Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Demand Media Studios First Look Program Hurting Writers

Like thousands of other writers at Demand Media Studios, I made the mistake of relying on the company as my main source of income. Since May 2008, I've been an independent contractor with DMS, writing my butt off to bring supplemental income into my household. Despite the recent changes and obvious red flags, I kept shelling out article after article, ignoring the warning signs. At times, I had considered turning away from DMS and focusing my time and effort elsewhere, but DMS was there for me since I turned 18 years old. I didn't want to let go of a good thing.

I was alarmed, yet not surprised, when DMS sent out this dreaded email:

Studio Writers,

We are excited to announce a new program called First Look. It is intended to reward our highest-rated writers by giving them the first look at new titles. Starting this week, the highest-rated writers will have advanced access to view and claim new assignments for 48 hours before they are released into the Find Assignments pool.

We've all invested a lot and we want to further reward writers who best exemplify the attributes of good writing. The eligible group will be those writers who maintain an average structure of 4.0 or higher for their last 50 articles.

The score will be recalculated with every new article. While we plan to add this updated score to your Work Desk, it will not be immediately visible. We may also at some point modify this method of calculation. If your average falls below 4.0, you will lose First Look privileges until you bring your score back within the qualifying range.

In an attempt to be mindful and fair to all eligible writers, all writers' assignment claim limits will be set to 10. As with the current system, once you submit an article, you may claim another assignment. We will notify those writers eligible for First Look via email. All changes will go into effect in the next few days.

We will continue to listen to your feedback and invest in programs like this. Please visit this forum thread if you have any questions.

Jeremey Reed, SVP Editorial

My faith in DMS as a client had proved detrimental to my income. Do I regret writing for them? No way. Do I regret putting all of my effort into DMS? Absolutely. In between writing for Demand, I should have been searching for other "eggs" to put in my now nearly empty basket.

When scorecards were introduced within DMS, writers became nervous and even expressed their dismay in the forums. The scorecards, writers explained, are not an accurate representation of our writing skills. I have to agree. Since the scorecards came into play, my grammar score has been sitting at 3.9, never going up or down, even by a single point. Despite worrying and feeling patronized like a grade-school child bringing home her report card, the DMS team urged us not to take the scorecards too seriously and to simply focus on our writing.

Lo and behold, after being told for months that our scores do not matter, we realize that not only do they matter, but they are the basis for getting into the First Look program.
I want it to be known that I am in no way blaming Demand Media Studios for the hit my bank account has taken since the changes were implemented. In the end, I am responsible for my current financial situation. I am responsible for relying solely on DMS as if they were my employer instead of a client. Even still, DMS could have been a little more transparent about what was happening instead of pussyfooting around. No clarification. Questions were seemingly avoided. To be frank, the DMS staff could certainly benefit from a few public relations courses. In the end, however, I am a freelancer. It is not up to DMS to provide me with work.

Ever since the Google algorithm changes, eHow's visibility has plummeted, so the company is veering away from the "content farm" image to produce higher-quality work. The company did what they had to do, just as you would if you were running a similar company. While speaking to my husband about the changes, he said, "Twenty percent of your workers turn eighty percent of your profits." This likely explains why DMS has virtually "laid off" nearly 85% of their writers. The other 15% are shelling out enough work and generating enough page views to support the company. Quality over quantity. Hat's off to DMS for taking this route.

So, to the DMS writers who did not make it into the First Look program, I truly believe it is time that we move on. There are other opportunities out there. Don't hold a grudge against DMS. Be thankful that you were fortunate enough to have steady work for as long as you did.

Where do we go from here? Well, besides working on my blog, I've been submitting articles to Constant Content, TextBroker, and Break Studios. In between, I've been transcribing for ChaCha and Scribie. For extra income, I've been doing a bit of data entry for Key for Cash. For $5 every week or so, I've been doing quick surveys for Opinion Outpost. Every dollar helps at this point.

I've submitted applications to the following websites: Sex, Etc., The Writers Network, and WiseGeek.

Update: Unfortunately, WiseGeek was not seeking writers at the time and The Writers Network denied my application due to my lack of expertise in the home & garden area (despite having studied extensively and written on the topic for 4+ years). I still need that degree... As for Sex, Etc., I'm still waiting on a response, but I just went back and realized that they typically only accept "teen" writers under 19. Oops!

Soon, I will be applying to the following: QualityGal, Today's Mama, and AskDeb. Wish me luck! I'm milking every option at this point! I will even start writing for promotion here in the near future...

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