Interview: Steven Kydd, EVP, Demand Studios: eHow Targeting UK’s Laid-Off Writers

imageimageYou’re reading it here first: US social media and online publisher Demand Media, which publishes 2,000 videos and articles a day from thousands of professional-amateur contributors, will expand to Europe this year with the launch of a UK-version of its eHow.com how-to guide site by Q409. EVP and co-founder Steven Kydd told me Demand will be hiring for the opening a London office — and bring the company’s Demand Studios production division, which employs 10,000 freelance writers, film-makers and on-screen experts across America, to Europe for the first time.

Could it be good news for the many British journalists laid off lately? Kydd wants to recruit at least 1,000 paid freelance contributors in the UK by May 2010: “With traditional publishing, they create all that quality content but the cost structure is just not there… We think this is an evolutionary model in how you create content and scale, in a way that is efficient and allows everyone in the process to make some money. And that’s what today’s traditional publishing lacks.”

Topping up income via crowdsourcing: Demand Studios’ contributors are all vetted and checked by staff before they can contribute to eHow or Demand’s other sites including Golflink.com and Livestrong.com, a JV with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Contributors are paid either a one-off fee, typically $20 but sometimes higher, while some receive ad-supported revenue-sharing deals. That’s hardly going to replace a full wage that a skilled worker may have lost in the media downturn — plus very few UK journalists will be versed in the relatively narrow “how to” school of writing or presenting that has seen eHow receive 32 million unique users in the US. But, Kydd argues it can at least help and that with revenue-sharing — which was only recently introduced — the potential is there for contributors to earn a considerable amount.

“When we started the company we asked, how would we solve this massive inefficiency in the marketplace which overproduces highly qualified people and underproduces jobs for those people to do,” says Kydd. Crowdsourcing rates may sound like mere beer money and, Kydd says, in the beginning Demand thought its contributors would be just “professional-amateurs” – but, following redundancies in American media, “it’s trending much more towards full-on professional”. There are plenty video testimonials from US Demand contributors praising the system.

Algorithm publishing: Demand has developed a content algorithm in an attempt to predict what users and advertisers want to see. Each day Demand Studio writers are offered a long list of topics to write about, generated from search trends and what online communities are discussing. Articles are checked by freelance copy editors and moderated by a mixture of Demand staff and its sites’ communities. A former exec at 20th Century Fox, Kydd says the days of “intelligent people sat around in a room guessing what the public might want”, then spending millions of dollars on a commissioned project, are over. “You need to reduce the risk — if you don’t, you could be terribly wrong”. Kydd says contributors are getting some money and exposure while advertisers reach a passionate audience and “we as a publisher make money because those two groups are finding each other”.

The company, formed in 2006 by former MySpace chairman Richard Rosenblatt, is the biggest contributor of videos to YouTube with over 150,000 to date through channels like Expert Village. It creates 2,000 videos, articles and blog posts a day.

Pluck: Another part of the Demand arsenal is Pluck, the social media community software being used by publishers including Trinity Mirror while it was recently taken up by News International’s thelondonpaper. Could Demand’s UK expansion see its content cross-published to its Pluck partners sites in the UK? “We’ve been having those discussions over the past two days, it’s a very interesting time… many of those traditional publishers are having to lay some people off but they still have very strong brands and vibrant businesses.” And, extending the sales pitch to newspaper websites, he points out that Demand is willing to let them share in the growth: eHow has grown from five million monthly unique users when Demand bought it in 2006 to 32 million uniques this month, according to Google (NSDQ: GOOG) analytics stats.

Europe: So now the UK is in Demand’s sights, how about mainland Europe? “I know there is demand from a large amount of people in Europe and I need to work with our team to roll-out local language versions of our eHow site — so we’re looking at all the big markets you can imagine – UK, Germany, Spain, France, as the next ones to go after.” Kydd claims that thousands of Europeans have applied to be contributors in the past year, but the UK expansion is the priority now.

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