Demand Media’s advisors

Demand Media just announced the formation of an advisory board; Staci Kramer has the details at PaidContent. I was invited to join but decided to decline. I’ve been saying a lot about Demand — sometimes disagreeing with the common and negative perception that it is a content farm, arguing that we should not miss the key insights and lessons in Demand’s model (first, finding new ways to listen to what readers and the market want and letting that be its assignments and second, cutting content creation into its constituent elements and creating a market for creation to find new efficiencies).

I advise and have various relationships with media companies, which I disclose on my about page so you can judge accordingly what I say about them and about their sectors. Demand is uniquely controversial right now and so I decided to decline its invitation to advise and also thought I should disclose that here once it made its announcement. I will, of course, continue to write about Demand et al, positively and negatively, and I will continue to give them advice in public (such as this post) but will receive no remuneration from Demand. So you should read no particular statement into my decision to decline; still, I thought you should know.

  • i’m glad you declined but the “uniquely controversial right now” line leaves me curious. please say more about why you declined!

  • Oh, please. May I? Jeff, I’ve been following your blog, and was ecstatic to see that I read you correctly.

    Demand Media’s members are currently accusing the company of unfair competition. Jeff obviously did his homework. When I research a company that I am considering collaborating with or buying from, I often search the company’s name and the word “scam” in a search engine.

    Try that search for “eHow UK scam.” About 10K results. Now try its competitors with the same search term: Suite101,, InfoBarrel, HubPages. See anything? A total of maybe five results.

    Reason: eHow quietly mirrored its site in August last year, including all member-owned content, and used it as an excuse not to pay those members–thousands of them–for 6 months.

    And that was just the beginning.

    But let eHow’s own member forum tell the story. The posts that its moderators have not managed to delete still reveal a shady tale of betrayal and [alleged] conflict of interest and [alleged] unethical business practices that I hope we never see the likes of in this industry again.

    It won’t if we, the united former, and soon-to-be-former, members of eHow have our say.

    Good call, Jeff.

    • Ted

      Kimberly, with all due respect, you are wrong. This is not a scam, this was an oversight – albeit a major one – and the company admitted that and offered more than an olive branch to those who claimed they were victims of the ‘scam’.

      It’s very easy to see the negatives, but please look at what they’re ACTUALLY doing with online content and how they’ve revolutionised how that content is produced.

      Yes, they’ve made mistakes, but who hasn’t? They’re expanding and with the expansion will come successes and failures. But they seem very smart and they will surely learn from these mistakes.

      • Ted, with all due respect, you are wrong. Demand Media does not do “oversights.”

        If it was merely an “oversight,” why stall for 6 months in answering questions while raking in profits that should have been shared with writers that owned the content that was copied without their knowledge or consent?

        It took a lot of deliberate effort to plan this heist of hard working people, and several months of lies and more lies.

        What does this even mean? “It’s very easy to see the negatives, but please look at what they’re ACTUALLY doing with online content and how they’ve revolutionised how that content is produced.”

        That is eHow double speak in spades, Ted. It’s not revolutionary to steal, though I’ll grant you, their methods were certainly innovative.

        What’s this “claimed they were victims of the scam,” Ted? eHow ADMITTED there were victims on their own video blog, and tried to shut them up with micropayments.

        But I didn’t get a micropayment or an “olive branch,” Ted. The stick I got had nothing on it, and it wasn’t in a comfortable place. And I can’t buy groceries with an olive branch, even if I had one.

        eHow not only copied my content without my consent and placed it on a US server, they claimed was a UK site because they registered it with a UK domain name, but they REPUBLISHED my content both on the original site and the mirrored site after I had deleted it, which their terms of service say I am entitled to do.

        That’s what eHow “ACTUALLY” does with online content.

        So stop soft peddling and spinning this preposterous hoax that has deprived numerous hard working families of the income that eHow PROMISED (their word, on their US site) to exchange in consideration for WRITER OWNED CONTENT, and get some ethics, Ted.

        Oh, and they “seem very smart.” Seriously? Bernie Madoff is smart. If he learned from his mistakes, good for him, but keep him out of our society and our wallets.

        Being smart and revolutionary is no excuse for unethical and unfair competition that HURTS REAL PEOPLE, TED. Clearly you must know that, or you’d have come up with a better argument. That’s downright lame.

        You’d better get some real PR people in here in a hurry, because you botched the job and made my case for me in the process.

        Thanks, Ted. I owe you one.

        And when you speak to Richard Rosenblatt, let him know for me that eHow writers are smarter than he gave them credit for, will you please? Tell him we’re angry, too, and that we’re organized now.

      • coldbrew

        Kimberly: I went to your site looking for documentation with screenshots that would backup your claims, but I was unable to find it. Taking quotations from forums is great, though not real convincing.

        From the moment I learned about Demand Media, I didn’t like the business model, and it seemed quite shady. I hope someone can adequately document their alleged unethical tactics before these people try to do an IPO.

        [Threading doesn’t go deep enough here, so this is not to Ted; I think that’s obvious.]

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  • Zinger

    WEll that is funny,,, ehow did not need screenshots to look at earnings losses. Best guess is it was an olive branch since EVERYONE recieved compensation that appears to be about 10% of past 3 months earnings. REvenues are now down due to other factors for some including ads and possibly redirects from articles directed to the UK in the first place.

    EHOW admitted on their blog (you can find link on their website) that writers were impacted. That they did not conduct any survey to take claims speaks volumes.. you can’t screen shot lack of action. I have heard only 1 person state that ehow was looking into their particular eaernings loss and it was not in regards to the UK issue.

