of the titles are. Questions like "How do i change codecs?" or "How do I connect a Samsung phone to an HP computer?". At least the second one bothered to use a capital "I". For me this'll definitely be only a spare-time occupation.

    We are also hit by the downturn in journalism here I am based in France. Magazines in my sector are closing daily, swelling the number of the free-lancers. Others are restructuring or being taken over. They then decide to sack most of their writers and use mainly freelancers. A year or two later they change tack and hire a handful of young (and low paid) journalists and ditch all the free-lancers. Even web sites I contribute to are cutting back. Now a couple of companies are launching services in France along the DS model. It'll be interesting to see how they get on.

    Incidentally, when you write about DS's 260% mark-up, did you take into account the fee they pay the copy editors? Anyone know how much copy editors are paid?

    Something else that is revealing about DS strategy: they recently launched a UK version of their eHow web site, but made no attempt to localise it whatsoever, just mirrored the US site.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Salvador —

      That's just straight markup off the writer cost…obviously there are additional costs, but we know how little they pay editors…and it's a Web-based model, so overhead should be low. With my business-reporter hat on, it's pretty troubling that at this scale there isn't a profit. Often the story with startups is, "Well, when we scale we'll be profitable." But DS is plenty scaled already! Why doesn't it make money? It's a real question…and one that would worry me if I were writing for them. They sold themselves as having figured out the secret of how to make cash from content online…but it turns out they have not. Which makes me wonder how long this model will be around.

      You of course bring up the other problem with writing for DS — a lot of the work assignments available are pretty arcane and bizarre. I can't imagine what it's like to try to keep finding titles that are a fit for you with these weird listings.

      Sorry to hear things in France are similar to here in the U.S. market! What I've found in two years of very aggressively marketing my business is that there are still good-paying markets out there, especially in copywriting, but even for publications (some online, some off). It takes a lot of drive to carve out a good living right now, but I'm happy to be a freelancer vs a staffer! As you noted, more and more work is freelance, so to me I'm in the perfect spot.

      Thanks for writing!

  16. Emma Austen says:

    There's a website called demandstudiossucks.com where contractors for that site post concerns/complaints. It's not a site dedicated to bashing the company, but venting frustrations. DS' own forums, as anyone who has ever ventured to that scary place knows, are not a place for "free expression".

    I don't write anymore for DS, but when I did, there were several "interesting" threads on the demandstudiossucks site. One discussed in detail the experience of a writer, scared of being identified, who attended a "conference" sponsored by DS for some of it's contractors. Another spoke of a journalist's visit to the DS headquarters, which was a plush modern office filled with tons of technology and catered luncheons to all employees several times a week. The lavish spending, gifts, and company atmosphere sound straight out of an early 90's dot com start up.

    Read the SEC filing and it gets even hairier. The company is making a great deal of profit over the abysmal rate they are paying their writers.

    With the way they spend, especially as it's been relayed by numerous sources, I'm not surprised. But they should be ashamed of themselves to EVER insinuating the company was some sort of mega-profitable cash cow. It just isn't so.

  17. Perry Rose says:

    "DS pays you $15, and the filing reveals they make an average of $54 per article."

    Excuse me if this has been asked many times before, Carol, but do you know where DS passes on these articles where they get paid that amount?

    Does anyone here know?

    If so, why not just cut out DS and go to those sources instead?

  18. Carol Tice says:

    I think that might be hard, Perry, as they own many of the sites they develop content for — eHow, Livestrong, etc. I think that figure reflects ad and affiliate revenue on those pages.

    But it's not all that hard to go out and find your own clients and keep the whole $50.

  19. Hi Carol,

    I work in the SEO world, I write for DS (not under my professional name, however), and I though you might be interested in how the SEO world sees DS. The following article goes through their S-1. It is thorough and well-balance:

    http://searchengineland.com/demand-medias-ipo-the

  20. John White says:

    Huh. I've just noticed today that Darren Rowse's Problogger site, http://www.problogger.net, prominently displays an affiliate ad for Demand Studios. Darren is pretty well respected in blogging and content circles; I wonder if all of the fuss around Demand Studios is somehow lost on him, or perhaps he's insulated from it. It's not as though he needs affiliate revenue from companies of dubious repute.

  21. Carol Tice says:

    @John — that's interesting. Guess you'd have to ask Darren. But he does a monthly chart of where his revenue comes from, and ads are definitely a chunk of it.

  22. Carol Tice says:

    @Christopher – thanks for the link — that article goes into much more detail on DS's reliance on Google and ways that could pose a problem in the future. To sum up, there is a solid possibility that in future, the site could end up being viewed as spam by Google and screened out of results, which could vaporize one-quarter or more of the company's revenue.

  23. Lisa says:

    It's not uncommon for a new business to reinvest everything so that they're unprofitable on paper- businesses pay taxes on profit, duh. And if you've ever looked through the eNom sites, they're not empty- they have articles from DS writers – they're niche sites, that's all.

    I can bring in $40-$60 an hour writing for DS and never have to send a query, talk on the phone or get dressed. I don't have to keep a schedule, my kids can interrupt me a thousand times a day and my work is always available without deadlines or any effort on my part to "sell" myself.

    DS- and all the other websites that rely on Google's adsense for income- stay abreast of the algorithm changes, it's all part of business. If, in the unlikely event that they lose their adsense account- there are other ad networks out there.

    And why would a writer care? It's not like we'd lose the money we've already earned. DS could stop buying articles tomorrow and stop reinvesting and STILL make money indefinitely because the ads run forever (in theory)

    I KNOW I will be investing- I missed the bus on Google's IPO and I refuse to miss DS's I don't write much there lately because my own websites and the income I get from revenue share sites is really all I need to support my family of 8. We just bought an RV and we plan to travel for a year starting next month. You "traditional writers" can balk all you want, but real people really are making a real income on revenue share sites, and supplementing that income with DS is a great way to improve writing skills and make fast cash.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Lisa –

      If you read through some of the comments above, it appears the lack of profits may not be from reinvestment at DS, but from inappropriate spending levels.

      If you can make $60 an hour writing for DS and you're making a fortune off revenue-share sites, I think that's fantastic! Unfortunately all evidence is that you are in a very small minority. But sounds like you also have your own monetized sites in there too, which I'm always advocating mill writers consider — sounds like that's paying off for you!

