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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thoughts on eHow UK Compensation

I'll be honest. I haven't closely followed the eHow UK debacle over the past few months. I'm just now getting caught up on other eHow members' thoughts and research on the topic, conveyed through blogs and forum posts and discussions.

For those who haven't followed or participated in the discussions, here's the 30-second version as I understand it. In about August of 2009, eHow created a "sister site," ehow.co.uk, which basically mirrored the US-version except for a unique front page -- the featured articles differ from those on the regular site.

However, Demand Media used US-member-submitted eHow articles on the eHow UK site. According to the TOS, they do have the rights to do so.  But writers were unhappy that they basically copied everyone's content and published it on another site without discussion or permission from the writers first. Personally, I don't think this was done with malicious forethought; I don't think they really gave it much thought at all. But either way, some members felt it was not right.

In the face of uproar from its members, eHow administration decided to redirect visitors on the UK site to the original US-based articles, but eventually just pulled the plug and removed all US-member content from the UK side (some articles remain and flaws are being worked out).

Because of the persistence of eHow member-writers who asked whether articles re-posted to the UK site would receive reimbursement through the WCP, and who felt their overall revenue from eHow suffered due to their articles on the UK site appearing higher in searches than their US articles, eHow announced that it would give "generous compensation" to all WCP participants whose articles has been temporarily published on the UK site without permission.

This compensation arrived with the February payment of January earnings. For those who wondered, and in the interest of full disclosure, I received $140.

Personally, I feel that this compensation is more than fair -- simply because I never noticed any decline in my eHow earnings and any traffic that was taken from my US articles was likely minuscule, in my opinion. For one thing, the UK site has a fraction the traffic that the US one does. This is a comparison of traffic for the two sites from January 2010; traffic in the late months of 2009 was even more disparate:

I also did Google searches in December of my top-earning eHow articles and didn't see any UK-based results, just the ones on the US site. So I'm not really sure how much compensation, if any, the UK site took from my articles.

I do know that there is chatter among Google Adsense users that advertising revenue across the web is down, likely because of economic factors worldwide.

Is eHow committed to its WCP, or Writers Compensation Program? I believe they are, or it would not still be inexistence. When it first launched, in 2007, it was their big focus, and things have changed since then. Perhaps there is not as much enthusiasm within Demand Media as they had previously for the WCP writers. In 2008, eHow held a member event, weHow, in Santa Monica CA, to which I was invited and attended.The whole focus was on the WCP and participation on the eHow.com website. They even gave recognition to the top eHow earner in attendance, so earnings were being promoted and encouraged.

In 2009, the event was focused instead on the new "I did It" feature that pays no compensation to those who submit I did It stories. So the focus has shifted a bit, perhaps to encourage people to join eHow for the user experience and not just the earnings potential.

Demand Studios writers, who provide content for eHow.com, seem to receive more attention, benefits and support than the "users" in the WCP. This is simply a statement of fact; it doesn't bother me. When you consider that DS writers are paid a flat $15 fee for most article, while I've had dozens of articles earn $100 or more, including several thousand-dollar eHow articles, they can keep their better forum and monthly grant contests and I'll keep my revenue sharing.

But even if eHow in general doesn't particularly love us WCP writers anymore (who can blame them?), the sheer quantity of user-submitted content, and the fact that we retain rights to our work, indicates to me that they would have a very hard time just nixing the program altogether. And I contend that they don't want to end it. For all we know, the eHow UK beta site may have included a long-term plan for extending the WCP and eventually increasing compensation based on UK revenue on WCP articles. I truly don't think anyone at Demand wanted to "steal" from the eHow writers.

And I believe that eHow remains one of the very best sites for building residual income today.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

9 comments:

Gayle said...

Thank you, Maria, for a very concise and thoughtful explanation of the problem. I am glad someone could explain the problems in such a rational, non-emotional way. I continue to support eHow, because they gave me a chance to develop my writing. It is still one of the most popular freelance sites. Thanks for your thoughts.

mommierose said...

I agree with most of your points; however, I did lose a lot of earnings over this. I had a big decline over the past few months, and as such, I don't feel like I received fair compensation. I actually recently posted on my blog about this as well.

Kimberly said...

Thank you for sharing the details of your compensation with us, Maria. Several other eHow members have compared their compensation, and have found that many of eHow's more prominent members who did not lose much, if anything, from eHow's article theft seem to have been compensated significantly more than many of those who did.