    Many do not consider a 10 dollar compensation of hundreds of dollars on revenue loss an OLIVE branch – more like slap in face, especially when those saying they had no impact to their earnings received 50, 100, 150 in compensation. can’t screen shot that either.

    That ehow was deaf to people they considered troublemakers is not screen shotable either. Or would you like screen shots of each post?

    If you don’t think words from the staff are powerful enough without screenshots then why write? writing is words and they are supposed to convey soemthing.

  • Zinger

    ALSO to TED very specifically…. revolutionized content? others have been doing simliar for a while. that they have good biz model great – but they are squeezing out writers that made them a good model. But that does not give sanction to NOT PAY.. UK site was never announced that I can find on the site.. it was done in underhanded way without compensation and withuout revealing lack of compensation.

    Ehow staff on forums has said more than once that money is secondary to writers.. .. that people write to provide help to others and recently a comment that there is a lot more on Ehow than getting paid for articles… just do a search on forum positing staff postings. It would take to long to find adn then screenshot.

  • @Coldbrew, do your own homework next time, and stop trying to discredit whistle blowers. It won’t change reality. If you have a dog in this fight, then you have already seen the evidence, and I will not be baited into responding here again.

    I’ll give you a quick lesson in using Google:

    Here’s one for you:

    And here is a post from a well known blogger who with a law degree who called eHow out on this:

    • coldbrew

      Wow. Just. wow.

      Thanks for the “lesson” in how to do research. That was the exact search and the exact content I found. However, having content on two different domains is not uncommon (as you note in another post with embedded Google search guy). I was hoping to find something more damning like the content you removed from eHow (i.e. screenshot of message stating such) still being displayed on the other domain. Or something, but I didn’t find it, that’s all.

      Perhaps Kimberly and Zinger missed this part of my last comment:

      From the moment I learned about Demand Media, I didn’t like the business model, and it seemed quite shady. I hope someone can adequately document their alleged unethical tactics before these people try to do an IPO.

      I am so far from having a dog in this fight (except I hate Demand’s concept), I can’t believe the hostility at asking for better evidence. Good luck on your campaign. I hope you’re not always that condescending when asked legitimate questions.

      • Sorry, @coldbrew, I apologize. We are used to eHow reps baiting us, and I jumped to the conclusion that you were one of them. No, I did not see that part of your post. When I’m up at 4 am seeing red over this, it’s hard to think straight, but that does not excuse my hasty response.

        Yes, we do have evidence. We have been asked by investigators not to post all of it online. Again, my sincere apologies for unjustly attacking your question, and thank you for your interest.

  • Torres

    I’m guessing “uniquely controversial” pertains to Demand Media dumping crap content all over the Internet and reaping the benefits of a too-cozy relationship with Google. The “UK eHow Scam” than everyone is hysterical is minor compared to the big picture of Demand Media activity.

    Yes, DM stole your residuals, but they were crap residuals for crap articles, be honest with yourselves. I’m rolling my eyes over the shrillness and pettiness of content-writer-freedom-fighters. You still own the rights to everything you submit to eHow, so post it elsewhere and delete it from eHow’s servers. That will hurt their pocketbook more so than this attempt to damage their reputation.

    There should be more outcry over DM polluting the Internet and trying to spread that pollution over a domain. Having a site mirrored on a domain greatly increase the chances that Brits will see it. There should be more outcry that DM’s flat rates and residuals are so low, no writer for either DS or eHow can afford to spend more than 20 minutes churning out a crap article for them.

  • JP

    From a reader’s perspective, I am curious as to the controversy that caused you to decline. But, that sets up for a great follow up post, doesn’t it?!

    @TED – I agree that they have revolutionized content. They have made it possible for freelance writers to make money in a new way. They found a need and filled it. This is spectacular business. However, I don’t understand, or believe, that they made an “oversight” of this magnitude. It’s huge. And, they did lie about it only to admit later that the UK site did impact earnings.

    @COLDBREW – They do seem shady. What kind of evidence would be helpful? That’s not sarcasm, but serious. The issue for the eHow writers is that the UK articles appeared instead of or above the US articles. Now, if there was fair compensation for the UK site this would be a moot point. We still don’t know if they are even figuring the UK site into earnings now.

    @TORRES – DM shot themselves by not implementing quality control at the gate. There are poorly written works on their site. But, this isn’t a reason to label all of the writers there “crap” because it’s an inaccurate blanket statement. The idea that it’s okay to pilfer money because the writing sucks anyhow is nuts. However, I do agree that the real shame is the embarrassing amount of money they pay.

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  • i guess Demand Media dumping crap content all over the Internet and reaping the benefits of a too-cozy relationship with Google. The “UK eHow Scam” than everyone is hysterical is minor compared to the big picture of Demand Media activity.

  • Without real life content writers on the internet, the internet would just turn into one big advertising machine for media companies. But, I guess that is where its headed.

  • “i dont know, but id like to hear of some as well… so im just answering so i can find this question easier later when its resolved”

  • Roark Silva

    Demand media is probably one of the largest online Ponzi schemes in existence today. On one side they have their domain business, with thousands upon thousands of parked pages (those useless pages within nothing but links, and Yahoo CPC ads), and on the other they have their content sites with pages heavily linked to from their thousands of parked pages in a scheme to trick Google’s Pagerank algo into thinking that their content is higher quality than it really is. These guys are walking all over two of the largest players online today…just wait till Yahoo advertisers realize that their ads are being placed on Demand’s parked pages, AND until google decides to act against Demand’s gaming of their algorithms. Not going to be pretty.

  • to clarify, they are profitable – Erick needs to correct his headline. $37M in EBITDA in 2009 and $26M for the first six months of this year. So probably looking at over $50M for 2010.