      As I blog for BNET and Entrepreneur magazine, I'm not sure how 'traditional' of a writer I really am at this point…but I generally earn $100 an hour, so mills simply don't support my hourly rate, or the rate I coach writers to aim for. But thrilled it's working for you.

      You might want to study what's gone on with IPO values this year before you get too excited about DS's IPO…and first let's see if they can get it off the ground. There seems to have been pretty widespread headscratching in the financial community over the revelation, after two years of telling everyone they are "highly profitable," that in fact they are still losing buckets of money.

      Thanks for writing — great to see some new faces in these discussions this week!

  24. Perry Rose says:

    An interesting (then again, maybe not) on DM.

    http://journalism.about.com/b/2010/02/05/should-y

    I really can't say either way because I never wrote for them. But so many more experienced writers commenting on them can't be wrong. … Can they? :-)~

    There are also links in the article that goes to other sources on different subjects that a writer may find useful.

  25. Carol Tice says:

    Thanks for providing the resources, Perry.

  26. Kathleen says:

    I also used to think that writers who slammed Demand Studios were snobs who felt threatened by “non-writers” making money just like “real” writers do. After trying to write for Demand Studios I realize that this is not the case.

    Demand Studios has this ridiculous model of, “Okay, here is a truly inane subject to write about. We will give you zero clue as to what we’re looking for but go ahead and write it and we’ll let you know if you’ve gotten it right. If we don’t like what you’ve submitted we’ll have you redo it until we’re satisfied or we’ll just reject your article and you will not see dime one for the the last 2 days of research and rewrites you’ve been doing.”

    James – if you do in fact make $75.00 an hour working for Demand Studios you must be a very knowledgeable and talented writer. Which means you could do a hell of a lot better than Demand Studios. You could start a profitable blog, you could write for magazines – there are so many more worthwhile things you could be doing.

    And that, I believe, is what Demand Studios critics are desperately trying to point out.

    I was so excited when I was “accepted” by Demand Studios. $15.00 and article? Gosh, you start to think, if I could pound out several of those a day I really could make a decent liveable wage (at least by my single and childless standards) and have the comfort of a flexible homebased source of income.

    But, alas, it is not to be. Demand Studios is just another empty promise of homebased income that doesn’t really pan out in the end. Difficult to find topics that won’t take half a day to write about, then one must find images and write captions for them, provide all these references and then put up with rude, ignorant “copy editors” (okay not all of them are rude and ignorant but a lot of them are). Also – has anyone else accepted one of their idiotic subjects to write about only to find that eHow already has about 3 different titles on the exact same subject?

    I used to read eHow articles if I were researching a topic but now I just pass them by. I know how these articles were acquired and I don’t trust their content.

    I like writing for TextBroker but the pay is miniscule, Demand Studios pays more but it’s an online sweatshop. I would love to work from home as a writer (actually, for the sake of accuracy, what I do really isn’t writing per se but copywriting) but I’m wondering if trying make a living as a “content writer” as a whole is just a pipe dream. Maybe content writing has replaced get-paid-to-stuff-envelopes as the biggest work-from-home scam.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Making a living as a content writer is very real! Just not with clients like Demand.

      There are real companies out there, say, the Fortune 1000 down to businesses on your main street — they all need web content too! And they have real business that make good money, and they have a marketing budget, and they pay for content, at real-world rates. There are online magazines…if you only look at the low-pay world, it seems like the whole world is low pay.

      The last few online assignments I've gotten all pay $1-$2 a word. Wish I could do more to help writers understand there's a whole big world of professional-rate markets out there, paying well for online articles, blogs, Web pages and white papers! Good markets haven't gone away, but a low-pay online-content underworld has sprung up under them…and lots of people seem to know only that.

      • Writer 72 says:

        I’m dubious about DS, but I’d find you more credible if you’d provide some real, specific examples of places that are paying you “$1-2 per word” for your writing. If you’re truly intent on helping out fellow writers–and not just bashing DS–why not instead provide real references to places they can go and find the sweet gigs you’re describing?

        • Carol Tice says:

          Hi there Writer 72 —

          Yes, I’ve been called a liar before for daring to say people can make more than DS rates. But I’ll just keep saying it — you really can.

          The folks at DS do count on your continuing to believe nobody pays more than $20 or so for an article, though. It’s how their fortune was made.

          Rather than creating a listing of places that pay great rates that would probably quickly go out of date, my focus is on providing writers with the tools they need to find good markets that fit their experience and interests, in any economy, anywhere in the world.

          I also don’t do listings because there are already great resources that do that job.

          Telling you where I personally earn good rates won’t help you, unless you have my resume, experience, and awards.

          You can always take a look at my writer site and find out the markets I’ve written for, if you’re truly disbelieving.

          Instead, my focus is on teaching writers how to find the good-paying markets THEY could write for. Yours are unique to you.

          As far as where to find them, certainly The Writer’s Market lists dozens and dozens of publications that pay $1 a word or more, and Wooden Horse also has a lot of useful info along these lines. Take a browse. Any medium-sized to larger company pays professional rates, too.

          Great-paying corporate clients are found by getting out there and marketing. Read through this blog or visit me at The Freelance Writers Den for loads of course materials that show you how to prospect and get the good gigs. I just loaded up the marketing basics module last night.

          Yes, finding good paying clients takes more initial effort than firing up your DS dashboard…but it pays SO much more.

  27. Perry Rose says:

    I think most of them know, Carol. It's just that not many want to put forth the effort to do this.

    Many take the easy way, like writing for sites like DS. Then after awhile of writing for DS, they have settled, they got comfortable to the point of having a hard time changing themselves.

    In other areas of our lives, just about all of us get like this.

    That's how our peabrains work. heh

    In a very small way, it is sort of like being brainwashed, a little at a time, over time.

    Also, many can't see themselves getting paid the kind of rates you get anyway. You can show them until you are blue in the face, but if they can't see it….

    After all, we are talking up to and over $300 an article. Many can't see themselves getting that for just one article they put together in a typical 8 to 9-hour work day (or less) that people go through on their jobs.

    It's beyond their, "mental reach," sort of speak.

    However, they could see themselves making, say, $30 an article, and then working their way up, a little at a time.

    Remember that book, Think Big? The author would have sold more copies if it was titled, Think Small. Then Think Your Way Up To Thinking Big.

    hee hee

    It's sort of like a woman being with a jerk who mistreats her, or a man being with an insensitive b***h. … They can't see themselves moving on…doing better.