For example, I deleted 20+ of my articles after eHow refused to divulge whether they were paying for the use of our article clones, and eHow re-published my deleted articles without my knowledge or permission on both sites. Yet they paid me NOTHING to compensate for that. Most of the people I know received less than $20.

And while I can respect your belief that eHow did not intend any harm I cannot agree with you.

Demand Media is one of the largest content providers in history. They intentionally created a fictitious, mirrored site, claimed it was an international site and that they were "unable" to pay for our articles there, even though it has always been located in the US.

They deleted all of my forum questions about the site's location, they avoided our questions for months about payment, finally saying "We have our own algorithm and it's based on that," and have behaved dishonestly about the entire mess for more than 7 months now, including with the so-called compensation.

I watched eHow manipulate SEO on at least one "UK" cloned article (and have screenshots to prove it). And I am positive that they intentionally deceived us. I believe they devised this "UK" scheme to make their Internet properties appear larger in relation to their expenses in anticipation of offering stock, as Richard Rosenblatt has stated publicly that he is considering.

Whether or not Demand Media/eHow intended to hurt their writers may be debated, but clearly they did not intend to treat their writers fairly or to meet their ethical and legal obligations to them, and neglecting to do the right thing is, in this case, as serious as intentionally doing the wrong thing.

This is not the first time Richard Rosenblatt has been accused of fraud, and it will not be the first time he has run a company into the ground. He's got a very small window to turn this around on his own now. Let's hope he surprises everyone and does the right thing before a court orders him to do so.

Thanks again for addressing this, Maria.

Maria said...

Gayle -- Thanks for commenting! I really hope that eHow remains committed to its member-writers as it's a great site, and has the potential to be even better.

mommierose-- The decline may not be just because of the UK mirror site. Did you check to see if your top-earning articles were still in Google search results under the US site during those months?

Kimberly-- It's entirely possible that I lost revenue due to the UK site. I did not notice a huge difference, but perhaps the dips were lower and the highs not as high during those months because of the UK site. Since I've been writing for eHow for 2.5 years, I'm used to the fact that earnings can be hundreds of dollars different form one month to the next. The $140 I was compensated is less than the margin between my higher months and lower months. It's less than 10% of a month's earnings.

Perhaps the dollar amount I received is significantly higher than what many others reported, but if so I would have to contend that my views and ad revenue generated in a typical month must be higher than average. I imagine the team used a mathematical formula to calculate compensation based on average page views and earnings.

The story isn't over yet. I could be wrong in believing the CEO and staff at Demand are honest and will continue to make eHow a good community for writers. But if I am, I will be the first to admit my mistake.

Amy Laine said...

Maria, I agree with you. I do not believe that the UK thing was planed out to hurt writers. In fact I believe the concept at whole would benefit the writers. Sometime good things just take a little time. Just as we have experienced in making passive income at ehow, it takes time.
My earnings was dramatically lower in December then they where the month following, but they were last year too. There is nothing that shows us that the UK thing caused the problem. People all over the country are loosing there jobs, so it is expected for people to buy less. Meaning that ad revenues would be down.
I received $170 for my UK earnings, while it did not cover the difference between the two months I am still happy. As I said before whose to know if earnings would of not have been down more if the UK site was not there.

Claire Covington said...

Thanks for your thoughtful article. I have somehow missed eHow and will have to checkit out a bit. Seems like some change and upheaval are in the air, however.

Darla said...

Maria great article. I love ehow but I am not blinded to the lack of answers, the lack of response I saw early on by those affected. It lowered my esteem of the corporation quite a bit.

I like your analysis and chart. I think some of us with older articles were hurt less because we had a stronger grip on the google rank for our articles... if the UK site had continued using our articles directly who knows what the affect would be on google ranking of each article.

JadeDragon@innovativepassiveincome said...

I think that you got screwed with only $140 of compensation. You likely lost much more than that. Your extensive backlinking is why the UK clone articles could not outrank the originals. eHow/Demand spent a lot off effort to SEO the UK clone and the WCP writers felt the effects. I also do not believe that the TOU allow eHow/Demand to steal and use our content elsewhere - only to distribute it on the net normally. If we started taking DS articles and posting them elsewhere DS/eHow would be all over us.

Now look at how they are taking member photos and putting them in a photo library linking to DS articles. Tell me that is also an accident?

HS Schulte said...

Maria,

Thanks for the accurate and detailed depiction of the UK events. All the false accusations and drama surrounding eHow amaze me. eHow is the best place online to earn passive income.