Demand Media’s ‘content factory’ under scrutiny

In the first of a series examining new ways of doing journalism, NMJ examines a computer-based commissioning model from the States
Demand Media – based in California – is currently recruiting UK-based freelance writers to supply copy.  Described as a ‘content factory’ by the Financial Times, Demand Media commissions original material to fulfil information needs that it detects are being frequently requested from, but not found by, search engines, such as Google.  Much of this is done using computer algorithms.

Demand Media then commission and publish the material itself, using all the techniques of search engine optimisation, and place advertisements around the copy.  They are thought to add around 4,000 articles and videos to their ‘properties’ daily. One of their sites,, for example, is somewhere between a home encyclopaedia and a digest of articles from Which.  Among several other channels are ones dedicated to video virals, current affairs and Lance Armstrong, who is reportedly a shareholder.

Demand Media also sells content to some traditional media, including USA Today.

To become a contributor, freelances are asked to fill in an online application, to which they add their CV.  All are required to sign a contract in which they hand over copyright in their material, and all further rights to use it, save in job applications.  A computer generates ‘commissions’, which are offered to the freelance pool, and articles are fact-checked and copy edited prior to publication. 

 The Sunday Times reported that freelances were being offers $15 a story – although a freelance who is registered with Demand Media told that she had only ever seen $7.50 per article offered.

 The company is owned by serial net entrepreneur Richard Rosenblatt.  According to The Sunday Times, on 11 July 2010, Goldman Sachs us preparing to float the company for an expected $1.5b.  Such has been Demand Media’s success, that several competitors have now entered the field AOL is reportedly growing its own ‘content farm’ called Seed, meanwhile in May, Yahoo spent $100m buying Associated Content – a smaller rival.

While many fret that such content factories will destroy quality journalism, others make the case for this method of production – notably Dorian Benkoil, writing on Mediashift.

Wired also produced and excellent, in depth piece, both on the how the site works, and the affect that it is having on the rest of the industry.

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