Content's Latest Creation Model: Factory Farmed or Organically Grown

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The Critics of Content Farms

Wengroff is one of many vocal critics of content providers, both based on what can feel very much like the exploitation of writers forced to accept "abysmally low" rates and because of what he feels these providers will ultimately do to the quality of content consumers have access to. "I think quality is going to suffer," he says. "People who are browsing these blogs or channels or websites are going to real low-quality content." And, he adds, when they do, they will not be likely to return to those pages. "So the client who has bought in is going to be angry. The people who will lose out are the publisher clients and end-user readers."

"There are tens of thousands of journalists and writers who are out of work," says Wengroff. They're hungry for work and they're willing to work at low rates, and content providers are more than willing to pay those low rates while they sell material at exorbitant rates to website owners eager to drive traffic to their sites to generate ad revenue. Associated Content, for instance, requires a minimum commitment from its customers, he says. "A minimum commitment for Associated Content is going to be 1,000 syndicated pieces at $12-$15 per article-that's a $12,000-$15,000 spend; or if you want exclusive original pieces, 200 is the minimum at a rate of $85-$125."

"I've looked at a lot of content on these sites and it's the most dumbed-down, rudimentary, basic information," says Karen Leland, the author of six books who has also been published by Woman's Day, the Los Angeles Times, AllBusiness.com, and others. "Forget being well-written; it's the gefilte fish of journalism," she says. "I don't know if you've ever had gefilte fish or seen it made, but it's a whole lot of ingredients mashed together. It makes for a very bland and inoffensive culinary offering but nothing you would write home about."

The Reality is Content Farms are Succeeding

Given that Seed reports that, in the past year alone, it has increased the amount of original content on its sites from 25% to 80%, hired 150 full-time editorial staffers, and expanded its freelancer pool from 500 to 3,000, there are certainly those who are buying into this model. In fact, Seed is led by Saul Hansell, the founder of nytimes.com's Bits blog, and boasts more than a dozen Pulitzer Prize winners as well as staffers from Forbes, Rolling Stone, BusinessWeek, Women's Wear Daily, and The Associated Press.

Despite criticism, these content creators are not having any trouble finding people eager to provide them with content, be it copy, photos, video, etc. Blair says that Examiner.com receives 2,000 Examiner applications each week and has 42,000 active examiners. This for pay that he readily admits is not going to allow these contributors to give up their day jobs.

Some would say this is simply capitalism at work; economics suggests that where the supply and demand curve meets is where the price for services will be established. As long as there are people willing to provide services and those services are meeting the needs of the entity paying for the services and absent of any government intervention as with the establishment of
a minimum wage, low rates will prevail.

It's the American way. The writers, photographers, and videographers who don't like it can seek work elsewhere. And, in truth, the type of work provided to content providers such as About.com or Seed is not the same as the type of content provided to the many thousands of established media outlets.

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With the proliferation of search-oriented online content providers such as AOL, Yahoo!, Demand Media, and About.com, internet users are increasingly likely to find that most of the general searches they do return results from these SEO-oriented content creators and so-called "content farms". Whether this is a good or a bad thing from the user perspective remains to be seen—and opinions vary. But from general tactics, to long tail search and universal search strategies, SEO remains critical to web publishers.