    Great blog, dollface, but you can do just so much. *shrugs shoulders*

    Hey, wait a second here…this would make a great article. :-)~

  28. Carol Tice says:

    Not sure I agreed with all of that up there, especially the part about peabrains, Perry!

    I believe that working a gig like DS really works for some people. And that's awesome for them. But others do feel exploited at the mills — and I'm here to help them.

    I'm here blogging for free because I want to help people who feel that isn't working for them. They want to write compelling stories that are longer than 500 words, interview people, do some reporting, be published in prestigious publications, or find solid copywriting clients, and mostly, they want to earn a real, major living! The high-five to six-figure kind. Not everybody aspires to that, which is totally OK with me. But some do.

    I heard from one of them this morning. She says she's making $200 a week on DS and losing her mind. I help people like that find the exit door. If you don't want to exit, great! I'm just here to say, mills are not the universe of freelance writing.

    I do definitely get some disbelief when I talk about $800-$2,000 an article type rates — which is the size of the assignments I've taken on in the past week. But they're real, people. I've had people say, "I can't even imagine how I could do so much that an article would be worth $400."

    As you said, if you can't envision it, you're not going to end up doing it. I am trying to help people think big! Because there is a LOT of opportunity out there.

  29. tanai says:

    OK. Sounds good. But where exactly are these miracle jobs? Every time I google all I see is DS and similar sites. I went to look at the writer's market — in my niche, I managed to find about 10-20, looked up a few and didn't see anything exciting. Nothing resembling any sort of chance at steady high paid work.

    So where are these companies that pay so much? Where are they advertising? Why are they hiding if they need writers so badly? I've looked at the freelance job boards. They're junk. I've looked at Monster.com. They have very specific requirements that I don't meet by any measure, such as 5 years experience as a senior content editor for…and so on.

    So WHO exactly is looking for writers? Name names. Name a name of a serious job board, filled with ads looking for freelancers from all professional backgrounds, to write about their niche. I haven't seen anything except DS.

  30. James says:

    I should clarify, after reading Kathleen's message.

    Yes, I do know that I could be doing more. But it gets really easy to get sucked into the ease of not having to go out and sell yourself and market and think of blog ideas and all that, when you have a whole slew of (inane) Demand Studios topics to write about.

    When it comes down to the end of the month and I have a monetary goal in front of me I need to hit, the easy way out is to go and knock out a bunch of Demand Stories. That leaves me with little time (or brain capacity) to work on marketing myself.

    I do know I can be doing better than $75/hr (on my best day). I have one client who pays me, on average, over $150 an hour. But I only get a few hours of work from him every month. I just need to go out and find more clients.

  31. Lori says:

    Gave you some link love on this one, Carol. Great post!

    I'm intrigued by the poster commenting that we who make more than DS writers are in some way snobs for not liking what the company is doing. Why do we care? Because Demand's own promotional material aimed at writers calls them "journalists" and promises them plenty. Yet any article in which the company is quoted seems to tell a different story, as do their practices. They' profess to hire journalists, then say outright that these aren't jobs for journalists. Then why advertise as such?

    It upsets we of elitist snob-dom because dammit, they're practicing mighty close to the old bait-and-swith tactics. If the company cannot be upfront about their business model, why on earth would anyone work for them? And as Carol pointed out, it has affected our own businesses to some extent. I know several writers – myself included – who have been quoted Demand Studios rates by clients who see these ads and think we're nuts for wanting a real fee. In my case, the client came back and paid three times what they'd offered to pay me thanks to what they could get for the peanuts they were shelling out.

    Luckily, the recession has been nonexistent in my business. I've worked straight through it and have raised my rates. The recessionary ride-out, as one poster puts it, is unnecessary. There's plenty of work out there and plenty of clients willing to pay for quality.

  32. Carol Tice says:

    Right on, Lori — My best earning year of my career was 2009. All I can do is keep encouraging writers to not drink the low-pay Kool-aid. If they really want it, though, there it is. As James points out, some months, it may fill in some holes in the writing schedule and be better than nothing in the short-term. But the time it takes robs writers of critical hours for marketing that could lead to better jobs!

    Now that DS’s S-1 has revealed they lied about being profitable, their doublespeak is in the news a lot. As you point out, they advertise they want journalists, but then when collared always say most folks are wannabe writers working part-time.

    Due to the current economy, they can have it both ways, but I’m hoping not for too much longer.

    After seeing all the comments along this thread here and on WAHM.com, I decided one of the big stumbling blocks for a lot of writers is money management — so I wrote a post on that topic over at WM Freelance Writers’ Community…some might want to check that out as well: http://www.thewmfreelanceconnection.com/2010/08/7-money-management-tips-for-freelance.html

    Money in the bank is power — the power to say no to lowball assignments.

  33. Julie says:

    Carol,

    Everyone here is talking about Demand Media as if this is the only place of its kind on earth. I have a 2-page list of sites that use the DM model and I haven't heard a word about any of them. Some pay even better than DM, but most pay less [and that is fine because they don't insist on images, bibliographical references or location specifics]. Writing for DM has become more demanding over the past year or so, but I need them and the other 4 content sites.

    Consider this: A disabled [MS] person, home-bound, no driving license, well-educated, receiving SSDI wants to be productive. However, if this person earns more than 50% of the amount of monthly SSDI received, there is a real risk that all or part of the SMALL monthly stipend could be lost. Medical insurance could also become jeopardized. So, when you consider the value that DM holds for a person such as this one, you might understand why there are 10,000 writers actively working for DM.

    Also, they own quite a bit of virtual real estate in the form of content sites that need to be populated with information. They are also adept at flipping sites for profit. The profit is much better if it is a niche site already populated with content.

    My worst experiences did not come from DM. They came from bidding sites, which I had sworn off for 3-4 years. I started placing bids again in January 2010. Two of the four projects that I won have stiffed me and that amounted to several hundred dollars.

    So, like Tanai said, it's time to name names and lead the people you "are trying to save" to those high paying, lucrative writing assignments. I couldn't find them. They don't put themselves out there. If you could divulge this information, your arguments against DM might be considered in a different light.

    Julie

  34. Carol Tice says:

    Hi Julie!

