The ease and low cost of publishing content on the web has meant firstly that anyone can do it, and secondly that companies have taken advantage of this ease coupled with people's desire to publish their writing to generate income. These 'content farms' - such as Demand Media - churn out large amounts of content a day, which is highly optimized for search and therefore consistently appears high in search results, leading to criticism from newspaper publishers that they are threatening traditional journalism.
One company that offers a similar service to writers is Vancouver-based Suite101. But Suite101 is not a content farm, said its CEO Peter Berger. "We see ourselves as a service for writers and contributors," and "we see the writers as the core of our company, so we look at where they can create value."
Editor-in-chief of Suite101's French site, Jérémy Reboul, described said that if anything, the business as "a free range content farm." The main difference between Suite and content farms "is our relationship with writers," he added. "It's something I think our competitors don't have."
Suite101 only accepts writers whose work meets its quality standards. In practice, this is 20-25% of applicants at the moment, Berger said. Prospective writers must send a writing sample, and then write a first article for the site as a further check.
Articles are only published on Suite101's site, unlike Demand Media, for example, which puts articles on a variety of Demand-owned platforms. Suite101 has online exclusivity of the content for a year.
Writers can write on any topic they desire: there is no algorithm like Demand Media's that suggests what topics might be most popular online. All content is edited post-publication, within 24 hours of going on the site.
"Our site has quite a colourful mix of content," Berger said. "We have a very large range of articles."
The French branch of Suite101 has 11 editors, most of whom are working journalists, and they work closely with the writers. Editors are available to answer questions from writers by phone, and also call the writers they work with most to make suggestions. Editors focus on one or two different sections, such as economy, finance, cooking or fashion. Forty to fifty articles are published a day, and editors look at six to ten articles each in a day.
Writers are paid based on how many clicks the ads alongside their articles get. This means that they have no guaranteed income, but that once an article is published, it could well pay monthly dividends for years to come. Income is usually steady. There are no limits in terms of participation. Suite101 might look at alternative monetization methods in the future, such as micropayments, Berger said.
What are the advantages to a writer of working for Suite101?
You can write about what you want, and you may or may not make money. So the question arises: why not just write on your own blog? Reboul listed several reasons why a writer might prefer Suite101"
- - You have editors
- - Educational materials are provided on how to write online and journalistic standards
- - There is a sense of community, through editorial forums
- - The brand - Suite101 is well-ranked on Google
- - Your reader ratio is 50x bigger than with your own blog.
"We try to help them achieve their goals, whether those are audience building, monetizing, or simply publishing content," said Berger.
Search vs destination
"Our site itself is very well optimized for SEO, but we don't believe in SEO tricks," Berger stressed. "Our core strategy is to create the articles that people what to read, so we try to help readers to find the areas within their expertise where they can create value."
Reboul believes that the writers are indeed writing for their readers, as if Suite101 were an online magazine. "We tell them that all the time - write for your readers, not for Google," he said.
The work produced by Suite101 is not a threat to news organisations, Berger said, describing this suggestion as a 'red herring.' "News is a completely different space," he said: "News works for a destination audience with a known brand, which is typically the opposite of search." Reboul was in agreement, commenting that "I think there is room for us and for classic news sites."
Journalists feel threatened by the web, and they see sites like Suite101 or Demand Media becoming successful, but this shouldn't mean that they come to the conclusion that it is the 'content farms' who are posing a threat, Berger said.
The area that might well actually be threatened, Berger said, is traditional advice publishing, as people start to look to the web rather than books to find answers in this area.
Reboul suggested that rather than seeing new media publishers as the enemy online, traditional publishers should see what they can learn. "I think everyone can get ideas from us - news organisations don't know at the moment how to monetise and maybe we can offer an example of that."