Sunday, March 07, 2010

Demand Studios: Pros, Cons, Ruminations

I signed up for Demand Studios near the end of 2009. A friend from Hub Pages sent me the link, and let me know that they do in fact offer some sort of group health plan if you write at least 30 articles per month for them for three months. That didn't sound too bad, so I applied and have written maybe 50 or 60 articles so far.

Demand Studios takes hot search phrases and spins them out as requests for content. You can choose from a number of formats. The shortest articles are 150 words long and pay $7.50 each. The longer ones are around 500 words long and pay $15 each. They also post a limited number of revenue sharing topics for no upfront payment. Those articles provide long term residual income, much like any other revenue sharing site (Hub Pages, Suite 101, Bukisa, Associated Content, etc).

Demand Studios pays every Friday and they do pay reliably. I've never had an issue with payment from them. They provide very specific editorial guidelines, which is helpful but also burdensome in some ways. (You'll see what I mean if you try them out.) In fact, if you decide to write for them, you will definitely spend an hour or two just reviewing the guidelines, and you will definitely spend the first few weeks (even after you start writing) checking the guidelines frequently.

In spite of this, some of your articles will definitely be sent back by the Copy Editors (called CEs in the DS forums) for revision. My most common revisions are always "too long, cut 100 words" but sometimes they'll not like how you phrased this or that. Most corrections can be made quickly and I've never had an article come back more than once. Most go through fine the first time.

DS pays approximately 4 cents per word for the content you write. If you can write one 500 word article per hour or two 150 word articles per hour that means you make about $15 per hour--at least in theory you do. In practice, it's hard to whip out DS articles at that pace.


First of all, you have to provide four references per article. They can't be Wiki references or commercial site references. Usually what I do is open five tabs right off the bat, line up my references on four of them, and write the articles on the fifth. They provide a template, which is convenient in some ways, but not in others. For instance, there's no word count feature, and the CEs are very very anal about word count. So I keep a Word doc open too so I can count words. That's annoying.

If I really focus, I can pump out two short articles per hour, however, some of them always come back, so there goes my $15 hourly rate. Also, the topics are incredibly technical. Some are so technical you'll be hard pressed to know what they even mean. Some don't mean anything. They tell you this right in the editorial guidelines. Some topics are completely nonsensical and can't be written. If you attempt to write an unwritable article, your CE will send it back with a snotty comment about how you shouldn't have written it and you won't be paid for it. So there's more time you can waste if you are unlucky.

A lot of time is taken up looking for topics that are 1) real, and 2) have adequate references available. So that cuts into your hourly rate too. The topics are difficult. I'm no genius, but I'm not stupid either, and I'd say 70% of these topics I couldn't write with a brain transplant from an atomic engineer. I drift towards medical topics, plants, and animals. Even those are not so easy. If you are a gear head and you can write, this is your Mother Lode for sure. If not, you'll spend a lot of time looking for topics.

In practice, I find that I can only stomach writing five or six of these DS puppies at a sitting before I want to bang my head on the keyboard and cry. So I try to stop before I get to that point. If I actually wrote five or six $7.50 articles each day, I'd have a semi-decent deposit every Friday and I'd qualify for their health insurance in a month or two (I have no idea if it's any good but I'm guessing probably not)... but in practice, I find myself avoiding the site more than I find myself drawn to it.

In short, Demand Studios is more reliable than the job boards but in a lot of ways is every bit as depressing. More so, really. I mean, I have met some nice clients at the job boards--I've met some stinky ones, but the nice ones were really nice. DS on the other hand is very impersonal. No warm fuzzies, no 'great job', nothing all that cool to write there either. Very dry, technical writing and if you hear from DS it's because you screwed up. So that gets discouraging after awhile. It's not glamourous.

More to the point though, it's hard to do that kind of writing for very long without remembering that there are people in the world (or there were) who make very good money for doing the exact same thing--like, between $40K and $60K per year with bennies, and they don't have to be productive every minute of the day or else lose their salaries. So if you think of that, if that ever at any point enters your mind, you will start to not love Demand Studios. You will start to feel like a freaking serf.

So forget I ever brought that up. Just erase that whole thought from your mind. Sorry I said that.

Demand Studios is an opportunity to make some money at home, but it's also a mill. It's been referred to by writers with jobs as a 'content farm'. Some of the places online that buy DS content have lots and lots of money--they're really big names and really high profile, and your content is being sold to them for god knows what while you get peanuts. DS and the sites that buy the content profit, you do not, and there goes that great job you dreamed of as a kid too, writing for a magazine or whatever.

Kiss that goodbye you serf you. And get back to work! (The clock is ticking!)

