In August we reviewed Demand Media, one of the largest producers of content on the Web
today. Wired Magazine recently compared Demand Media’s content business to Henry Ford’s production line for cars. Demand Media currently produces 4,000 new pieces of content a day. What’s more, it’s increasingly syndicating this content to media sites outside of its own network of vertical websites. In other words, Demand Media is becoming a very large content production factory for third party sites such as Yahoo.

In this follow-up post, we dive deeper into Demand Media‘s content production model – and ask questions about the quality of the output.

This article is based on an interview I conducted with several Demand Media executives, including founder Richard Rosenblatt, at the Web 2.0 Summit in September.

Will Demand Media Soon be a Household Name?

In our previous posts, we’ve noted that Demand Media is rapidly rising up the comScore list of the top 50 web properties in the U.S. – in July it was #24, in September it was #15. At this rate, Demand Media will soon be one of the top 10 Web properties in the U.S. – right up there with Amazon, eBay, Apple.

Think about that: how many of you had heard of Demand Media before this year? Amazon, eBay and Apple are all household names. Demand Media (along with another fast-growing mega content site, Answers.com) could be a household name soon too, if its current growth rate continues.

Behind this remarkable growth is a very large output of content each and every day, fueled by thousands of freelance writers and content creators.

So how does Demand Media produce so much content every day? 4,000 new articles a day is a quantum leap above the 20-30 new posts a day that the most feverish of professional blogs pump out.

About Demand Studios

Demand Media produces so much content with a system it calls Demand Studios. It’s a proprietary editorial system which is part human-processed and part automated.

The system starts with an automated process, crunching data and running it through an algorithm to identify story ideas that have the best chance of success. The algorithm factors in audience type, ability to attract advertising and potential for traffic.

For a written piece of content, human editors will then check the top story contenders. Potential titles are placed into a pool for writer selection. Once a writer picks up a story, it gets written up, goes through a fact checking and copy editing process (including a plagiarism check), and finally the editorial team approves the completed article. The article is eventually published and the writer gets paid.

This is a simplification of the Demand Studios process, which happens 4,000 times every day! The system appears to be an efficient mix of automation and human labor. As we’ll see on Page 2 of this post, the editorial process isn’t foolproof. But even so, the scale of this system is impressive.

As at the end of October, Demand Studios had created more than one million original pieces of content, both text articles and
videos. There are more than 6,000 active Demand Studios freelance creators – including writers, filmmakers, title proofers, copy editors.

In my meeting with Demand Media executives at the recent Web 2.0 Summit, I was told that an average of 11 people – and 15 unique roles – touch a piece of content as it flows through Demand Studios. The company argues that this, along with community rating of content, produces quality content.

But does it, actually?

Demand Media: Is This Really Quality Content?

Demand Media is sensitive to criticism of the quality of its content. It’s a question that ReadWriteWeb has raised a few times and which Wired picked up on in its October profile.

At the end of that article, Wired noted that Demand Media is “trying to place a new emphasis on quality.” However it concludes by saying that Demand Media is “not moving far from [the] Henry Ford model.”

I asked Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt about this criticism. Bristling, he responded by pointing to two things.

Firstly Rosenblatt claimed that many of Demand Media’s content creators are professionals. He said that 75% of them have been published in magazines or newspapers, 25% have written a book, and 25% have held professional marketing roles.


Example of Demand Media content, on Yahoo! network site ‘Shine.’

Secondly, Rosenblatt noted that Demand Media content creators have choices in the market – but they choose to work for Demand Media.

What’s more, Rosenblatt said that “quality is based on relevance” – a quote he attributed to Wired editor Chris Anderson, who wrote the books The Long Tail and Free.

Who then are these people that write and shoot video for Demand Media? They’re professional freelancers and they’re paid anywhere from $15-30 per piece of content. This isn’t a great deal of money for a freelance article. But according to Demand Media, there are hundreds of such freelancers earning thousands of dollars per month from Demand Studios (although this would be the top of the range).

4,000 New Articles Per Day – What Percentage is High Quality?

The trouble with the term ‘quality’ is that it’s both variable and subjective. I’ve seen examples of Demand Media work that are poor – e.g. this eHow article about how to get Twitter followers.

Step 3 reads as follows:

“Engage in discussions. If someone on your timeline says something interesting or says something that you can put input into, do it. There’s nothing worse than Twitter followers who follows for no reason. Even if you don’t get responses some of the time, it doesn’t hurt to try and the people you’re following will know you’re attemption to converse and are more likely to follow you back.”

There are a couple of bad typos in that paragraph (where were the copy editors?), but worse is that the advice is mediocre. It’s relevant content to many people, but is it good content? Apparently it was to the people who’ve read it, as it has 5 stars…

UPDATE: Demand Media contacted us to explain that above article is what they call a “user-generated article.” This is marked in the screenshot below as “user submitted article,” whereas a Demand Studios article would have “eHow Contributing Writer” as the attribution. Demand Media advised that “this UGC does not flow through the full Demand Studios editorial process – and is not counted in our 4,000 pieces of content.”

The bigger question is: there are surely many examples of good Demand Media content on the Web, but how many of the 4,000 articles it produces every day aren’t?

As we posited in our previous article, the concern with fast-growing content factories like Demand Media and Answers.com is that quality is taking too much of a back seat to quantity. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

In our next post, we will look into the type of content that Demand Media is producing – and what it plans to do with it next.

See also: our follow-up analysis of Demand Media, Ad-Driven Content – Is it Crossing The Line?