Demand Media's Nonstop Content Machine Takes the Holidays Off

Photograph by Clerkenwell

These are cold, hard times down on the content farm. After posting recent lackluster earnings, Demand Media announced an executive shakeup. Now the company’s problems have reached legions of hardworking, meagerly compensated freelancers who supply Demand Media’s voluminous outpouring of search-engine-friendly articles and videos.

Demand Media informed its freelancers on Tuesday that unlike in years past, it will be shutting down its algorithm-driven assignment studio for roughly two weeks. Anyone hoping to earn some extra cash over the holidays will have to look elsewhere between Dec. 18 and Jan. 2.

In recent years the assignment studio has served as the driving force behind Demand Media’s publishing business. It helps to recall Wired’s classic description of how it works:

“Pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers.”

From there, a decentralized horde of writers, editors, and producers earn minimal fees by fulfilling the assignments. But the nonstop production line is being temporarily halted for the holidays, in what appears to be a significant departure. According to a tipster from the freelance ranks, just last year Demand Media paid a bonus to anyone who kept writing throughout the holidays. No such luck in 2013.

A Demand Media spokesperson says the change was made because of recommendations by a committee charged with coming up with ways to improve work life for the company’s in-house staffers.

Here’s the memo:


“DMS is doing something a little different for the holidays. This year we are planning to close the Studio for the December holidays to give our own staff a chance to take a break and spend time with friends and family. We are hoping that all of you are able to do the same.

“Since this change affects your payment schedule, we wanted to give you sufficient notice now. We’re currently planning to make December 18 the last day to submit assignments for payment which will have the final payment of the year going out on December 20. The Studio will reopen on January 2 with normal payments resuming on January 7.

“We’re going to make special accommodations so that anything you’re working on when the Studio closes will remain in your queue until we’re back from the holidays. We’ll be sharing more details about logistics and assignment extensions in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for future emails.

Happy holidays!”

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