    As it happens, I blog often about ways to find better-paying markets and identify possible opportunities frequently. That's what I'm here for — to provide a road map for those who'd like to find more lucrative clients than mills OR the typical job you find on bidding sites. I sent Tanai a private email reply with just a few links to some of my recent posts on the topic. Here they are collected in one spot for the benefit of the group. Some I posted here, some on WM Freelance Writers' Connection:

    http://www.thewmfreelanceconnection.com/2010/07/1http://www.thewmfreelanceconnection.com/2010/06/hhttp://www.thewmfreelanceconnection.com/2010/06/whttp://www.thewmfreelanceconnection.com/2010/02/s

    http://www.makealivingwriting.com/2010/07/27/how-http://www.makealivingwriting.com/tag/writing-job

    You haven't heard as much about other content mills because DS's IPO bid means it has disclosed a lot of financial information we don't have on other mills — even Associated Content when it was bought by Yahoo! didn't have to make those kind of disclosures. So it's a rare opportunity to see behind the curtain and find out how the model works (or doesn't).

    I've said this many times before, but if you're happy writing for DS, more power to you. Most of my readers are interested in learning how to earn more than they can make on mills.

    But if you think DS and their ilk make up the entirety of the writing universe — or even the online writing universe! — you're uninformed. I'm here to help people discover the rest of the freelance-writing world. It's a big one, and it pays way better. Even in this economy.

    For instance, the most recent client I signed up with (this week) is a major company that posts informational articles on several of its Web sites. I got three 1,000-word articles assigned.

    They pay $2,000 each.

    I just want writers to understand what's out there if you lift your eyes from the mills.

    For someone who's disabled and worried about earning at a level that might imperil their benefits, and whose mobility and free time may be limited, obviously working a system like DS might be a good way to go. But for most writers I know, earning more is a goal. Those are the writers I'm trying to help.

    People think I'm down on DS, but I'm really not — I'm just for writers earning all they can, and I think DS or anywhere else where you can't ever get a raise isn't the best place for maximizing your earnings.

    As it happens, I've advised my husband to try to do videos for DS, as he's just starting a Web-video business! I think I've got to blog about that…maybe later this week. DS can play a role in helping create a portfolio…but once you've got a few samples, if you are willing to market your business, your income picture can really change for the better.

  35. Wendy says:

    Can I ask- where is this naming of names bit coming from? Do some people expect us to name a secret website where you can apply for million dollar a year jobs? Do they think we're going to hand over our private clients' contact information, so they can bypass the hard work we put forth to get what we have?

    Asking for advice is one thing, it shows you're willing to do the work once you're guided in the right direction, but this naming of names bit only shows that they want the easy way out. (Even if they're only saying it to help their argument) There are tons of resources, like this site, that offer advice. If you want to further your career in writing, then start reading. If not, then continue doing what you're doing. Simple as that.

    I also know the wonderful joys of trying to work with the dreaded MS baggage. I respect that Julie's doing what's best for her situation, but I wanted to point out that it's not what's best for everyone else's. You have to decide for yourself what you can handle. The stress of forking out articles as fast as possible to earn enough income only made things worse for me. I'd rather deal with private clients and the headaches that some of them could bring. I find that less stressful.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Wendy —

      Nice to see a lot of new visitors in this conversation!

      While I’m not going to hand out a current client list of everyone I write for, I do often mention my clients on my blogs. Since most of them need pretty specific expertise — years of reporting/journalism experience plus legal/business finance/real estate/public-company or some other background knowledge — I’m not really worried that readers are going to steal my accounts.

      I’m also not worried because my worldview is that I only compete with me — I focus on constant self-improvement, rather than worrying about other writers.

      It’s not hard to see who I write for on theArticles and Corporate tabs of my writer site…which should give you an idea the type of clients and niches I’m working. My writing life’s a pretty open book.

      Anyone who has specific questions they feel haven’t been addressed, feel free to ask them! I’m always looking for new topics and frequently answer reader question on the blog.

  36. Jenn Mattern says:

    tanai — Are you seriously that lazy? If you think you're going to get the high paying writing jobs that are out there (and they ARE out there), you're not going to find them on job boards. I've been telling writers this for years, telling them what they have to do to get those gigs (did on our blog again just in the past week), and it's the same old story. People feel entitled. They think we should hand shit to them. That's not how it works. If you want the kinds of gigs we get, do your own damn research. We give you the tools. But if you choose to sit back and rely on a Google search for job boards, it's no wonder you can't find better. And until you're willing to work for it, you really don't deserve better either.

    The funny thing is that so many DS writers think it's oh so hard to find these higher paying freelance writing jobs. It's not. And once you get the attention of better clients, it's even easier because they come to you. You don't have to look for them very often anymore. You can get there too tanai. The information on how to do it is out there. But you need to take responsibility and put it into action if you want better.

    I hope Carol won't mind, but here's the post I mentioned to give you somewhere to start.

    http://allfreelancewriting.com/2010/08/17/special

    • Carol Tice says:

      Jenn! You are sounding grumpy there. I'm sending you a hug.

      But I share your frustration — I know you have been over and over strategies on how to earn better, too, and it's a little annoying to then be told we are somehow keeping information on how to find better markets a secret.

      There's a bottom line that many writers really hate marketing. To me, that is how DS exists. They are willing to settle for usually quite a low income to not have to ever write a query, deal with a magazine editor, cold-call a company. Which is all good…until Google changes its formula and the mills die. I think smart writers should at least be formulating a backup plan for how they would replace mill income if the universe shifts on them. Read DS's disclosures in their IPO filing about their competitive risks — yes, maybe Google won't tank them, but there's increasing rumbles from Google that they might.

      So write for DS if it's meeting your needs…but keep an eye on the horizon, as we just really don't know how long these mills will be around or what they might morph into.

  37. Kathleen says:

    James – sorry if I sounded patronizing or negative about your work with Demand Studios. You're right, writing is a profitable but insecure business and you need to have regular work coming in. Congrats on being able to make Demand Studios work for you, hopefully I'll find something that works for me. Take care!

  38. Thanks for the informative article. Will check out more of your blog posts!

  39. K.K. says:

    Carol: First of all, I love this blog. Your line of thinking is right up my alley. I am a former DS copy editor and a very part-time current DS SEO content writer. Copy editors are paid $3.50 per article, no matter the outcome of the article. When I was editing, DS required a quota of 75 edited and approved articles per week. Copy editors also had to commit to working at least 12 hours per week. And to top it off, copy editors were required to request time off for sick leave, vacation leave, etc.

