Demand Media is a company that churns out reams of copy for which freelancers get paid very little; content is geared toward generating search-engine hits. Reporters sometimes call what it does "McContent" because it's high-volume, quickly done work by low-paid employees.
And now it's coming to Houston!
Business website BNET got its hands on a confidential memo Demand put out announcing some new clients, and the Houston Chronicle is part of it.
We have entered into a partnership with Hearst Newspapers to produce articles for two of their premium publications, San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle. Specifically, we are creating articles and videos for the Real Estate section of SFGate.com and the Small Business section of Chron.com.
The memo says the deal is still secret and asks recipients to keep the names of the Hearst papers confidential.
The memo says this stuff will be higher class than the usual product:
We're currently accepting applications for writers and editors. These articles [for Hearst] come at a higher fee and your byline will be featured on these premium publications. Qualified applicants will not only be topical experts in their field, but also have relevant writing or editing experience in the subject.
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Which sounds great. But descriptions of how Demand Media operates, like this one from Wired, don't inspire too much confidence:
Nearly every freelancer scrambles to load their assignment queue with titles they can produce quickly and with the least amount of effort -- because pay for individual stories is so lousy, only a high-speed, high-volume approach will work. The average writer earns $15 per article for pieces that top out at a few hundred words, and the average filmmaker about $20 per clip, paid weekly via PayPal. Demand also offers revenue sharing on some articles, though it can take months to reach even $15 in such payments.
The Wired article dealt more with Demand's niche of "how-to" web stories, but it's difficult to see Demand suddenly operating by giving highly paid freelancers the time, support and resources to research and write finely tuned articles.
It's one more step on Hearst's path of de-emphasizing the uniqueness of their papers and making it all one seemingly fungible product.