Content Farms: Dispatches From the Trenches

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Writing for Content Farms is Not for Everyone


For many writers, constructing an article, let alone four, in an hour may seem like an impossible task. "Demand Media isn't for everyone. If you're a slow writer who takes their time to put out a quality product, then Demand isn't for you," says O'Doare. "I, and other writers on Demand Studios Sucks, have become quite adept at churning out articles in the style that Demand wants quickly."

Once a Demand Media writer completes an article, it is submitted to a copy editor for review and fact-checking. At that point, the editor can make minor changes and move the article along for publication, or, if more substantial changes are required, he or she can send it back to the writer for a rewrite. The writer then has 4 days to make the revisions and resubmit the article to the copy editor, who can then either accept it for publication or reject it altogether. Throughout this process, writers are not able to communicate directly with the copy editors or ask them questions. If an article is ultimately rejected, the copy editor is paid but the writer is not. "The problem is that the copy editors usually don't know anything about the subject of the articles that they are supposed to be checking," says O'Doare. "I've slipped through a few computer articles that I basically wrote off the top of my head, not knowing if they were right or wrong. But I knew that the subject was so obscure that there wouldn't be any fact-checking involved. And there wasn't."

Content Farm Success Stories

At Examiner.com, writers apply to contribute regularly on a topic of their choosing from an extensive list provided by Examiner, which ranges from werewolves, southern nightlife, and drinking games to success coaching, women's college basketball, and single dads. They can write on a national or local level (Examiner has more than 240 editions for a variety of cities across the country), and each Examiner receives his or her own page on the site.

According to Keith Wilkins, who celebrated his 1-year anniversary as the St. Petersburg Live Music Bar Scene Examiner in May, he is paid by Examiner based on a variety of factors, including per article, the number of readers who subscribe to his column, how many "hits" his column gets, and how long each reader stays on an article. He also is eligible to receive bonuses, such as if an advertiser sponsors his column.

While he won't divulge what he makes from his column, Wilkins, who is the No. 1 most read Examiner columnist in the Tampa Bay market (beating out nearly 200 other Examiner columnists), says that in addition to some side projects and jobs, his Examiner music column is his full-time job.

Wilkins, a former contract songwriter and political columnist, started the column because "I was frustrated with the fact that the Tampa Bay music scene had not been receiving any decent or reliable media coverage in the past 15 years," he says, noting that his success with it was "fairly instant." "I was fortunate and very surprised.  ... Within the first six months of my writing the column, I rocketed up the rankings," he continues. In addition to earning enough money to consider Examiner a full-time job, Wilkins says the column also has opened "tons of doors" for him. For instance, he has been asked to make guest appearances around the Tampa Bay area, as a guest speaker at a music seminar and as a guest announcer at concerts and events. He's also done voice-over work on a local internet radio station, written for music magazines, and been approached to write and host a local TV show that is already in the works.

Wilkins owes his success to a basic principle of Business 101: He saw a need, and he filled it. "A huge reason for my column's popularity and success is due to the fact that I am the only full-time music columnist in the Tampa Bay area at the time," he says. "This area has lacked full-time, dedicated media coverage of the music scene for years."

Wilkins also believes that his past experience in the music business brings credibility to his column. "A lot of columnists who write about a particular subject don't even have any personal experience in the subject they write about. I do," he says. He isn't the only Examiner success story, though.

Like many moms, Kimberly Bogin was looking for a writing job that would allow her to work around her children's school schedules. About a year and a half ago, an ad to write for Examiner caught her eye, and she thought it might be a good fit. Armed with a background in television (she wrote and produced an Emmy Award-winning television show called Hollywood One on One for the Starz! Network for 13 years before having children), Bogin applied to be the Denver Pop Culture Examiner, a column with which she says she had a "reasonable amount of success."

"Entertainment topics have a broader appeal, and people are always searching for information on celebrities, television, and movies. There was an American Idol contestant who I wrote about regularly. Even though it had a local angle, she had a national following, which increased the interest in those articles," says Bogin.

While she started to see success with her pop culture column "within the first three months" (she was even contacted by Disney Domestic Television to cover a local angle on a makeover series on LIVE! with Regis and Kelly), Bogin's passion was running, and she eventually applied to be the Denver Running Examiner instead. A few months ago, she became the National Running Examiner. While there aren't as many people who are interested in running as compared to pop culture, she says, there also aren't as many sources of information to compete with.

Like her pop culture column, Bogin has had success with her running columns as well. Her articles are regularly picked up by Marathon Guide, and some have been linked to on the Runner's World and Running Times websites. Like Wilkins, she has also been asked to make guest appearances, such as to ride in the lead vehicle at the Rock ‘n' Roll Denver Marathon, and she has been invited to cover a number of national running events.

Bogin points to "Examiner University"-Examiner's online collection of resources to instruct and guide its writers-as a good source to help writers succeed on the site. "There are a number of videos that will talk you through a subject, like writing a good headline. There's also a very vocal Community Group, with a number of successful writers that are willing to share tips for success," she says. "There's a learning curve for online writing. You have to learn what people are looking for and the best way to write headlines to find that audience" via search engines.

Examiner celebrated its 3-year anniversary in April, boasting 70,000 contributors, 3,000 published articles per day, and a 900% increase in the number of visitors since its inception. Demand Media reported its second quarter 2011 financial results in August, which included a 32% revenue increase to $79.5 million compared to the previous year's second quarter.

It appears that not all content farms are created equal. For writers, as with many other opportunities presented online, the bar of entry is low, but it still takes talent, perseverance, and a little bit of luck to succeed. Furthermore, sites that allow writers to build a reputation based on their name and expertise seem to offer more to the writers, and the companies reap the benefits of happy, well-compensated contributors.


Resources

Demand Media
www.demandmedia.com

Demand Studios Sucks
www.demandstudiossucks.com

Examiner.com
www.examiner.com

Internet Content Syndication Council
www.internetcontentsyndication.org

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