    Demand Studios advertises that copy editors average $20 to $25 per hour. The company expects editors to line edit, fact check, enforce hundreds of site-specific style guidelines and formats and get the 400- to 500-word pieces of content in publishable condition within 10 minutes. As a former newspaper News/Sports/Features Editor, Section Editor, Copy Chief, Slot Editor and Copy Editor, I found the expectations to be outrageous. I would estimate that 95 percent of contributing writers never have written professionally. I would go as far as to say many are people who just like writing about their hobbies and interests and have never taken any courses on writing. The copy that goes to editing is atrocious. There is no level of trust that can be given to the writer, so EVERYTHING must be checked and double-checked. Proper and professional editing for DS content should take at least 30 to 45 minutes per article. And sometimes, if the copy was so mangled, it would take an hour to fix it. At $3.50 per article, many editors only make $7 to $10 per hour.

    I had to bail out of DS editing because I was afraid I would develop extremely bad habits that adversely would affect my prospects of ever getting back into real-world editing. And during the time I was a DS editor, the restrictions and demands that the company placed on editors became dangerously close to an employee-employer relationship. So much so, that it prompted me to file federal form SS-8 with the Internal Revenue Service to make a determination on the working relationship. I filed that back in June 2010. Coincidently (or not), DS has since made some “adjustments” to copy editor restrictions, work hours and quotas.

    I have moved on considerably from DS and all the mills. As a trained newspaper page designer, I now focus on graphic design, Web design and other creative ventures. And as more newspapers layoff employees, I step in as a stringer for sports, feature writing and travel writing. And I have gone as far as bypassing DS as the middleman and undercut them with assignments for the print pubs that have contracted with DS for Web content.

    But it all takes real work to hustle to make freelancing a true career. And, sadly, 95 percent of DS writers lack ambition to get beyond content mills. Many are very satisfied to forgo higher pay for the same article, which I just can’t wrap my brain around. It truly baffles me.

    Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to give you a DS copy editor’s perspective. I look forward to reading more of your blog entries. Congrats on your continued success!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hey, KK!

      You don’t ever have to apologize for leaving a thoughtful comment around here!

      Very interesting insider’s view of the editing process, which sounds pretty much as I imagined. It can’t be possible to do a professional editing job for $3.50 apiece on mostly amateur submissions.

      I love that you had the gut instinct that hanging around DS would be bad for you, and got out there to market yourself!

      I think you’re right that many DS writers really don’t want to market themselves — that’s certainly the feedback I’ve gotten. For these writers, who don’t have the time or inclination for marketing, DS and places like it are their best option. For those willing to put themselves out there, of course, there is SO much better pay available.

      Hope you check back in and let us know more about your writing journey!

    • Lucy says:

      I can’t speal for all DS writers, but there is one reason I work for DS instead of getting higher pay elsewhere. It’s simple. They pay twice weekly. Considering I have to pay my rent daily, my children and I would be homeless if I had to wait several weeks to get paid. There is no other company that pays twice weekly, and until there is, I have to stick with Demand.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Hi Lucy —

        My heart is just breaking reading your story. But you should know that you are far from alone in writing for DS because they pay the fastest. (Also not the only one I’ve heard was kicked out unfairly and had to reapply to get back in.)

        It is a deadly cycle mills trap writers in, where they can never move up because they pay so little. Getting one or two articles that pay even $300 or so helps break the cycle once you hit payday. All the better markets do pay slower — 15-45 days is common, and some longer — but they pay SO much more. Then you’re able to save, and last until the next bigger payday, and so on.

        I will be praying that you can find the help you need to conquer your anxieties. You sound like a very brave mom who is doing all she can for her kids. Hang in there, write back and let us know how you’re doing! Stay safe.

  40. I would like to begin writing articles and post them like you do, but i just can’t decide which platform to use, between blogger and wordpress. Which 1 would u recommend for a newbie like me? By the way wonderful articles you have!

    • Carol Tice says:

      We’re off-topic here…but WordPress. I’ve used Blogger, Movable Type and others. WordPress seems to be the most flexible and most popular, so more fun widgets being designed for it too.

  41. Mike says:

    I just came across your blog by chance while searching for DS information. I've been working for DS since 2009. Almost exclusively. I live in Thailand and because the cost of living where I am is cheap I can pay the bills simply by writing DS articles. My only other income comes from occasionally writing articles for similar content mills that pay half of what DS does. Prior to 2009 I have no experience in writing anything other than regular letters to my grandma. Who mutters in complaint to other family members if I don't write her regularly by the way.

    There are a few reasons why I'm drawn to this article.

    The first is because they are my current employer and the idea of them going out of business anytime soon is of obvious concern. I am here on a tourist visa and therefore can't legally work. If the job goes, I go. Since I am newish to writing I can't say I know that much about what a logical next step would entail. Your article, and a few others I quickly read on your blog, offer some much needed information. Though I don't think DS is going out of business tomorrow, it reminds me that I must look ahead.

    The second is because in spite of the fact that I am able to actually live, albeit meagerly, through DS articles I have been keenly aware for some time that I want to begin formulating a plan for more meaningful mid and long term goals. On the other hand, for a yahoo such as myself who doesn't know shit, I've honestly learned some things from DS. In the short term, I would say that DS has not been a bad place to start. But if I want to work primarily or only as a writer I for certain need much more. Do I carry a scarlet letter for the rest of my life for writing eHow, Trails and Livestrong articles? Possibly. But it is what it is.

    The third is because in spite of what good DS might do for me there have been times when I've been so frustrated by the process that I've imagined jettisoning my laptop right through the window and listening with satisfaction as it crashes on the rooftop five stories below. In other words, I don't want to believe that DS is my only hope for employment as a new writer.

    Thanks for the information and clear headed advice.

    Mike

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think you're smart to look ahead given the changes going on at DS, Mike.

      All you have to do is not put your DS work on your writer site or resume and nobody will know. Use what you've learned to get better publications or businesses as clients, and move up from there.

      I'll hold onto your questions for my mailbag and may write more on this in a coming post!

  42. Jen says:

    Very interesting blog! As a DS writer I think other DS writers who rely on this income should be worried. I think that Google will eventually drop DS articles and other content mill sites from their rankings. I used to be a Google rater several years ago and for those of you who do not know about this…Google has actual people who view and rank websites manually. I can only imagine being a rater now and seeing all these content mill articles popping up – how annoying is that?? If you are not saavy to online searching and how to filter results, how does the average person sift through the junk of these content mill sites? If you do a search on anything, it seems the first two pages of results are DS sites and other content mill sites. Just garbage.