OK. Will it help you down the line to write this stuff? I can't see how. It does help the people who own Demand Studios and the people who buy the content from them. On the other hand, I see no reason to be ashamed of writing it. I've heard that some writers use pseudonyms at DS because they don't want it known that they're writing this stuff for small dinero or that they need the money. That seems overly sensitive and silly to me.

At some point, people will want to read real writing again. In the meantime, there's the electric bill, you know? I use DS to fill in gaps when I've nothing more interesting to work on or I need to pay a bill. Do I enjoy it? Not really.

In the meantime, at least Demand Studios does pay on time with real money. In the world of online freelancing, that's worth something, even if it IS chump change.


Anonymous said...

Cogent advice, Pam, but don't you ever feel dirty writing for these people since you -more or less- have to essentially prostitute yourself in order to make a few pennies? The health insurance must really be spectacular if that's the only reason why you continue to jump through their hoops. Meh? Pass. I've surpassed my quota for being treated like a whore by employers without having to subject myself to the same treatment as regards my writing. I write for my own enjoyment and satisfaction; if anyone else gets anything out of it then great, but I don't lose any sleep over it.

Pamela Grundy said...

Oh I don't have health insurance through them. Like I said in this article, it all gets old really fast. Thanks for taking the superior tone though. Haven't been talked down to like that in at least 20 minutes or so. Keep up the good work and guard that bridge well my man. :)

UninvitedWriter said...

Well, the reality is that writers often write for others. It is that way with every artistic endeaover. If you just want to write for yourself that is fine and you can do that in your bedroom, but if you want a career you often have to write for others. Even the greatest of writers had to "prostitute" themselves.

Michelle said...

Very true. There has to be a bit of give and take when it comes to writing if you're wanting to get paid. If it's your job, then you do have to take it on like any other job. If it's your own business, great, yet still, "show me the money" is the bottom line, especially when you have mouths to feed. Great article, Pam. Pros and cons were great to read. Glad UninvitedWriter asked about it cause I always wondered.

Amy Beth Arkawy said...

You offer a realistic view of Demand Studios. I applied-and was swiftly accepted( do they reject anyone?)-- but decided against pursuing the program, as the payment was simply too paltry. It may be okay for those just breaking in, but such meager earnings--which add up to LESS than minimum wage if you actually devote any more than mere minutes on each article--is flat out insulting to seasoned pros. And you wind up writing about stuff you're not even interested in.
I urge all writers to assert their worth. If you're going to get paid little or no money, at least write about that which you are passsionate about.

Pamela Grundy said...

Amy I came to that same conclusion recently. I devote most of my time to pieces that matter to me, even if they don't pay me a cent, but I do publish them. Like UW says, writing only for yourself is a lot like something else anyone can do in his or her bedroom alone (or the shower). What's the point?

DS is good because they don't steal (I mean, they do pay you, unlike lots of Elance clients) but the topics are just out there--if you have the expertise to understand 3/4 of the topics and write about them, why on earth would you do it for that small amount of money? It's bound to grate on you eventually.

JewelandtheSun said...

I need to reapply because I realize I forgot to attach a writing sample. However, I would rather write about subjects like books, travel, history, and crafting, so I am not sure if Demand Studios would want me. I was never very good at writing about scientific topics.

Anonymous said...

That's a little off putting TBH Pam. I'm already sick of working for peanuts, delivering top quailty SEO'd content for pocket money prices. And not always getting paid. Humph.


Anonymous said...

Pamela, I get different stories from different writers. Some say it's easy work, especially of you've ever written for eHow, and some say it's not worth it. I used to write for eHow, so I'll probably stick to those subjects. I'm good at gardening, and they seemed to have a lot of those articles, since they just bought Garden Guides, so I guess I'll stay busy. I do agree about low pay, though. Still, I tried writing for private clients, and even though it pays well, by the time you actually get a job, do the work, and rewrites if required, it's not much better than DS.

Pamela Grundy said...

I think you are right on about private clients. It's six of one, half dozen of the other. The money thing--I think it's important to remember that very few people doing ANYTHING are making good money these days. I just finished putting together some statistics on that if you are interested at the ezine I write for:

Work is hard to get and, up here in MI, if you do get work it is likely as not to be low paid and discouraging. So with that in mind, working for DS or the low pay of writing internet sales copy of whatever isn't so awful.

Poe died with not much to his name, as did lots of other writers. Writing has never been a way to get rich--few writers swing that. But we all still have to pay our bills. I love writing at home as opposed to being confined to a cubicle.

Good luck and thanks for your thoughts on DS. I agree, it seems to depend on who you talk to.

Janiek13 said...

Thanks for very truthful assessment of demand studios. It is helpful to know the pros and cons.