Two companies that produce massive quantities of new content every day, Answers.com and Demand Media, are rapidly moving up the list of top U.S. web properties, as measured by comScore. Answers.com has risen from #26 to #13 in just two months, and Demand Media has risen from #24 to #15 in the same time period. Answers.com has nearly 38 million pages of content on the Web so far; Demand Media produces 2,000 4,000 new pieces of content a day.

Is the fact that these sites produce so much content, and are quickly gaining in popularity as a result, cause for concern about the future of the Web? Will it lead to the same uniformity and lowest common denominator content that afflicts the television industry?

In this post we take a closer look at how Answers.com is becoming so successful – and what this may mean for the Web. In a follow-up post, we will dive deeper into Demand Media’s model, based on an interview I conducted with several Demand Media executives (including founder Richard Rosenblatt) at the Web 2.0 Summit in September.

Answers.com Rolling in Page Views, Money

Answers.com, which we reviewed in August, garnered 56.4 Million monthly unique visitors in the United States in September (83M worldwide). For context, that puts it on a similar level as CBS Interactive (#12 with 58M uniques in U.S.) and Apple (#11 with 60M). Demand Media, which we also reviewed in August, was close behind with 52.5M uniques in September.

Answers.com announced its Q3 2009 financial results today. It made $4.99 million in revenue in that quarter, including $1.9M in September alone. The Q3 09 result was an increase of 40% compared to $3.56 million in Q3 2008. Most of the 09 revenues were from WikiAnswers, which reported $3.42 million in Q3 2009 – an increase of 75% compared to $1.96 million in Q3 2008.

WikiAnswers is the main reason for Answers.com’s popularity. It is a Q&A site driven by user-generated content. And it’s growing fast. Bob Rosenschein, Founder, Chairman & CEO of Answers.com, left a comment on our earlier post saying that “the growth in our traffic is almost entirely from our WikiAnswers site.”

In September, WikiAnswers garnered 46.3 million U.S. unique visitors and ReferenceAnswers 21.4 million U.S. unique visitors (note there is some crossover between the two sites, hence those numbers are greater than the unduplicated total of 56.4M).

Low-Cost Content Production On A Massive Scale

There are two interesting aspects to the success of Answers.com. Firstly, it has a huge number of pages on the Web now: 38 million as of today. Much of that is user-generated content, so very low cost.

Secondly, Answers.com’s page view and financial success is almost entirely created off the back of Google. Indeed, Answers.com announced recently that it has renewed its Google Services Agreement – extending its access to Google AdSense for two more years. Bob Rosenschein, CEO of Answers.com, is quoted as saying that “we earn the vast majority of our ad revenue from Google’s sponsored links.”

Now consider the implications of this for the future of content on the Web. The recent rapid ascensions of Answers.com and Demand Media can only really lead to one conclusion: to succeed in the content business on the Web, you should pump out hundreds of pages of content every day – preferably thousands.

Now, this is nothing new. We’ve known for a long time that blog success is more easily gained (gamed?) by producing far more posts per day than any one person can read. This has led to many professional blogs competing with each other on how many posts they can put up every day – usually accompanied by a slide in quality.

As well as producing as much content as possible, Answers.com and Demand Media also have a low cost structure in common with blogs. But they are taking the ‘quantity rules’ approach to a whole new level. This is low-cost content production done on a huge scale.

Just how much content do these two sites have on the Web? There’s an easy way to find out: search Google. Here is the amount of content each has, along with some other sites for comparison:

  • wikipedia.org: 56,000,000
  • answers.com: 37,700,000 (of which wiki.answers.com accounts for 34,100,000)
  • nytimes.com: 13,200,000
  • washingtonpost.com: 12,500,000
  • ehow.com: 4,850,000 (this is Demand Media’s lead site)
  • huffingtonpost.com: 4,740,000
  • mashable.com: 210,000
  • techcrunch.com: 124,000
  • readwriteweb.com: 37,700

Answers.com has nearly 38 million pages of content on the Web. Much of it is discovered via Google; and monetized via Google. Wikipedia still has more content, but it is a non-profit world encyclopedia. Answers.com is a commercial company, out to make money.

Demand Media is well behind Answers.com (and Wikipedia), but there’s reason to believe it will ramp up fast. In August the company told us that it produces 2,000 pieces of content per day, across its network of sites [Update, 7 Nov 09: it’s now 4,000, Demand Media told us]. It also has a slick content production ‘studio’ system, which we will explore in our next post.

Interesting to note that Huffington Post is really the closest the blog world has to a player in this ‘mega content’ space – but then most of the site’s content comes from aggregating it from other sites. Huffington Post has been criticized by the New York Times in particular for this practice.

Note that the New York Times and the Washington Post clearly both have a lot of content too – but they also have a lot of well-paid staff. Answers.com and Demand Media are producing content at a fraction of the price that the NYT and the WP pay for it.

The Age of Mega Content Sites – Where Is This Headed?

On the Web, traditionally success has been measured by page views. This isn’t always the case – there’s certainly a place for quality over quantity, a philosophy which we at ReadWriteWeb firmly believe in! But by and large, big page views usually means big revenue… or at least the promise of it (e.g. in Facebook’s case).

Both Answers.com and Demand Media are onto a good thing. They have different approaches – Answers.com is largely user-generated content combined with Wikipedia and other sources; Demand Media has created a low-cost content factory, by employing thousands of freelancers.

Google is largely keeping both companies in business – it is the source of most of their traffic (because a lot of it is reference or resource content) and certainly in Answers.com’s case it provides the bulk of its revenue.

I can’t help but think that the rapid rise of these two companies may be bad news for the Web. If a small number of companies come to dominate a content market, usually blandness and lowest common denominator fare follows. The network television and radio markets in almost any country in the world are evidence of that. Likewise, if you search Google for a reference article and the first page of results is littered with Answers.com and Demand Media articles, is that crowding out the real topic experts?

Are these mega content sites a good or bad thing for the Web? Is quality taking too much of a back seat to quantity? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.