    I think it will eventually come to a head when users start questioning how and why Google is ranking content mills first. And if there is already talk about Google sidelining DS content…well, it just might happen. Bye bye DS and all those other content mill sites.

    • TiceWrites says:

      I'm with you, Jen. I think the content-mill thing is only going one of two ways — at some point Google is going to at least give us an option — a button we can push — to exclude mill content…OR…a new search engine is going to come along and eat their lunch.

      As a reporter, I can say it's increasingly annoying to have to scroll through all the eHow articles that do not accurately tell me how to do anything, and so on, to finally get to a university thinktank, professional association, or some other reliable source. If someone offered me an option to exclude that content, I would jump in a sec. I might even pay money for it. I see it as a real business opportunity if Google doesn't get off the dime about it.

      • Angie says:

        Hi, Carol –

        I’m really, really late commenting on this post, but I’ve been reading the comments with interest. For those of you who are tired of wading through content mill articles to get to university or government sources for your research, you can type site:.edu or site:.gov after your search terms. You can also use -site:ehow.com, for example, to eliminate all ehow articles.

  43. TiceWrites says:

    Hi all —

    I just have to leave an update on Demand's IPO quest. They've had to submit several additional filings at the SEC's request. The sticking point — to make the company look even nominally profitable, Demand expenses your $15 article fee OVER FIVE YEARS.

    Their argument is their content is evergreen, so they're not like a newspaper, and shouldn't have to account for the fee in the year they pay it! As a longtime business reporter, I have to say I find that argument laughable.

    Notorious former inside-trader turned journalist Henry Blodget at Business Insider recently issued a call for Demand to cut it out and expense fees like everyone else, on an annual basis. We'll see if this public offering ever gets off the ground.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Carol, the argument about "churning them out" to make $30+ an hour was something that tripped me up for a long time. I kept thinking that I should be able to write 2, $25 articles for Demand within an hour, and that with my experience as a writer it would be easy. And here and there, sure – I could. But NOT 2-6 hours a day, day in and day out.

    And when I broke out of that thinking and applied to a few other online publications, it turns out plenty are paying $40-80 for 350-word How Tos and About-style articles like those DMS pays $15 and $20 for. Same amount of work.

    I've been a writer for DMS for 2 years and have seen MANY changes over the years. One constant, though: people who brag about earning the super-inflated numbers are 1) lying, 2) outsourcing or 3) NOT counting the time it takes to pick titles, research, and/or manage rewrites and not factoring in rejects.

    I've been a copy editor (CE) for DMS for a year. Oh, dear. Someone earlier in the comments said that 95% of writers at DMS aren't professionals – this is about right. I thought that the CE griping about writer quality was exaggerated until I started copyediting. I can frankly say that 80% of what I edit is no better than 6th-grade-level writing. That is not an embellishment. I'm not talking about the failure to follow DMS style/format guidelines; if the writing is good I can live with that.

    I'm talking about consistent grammar/style/usage errors. Severe errors in critical thinking and applying researched material to topic. Tangential, rambling writing that isn't just off-topic or opinion, but that appears to be filler/padding. Plenty of opinion. Introductions that start with "There are many ways to _____. If you're looking for ideas to _____________, you need to know the best way to approach ______________. When it comes to learning ___________, use these tips to get started."

    And, of course, the obviously outsourced material written in the style of someone whose first language is NOT English, all submitted by a writer with a bio that lists the writer's alleged JD/Ph.D/M.A./15 years of writing experience.

    It appears that outsourcing is on the rise, and overseas outsourcing at that – I've definitely seen an increase in ELL-style writing. I've taught students whose first language is not English during my years as a teacher, and I can spot the style fairly easily. Most interesting is that the writing style for some writers on the DMS forums differs DRAMATICALLY from their writing style in submitted articles. If you can pay someone $3-$5 for an article and slap it up on DMS for $15-$20…

    I'm posting this anonymously because the copy curators and higher ups have been known to penalize anyone who complains (CEs cut off from editing for commenting on blogs and forums).

    • TiceWrites says:

      Thanks for sharing an interesting inside experience, Anon!

    • Kathleen says:

      Anonymous,

      Thank you for the things you pointed out in your post. I have been driving myself crazy trying to figure out how people are able to make a living from Demand Studios or any other content mill.

      While I think there are a few people, like James who has posted here, are able to make a good wage because they are just that disciplined and are able to research articles quickly and effectively I also think that they are in the minority.

      There are just too many people out there going on job boards like WAHM or WorkPlaceLikeHome who are saying things like, “I make $3,000.00 a month with Demand Studios and I only work part-time,” or “I make $500.00 a week with Demand, easy.” When I would read things like this I would think, “Part time??? Easy??? How???”

      A couple of times I have asked people how they did it. How did they manage to write so many $15.00 articles or write for a penny a word and have an monthly income of $3,000.00 or $2,000.00 a month after writing for only a few hours a day. That was never the tone of my question, I would very politely ask them – and I can never, ever get an answer. It never even occurred to me that they may be outsourcing work or conveniently leaving out the time it takes to do the research.

      I appreciate your insights, you have finally put my mind at ease and now I have a better understanding of why people who easily make $36,000/year writing part-time for Demand Studios don’t like being called out about the veracity of their claims.

      Kathleen

      • Michael says:

        It’s really simple actually. Spend 15 minutes in the morning filling your queue with articles. Only write about topics you already know about. Write your article then Google a couple of websites to back your story up (Assuming you are actually have experience with and know your topic, it should take less than 1 minute on average) and click submit. It’s not rocket science. You can actually average $45 an hour an a good day if you snag some good titles.

  45. Carol,
    My writing career began many years ago after I read a Sunday New York Times article on London that included the phrase “and the little-known Swan-upping”.

    Since I lived in NYC, I went to the British Travel office on Fifth Avenue and got what information they had on swan-upping. I then wrote to a couple of places in London for more information and submitted my article to a newspaper syndicate. It was published, with my byline – albeit with London as its origin – and my writing career went on from there, sometimes doing very well, sometimes, not so well.

    Granted, acquiring information is much easier today. But it pays to research and take a new approach on a multi-tried subject.

