Fear not (the demonic) Demand Media

This article about Demand Media in Wired Magazine has sparked a lot of fear among content producers, notably journalists. Basically Demand Media looks at search data, finds search terms that are frequent and monetizable but don’t have great results, and then they commission a network of freelancers to shoot videos about these subjects (and pay them very poorly). They are mostly “how to do an obscure thing.” They are taking advantage of this search data to “crowdsource” content ideas on a massive scale. It is certainly not a good thing if it is true that the people doing the content creation are not paid a living wage, as the article suggests. However, using search query data as a way to generate content ideas seems quite innovative and not necessarily a bad thing. I think that is why some journalists are so scared of the idea, e.g. Jason Fry, who writes:

“Journalists … If you want to know how our profession ends, look at Demand Media” (see Fry’s post)

On the one hand this is a business model for web content that really makes sense, on the other hand it turns formerly autonomous professionals into cogs in a giant content machine. However, I think a broader perspective is in order. Demand is trying to fill up the holes in the furthest reaches of the long tail. This may be a huge business, creating jobs in content creation where none existed before, or creating options for those who are out of work. The vast majority of journalism isn’t at the far reaches of the tail, it’s much closer to the top, which requires a different business model.