Critics of Organic Content Farms like Demand Media Should Eat Their Own Words

Critics of Organic Content Farms like Demand Media Should Eat Their Own Words

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A year ago, I stuck my neck out and defended Demand Media’s approach to developing great content down on the content farm.  Last week, I felt vindicated when Demand Media reported financial results for the quarter ended March 31, 2012 and raised its previously issued fiscal 2012 financial guidance.

Richard Rosenblatt, Chairman and CEO of Demand Media, in a press release, “We are pleased with our first quarter results and remain focused on investing in our long-term growth initiatives.” These include enhancing the quality of Demand Media’s Owned & Operated properties as well as expanding its content distribution channels and partnerships.

Demand Media: Success on Multiple Fronts

  • On a consolidated basis, Demand Media ranked as a top 20 US web property throughout the first quarter of 2012, ranking as #18 in March 2012, according to comScore. Demand Media’s worldwide unique users exceeded 104 million in March 2012.
  • On a standalone basis, ranked as the #17 website in the US in March 2012, up from #19 in July 2011.
  • LIVESTRONG.COM/eHow Health continued to rank as the #3 Health property in the US based on unique visits throughout the first quarter of 2012. In May 2012, LIVESTRONG.COM won the People’s Voice Webby award for Health Websites.
  • continued its ranking as the most visited humor site in the US throughout the first quarter of 2012, and more time was spent on the site than any other humor website. In May 2012, won the People’s Voice Webby award for Humor Websites.
  • In February 2012, Demand Media introduced its innovative Social Feed ads, which allow advertisers to deliver customized social media content directly into their live rich media ads.
  • In March 2012, Demand Media launched the Tech channel, with RadioShack as its lead sponsor, to help users master everyday tech-related tasks and projects.
  • In April 2012, Demand Media launched eHow Pets, the third major channel in its partnership with YouTube.

Demand Media & YouTube = 7 Figure Revenue Success

Demand Media also has a number of YouTube channels, including Expert Village, eHow, LiveStrong, Cracked, Trails, Golflink, and TypeF.   According to comScore Video Metrix YouTube partner data for February 2012, Demand Media had more than 6.8 million unique U.S. viewers, who watched over 17.4 million videos for an average of 9.5 minutes per viewer.

Demand Media has been a YouTube Partner since 2007, and by January 2009, advertising had become “a seven figure revenue stream,” according to Steven Kydd, EVP of Demand Studios, Demand Media’s content creation division.  Today, Demand Media’s channels on YouTube had more than 2.8 billion total upload views:

  • Expert Village’s channel has over 2.4 billion views.
  • eHow’s channel has 173.6 million views.
  • LiveStrong’s channel has 51.3 million views.
  • eHow Espanol’s new channel already has 49.1 million views.
  • eHow Dance’s new channel already has 29.8 million views.
  • eHow Fitness’ new channel already has 23.8 million views.
  • eHow Style’s new channel already has 17.3 million views.
  • Cracked’s channel has 15.9 million views.
  • eHow Food’s new channel already has 14.9 million views.
  • eHow Tech’s new channel already has 14.2 million views.
  • eHow Home’s new channel already has 9.2 million views.
  • Golflink’s channel has 6.9 million views.
  • Trails’s channel has 4.4 million views.
  • eHow Pets’ new channel already has 2.5 million views.
  • TypeF | Signature Series’ channel has 2.2 million views.
  • eHow Money’s new channel already has 1.8 million views.

So, I think the critics of organic content farms like Demand Media should eat their own words.

What Exactly is a Content Farm?

These critics called Demand Media a “content farm,” like that’s inherently a bad thing. But, according to Wikipedia,

“In the context of the World Wide Web, a content farm (or content mill) is a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines.”

Using that definition, The Huffington Post – which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting last month – is also a content farm.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Clair Cain Miller article in The New York Times entitled, “Web Words That Lure the Readers.”

So, who exactly is harmed by companies that employ large numbers of “freelance” writers? And what is so bad about generating large amounts of content which is specifically designed to “lure” readers?

If you ask me, today’s critics of content farms are like the old critics of “yellow journalism.” Back in the 1880s and 1890s, Joseph Pulitzer hired women reporters like Nelly Bly, cut the price of the New York World to a penny, and added bolder headlines, more prominent illustrations, sports pages, women’s sections, personal advice columns, and comic strips. One comic strip featured a street urchin in a yellow shirt, and a hostile critic coined the term, “yellow journalism,” as a damning label for this kind of high-voltage content.

Today, virtually all newspapers have hired women reporters and adopted bold headlines, prominent illustrations, sports pages, women’s sections, personal advice columns, and comic strips. And they’d be honored if one of their text reporters, photographers, videographers, graphic artists, producers, or journalists won a Pulitzer Prize.

So, yesterday’s yellow journalism is today’s award-winning journalism.

“News” vs. Instructional “How-To” Content

So, why are journalists so afraid of content farms?

According to Google Insights for Search, web search interest in “news” has remained flat from 2004 to the present, while web search interest in “how to” has increased steadily. Most reporters, producers, and journalists are creating “news” stories while many freelance writers are creating “how to” articles.

And according to Compete PRO, had 46.3 million unique visitors in March 2012, up 68.4% from 27.5 million in March 2010. By comparison, had 16.8 million unique visitors in March 2012, down 5.6% from 17.8 million in March 2010.

So, I expect many of today’s critics of content farms will begin developing their own how-to content in the near future, start recruiting freelance writers to create it, or beat a path to Demand Media’s door to get their own Content Channels like USA TODAY’s “Travel Tips.” If they don’t, they’ll be yesterday’s news.


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