    Nancy Hyden Woodward

  46. Lucy says:

    I absolutely abhor working for Demand, but as a homeless mother, I have no choice at the moment. I don’t do well freelancing, because I have severe social phobia. Talking directly to clients gives me so much anxiety I can hardly work. Working with Demand’s ultra-demanding Copy Editors often leaves me vomiting in the bathroom for hours from stress, but it’s the best I can do. I have less human contact with CEs than I would working directly with clients.

    I was fired a few weeks ago for “plagiarism”, which was completely unfounded. It was not plagiarism at all. In fact, I only had two short phrases in common with another article, but the rest of my article was not even remotely close to it. Yet, they would not even listen. I’ve since seen several people say the same thing happened to them.

    Since this was the only thing keeping my family in a room as opposed to living under the highway overpass (literally) I applied again under another name. Normally, I would never be dishonest this way. But I had no choice. I will not let them take away the only income I have to support my children. Without that money, we can’t even eat.

    It’s extremely demeaning work, the editors are mostly horrible, and it gives me horrible panic attacks. But it’s all I’ve got.

  47. Someone says:

    I have been writing for DS on and off for a couple years. They pretend like they respect their writers. Its a FARCE!!!! They don’t even overturn rejections when writers appeal. What is the point in even having such a system when you always side with the CE?

  48. Michael says:

    I write for DMS and compared to major off-line publications (such as Newsweek)….of course the pay for Demand is low. Calling it peanuts is totally unrepresentative in my personal experience though. I make $30 bucks an hour at demand (The comment from anonymous up above is right, not counting the time it takes to select titles….which is usually a 10-20 minute job in and of itself) and I don’t outsource. That’s much more than I made at my previous job working for the newspaper office. Most writers that complain about CE’s are just plain bad writers. DMS hires almost anybody. There are some legitimate gripes though for sure. There are some CE’s with no experience and poor job skills, just as there are writers. I’ve actually had grammatical errors inserted during the editorial process but I don’t care as long as I get paid. I’m going to clear my 150-200 a day either way. Everyone is a freelancer there but my overall experience has been positive. Even a very slow writer should be able to clear 15 dollars an hour on average. That isn’t peanuts by any means, even if it is low in comparison to similar opportunities. Better than shoveling horse poo

    • Carol Tice says:

      Unfortunately, Michael, $15 an hour isn’t a living wage for a freelance writer — in any developed nation, anyway. That might sound good for a job where your employer pays your healthcare and unemployment and all your equipment and supply costs, but it doesn’t work for a freelancer paying their own way.

      Read more here about why I tell freelance writers they need to make $100 an hour their target rate.

      • Michael says:

        I understand that it’s not the most desirable wage a freelancer could have. Even the $30 dollars is chump change compared to $100 dollars an hour. However, $30 dollars an hour or even $15 dollars an hour can be a godsend when you are having trouble finding work. $30 bucks an hour (with all the work you could possibly need) and being entirely in control of your own hours, unlimited vacations, and not having to worry about tight deadline and no commute…..this is a much sweeter deal than most people in the general population ever get. Times are changing and finding consistent $100 dollar per hour gigs just isn’t feasible for every freelancer out there currently working online. I also do SEO articles in my spare time for myself to build a passive income over time. That equals out to over $100 dollars an hour but it takes several months for articles to rack up that kind of cash. You can outsource SEO to India for less than 1 cent per word but the quality is iffy….there are American freelancers selling professional SEO content for 5 cents a word. High paying online gigs are not plentiful in my personal experience. Sure I would love to make a higher rate for flat fee articles but it’s quick and easy at Demand. I don’t have to hunt for clients.

        As far as $15 dollars an hour not being a livable wage….I disagree….you will not have a luxurious lifestyle but it will put a roof over your head and pay for food and necessities with a little extra spending cash. At least in my home state of West Virginia. I definitely wouldn’t want to attempt that in Southern California. I agree with you whole heatedly though….if you can make $100 bucks an hour, go for it and don’t waste your time with DMS. That’s a no brainer.

  49. James says:

    I’m sorry, I just don’t understand all the pissing and moaning about DS not paying enough, and who can live on that, and on and on the violin plays. Microsoft makes a lot of money, I wonder how much their part time office people make? Likely not much. Truth is, the 15 bucks DS pays for those articles is sadly on the high end. The majority of them are rubbish, written by people who didn’t even know the topic existed until they clicked on the claim button. How much do you expect to make doing that?

    Sure, some corporations make a lot of money. Want some of it? Okay, get a mail room job. Want a lot of it? Okay, go to school, work nights, go to vocational school, apply for grants, scholarships, or even go into the military if you dare. I did all of those things, and guess what? I finally got a job that paid well.

    Please, I am not brow beating anyone, I am just trying to make a point. I see on TV that Walmart is the worst place to work. They have the most people on state welfare assistance than any other corporation in the US. They can’t afford their own benefits. I came up with a groundbreaking answer to this problem, I wanted to patent it but I was told I couldn’t. Okay, here it is: Don’t work at Walmart! I know, shocking answer, but last time I checked, Walmart wasn’t the only company that hires people.

    Demand Studios owes neither you or I anything, they are not the government. You knew damn well what the contract stated, you know they are a content mill and you are not gonna get nominated for a Pulitzer for anything you write there. They are upfront 100% about what they will give you, sure Revshare percentage is not 100% clear, but they say it isn’t. Demand Studios sucks? Okay, I worked on the answer all night, and it turns out that it is really closely related to my other groundbreaking solution. Without further delay, here it is: Don’t write for Demand Studios!

    The writer may sound a little full of herself, but the underlying message is if you want to make any kind of a real wage as a writer, you have to go and get it. Sure, you could take all that content and put it on your own blog and watch the money roll in right? Well, that would be a first. I have had 5 blogs, and only the last one was successful. The truth is that it is very hard to make any kind of real stable money with a blog. I work day and night like a dog. People want top quality content, and they don’t want to pay a nickel for it, or click any ads. Head over to ProBlogger and read up on the truth about blogging for money, you will find it takes a lot of time and work, and still there is no guarantee of success. Think about it, if a huge corporation, with millions in resources, have trouble flipping the content for a profit, what makes you think it will be any easier for you?

    If you don’t want to make $6.00 per hour, then get a job that doesn’t pay $6.00 per hour. But, if you do accept that kind of pay, you have only yourself to blame for agreeing to it, right?

  50. Carla says:

    I write for major publications and sometimes only make a few hundred dollars for hours of work and revisions. Meanwhile, I can write an article for Demand Studios in 40 minutes and take on as many assignments as I want. I can easily clear 1k a month when needed.

    Yes, it can be mind numbing sometimes. And I certainly don’t do it when I don’t need to.

    I agree with all the complaints here. They value quantity over quality, and their system drives away quality writers. I would also never use my real name on any of my DS work. I don’t see it as real writing work or even a quality outlet, it’s just a way to pay the bills.

    At my last staff job, they made hundreds of dollars off of me an hour consulting clients, but I only got paid 50k a year. It’s a similar concept here. Do I like it? Not particularly. But I use Demand Studios to meet my needs and get my bills paid so I can work from home and focus most of my time on ‘real’ writing work.

    • Carol Tice says:

      If you can live on $1,000 a month and are happy doing work you describe as not “real writing,” that you are so ashamed of you won’t even put your name to it, then you’re all set. Lots of the folks I hear from are pretty motivated to kick the DS habit and move up to where they can earn a better hourly rate…and they’re doing it. There’s a lot of opportunity out there now if you’re willing to do a little marketing. Wish you’d been on the call today with Peter Bowerman of The Well-Fed Writer fame…he had great comments on how to earn well today.

      • Carla says:

        I hear you and agree with the sentiment behind your comment, though it was unnecessarily snarky. I never said I can live off of 1k a month. But I live in NYC, sometimes I need the extra 1k in combination of my other income to survive here.

        I use DS as interim income when needed. As a freelancer, some of my clients only pay every 60 days, and occasionally I need extra money to make ends meet. My priority is still finding high paying clients, marketing myself, and developing my craft. I see DS as a way to keep my writing work going. Otherwise I would need a staff job right now and I prefer to stay home and write and develop a business.

        I guess I could go find a part-time job on the side to make ends meet when needed, but I’d rather be able to source extra income as needed so my schedule stays flexible.

    • James says:

      One thing I learned with freelance writing online is that goals differ from writer to writer. Some support themselves via full-time writing, yet others are WAHM’s who aren’t looking to be a six-figure writer, and are perfectly happy writing articles for ten or fifteen bucks because that money isn’t supporting them 100%. Sure the difference is obvious to us, but it can be frustrating dealing with clients who don’t understand the different kinds of content.

  51. Virginia says:

    I am a bit confused about how writers can generate, as one comment posted, 5 articles an hour. This would mean the writer would have to be an expert on every topic they developed, and on every article they grabbed. Even then, I still have more questions. The article selection, in my experience as a writer at DS, often limits my article grabs to titles that require extensive research for my article to get accepted. Since I am in the history/political science field, it is rare that I get the opportunity to write on topics related to such areas. If I want to write, I grab unfamiliar or seemingly familiar titles that require extensive research to write a well developed article; there are limited titles available in my area of expertise. When I get an article that is in my field, then, I still take over an hour to write one article because the copy editors are extremely conflicting. I once was advised only to provide one reference with articles related to my expertise, but that soon changed as history/political science related articles were being sent back for a rewrite due to a need for more references. It’s not as if I can just throw in references. I have to incorporate such information from the reference in my article, so the copy editor can see my reference information noted in my article. It is great to provide references, but it seems as if the copy editors wax and wane too much for solid writing consistency. It is extremely confusing when I have questions and there is not a solid feedback system with the editors for clarification. I have had editors take out chunks of information, only to indicate my article requires more information to further clarify; when the information they eliminated added to the article’s clarification. At least, in my opinion. It would have been nice to be able to ask the editor about such dilemma. I have had several copy editors reword my articles, accept them, only for the articles to get published with several typos, or misspellings. I used to write as a legal writer, and I was expected to turn out 4-5 page legal briefs twice per day. My pay was better as a legal writer and there was consistency with my proofreader. Writing for Demand Studios is precarious, at best. At least, in my 1 year experience with the studio. Using them on my resume is laughable, as potential employers have advised.

    • Carol Tice says:

      My sense is the people who can crank those huge volumes are former contractors, lawyers, etc writing off their own knowledge, and usually promoting their main business. The low pay makes sense for them because they’re really selling another, higher-paid service.

      For writers, where this skill is our whole income, it seems to not pencil out well for most.

      Sounds like you have a great specialized niche with legal…I’d consider revisiting it. I’ve done well with legal-related work as well.

  52. Lou Diffee says:

    I’ve recently started a web site, the information you offer on this website has helped me greatly. Thanks for all of your time & work.

  53. Fatima says:

    very well i heard content could be the KING ,
    so everything aside your story must be genuine.
    It can get noticed for sure

  54. Harry Milner says:

    So, looking back…

    It seems your prognostications were largely wrong. Demand changed its approach and is now in Google’s good graces, its traffic has soared (number 13 globally), it raised its rates and even started paying relatively well (compared to its competitors) for feature stories and it went from a company losing money (at least on paper) in 2011 to a company that earned over $6 million in profits (and climbing) in 2012.

    Where do you think you erred with your predictions, Carol? What didn’t you foresee?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Harry —

      I guess that’s not quite how I read the numbers. They still have an accumulated deficit of around $60 million over the life of the company, so at last year’s rate it would take them another decade to truly break even! That’s not exactly a thriving enterprise.

      Yes, they have made some changes and rallied from the 25% traffic plunge they saw at one point. But the big stock spike is from their announcement to split off their domain name company — that’s still their profitable cash cow.

      They also have begun shutting some of their content sites entirely, which I take as a sign of winding that business down, not of success. They didn’t break out profit margins of their two businesses in this filing — I’ll be watching for that if they file papers to spin off one of the businesses, where they’d have to share more details. But if they did, I think you’d see all the profit is in the domain name side. In my view, they’re still grappling for a content development model that earns well.

10 Pings/Trackbacks for "Demand Studios’ IPO Reveals More Reasons Writers Should be Wary"
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  5. […] I encounter an aspect of the new-media world I don’t understand, I will learn about it.I won’t waste my energy worrying about the recent proliferation of low-paying online writing markets.I will actively participate in […]

  6. […] that less traffic = less ad revenue = lower rates. You may recall from the IPO filing we learned Demand isn’t making a profit on what it pays writers at current rates, so that’s another compelling reason rates may sink.It’s clearly time […]

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  10. […] instance, when content mill Demand Media filed to go public, its data revealed that it was paying writers $15 for a typical article, while bringing in an […]

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