There have been a lot of rumblings lately about eHow, one of many massive content farms, hurting their writers’ revenue. Accusations include:
- Copying articles from the US site (where writers get paid for pageviews) to the UK site (where they don’t);
- Keeping their payment algorithm a mystery, so no one knows how or why they earn what they do;
- Mucking with the payment algorithm to reduce writer payments;
- Deleting negative comments in the writers’ forums in an attempt at spin control.
Side note: What is eHow? Read Rishil’s article Content Farms – The Who, What, and The Why, for an overview.
I have to admit, I blew a lot of it off. I think content farms are the Devil’s work, but blatantly conning their writers seems ridiculous. And I’ve seen plenty of bloggers and forum lurkers turn into angry rabble rousers around rumors and half-truths.
But I kept hearing more and more complaints. Plus, I started hearing from folks who are pretty solid citizens.
And then I looked at the eHow terms of service. Wow.
eHow terms of servitude
I went to law school about a million years ago. And I got a D in Contracts. So I’m hardly an authority. But, as one of my professors once said: If it stinks and it’s mushy, it’s probably bullshit.
eHow’s terms are both stinky and mushy. A few tidbits:
You hereby grant eHow a worldwide, royalty-free, freely transferable, freely sublicensable (through unlimited levels of sublicense), non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, modify, transmit, distribute, publicly perform and display (including in each case by means of a digital audio transmission), and create derivative works of the Content, in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed.
Translation: We can re-use your content any way we want.
You acknowledge that the posting of your Content for any period of time is sufficient consideration for the license granted herein to eHow.
Translation: We’re paying you, but we don’t have to, because the honor of having your content posted on our site is enough. So take your money and like it, loser (K, I added that last bit).
And my last, favorite one (WCP = Writer Compensation Program):
You agree that from time to time we may, at our sole discretion, modify, suspend, add to, remove or discontinue all or any portion of the WCP or the Supplemental Terms, and that we will not be liable to you or to any third party for doing so.
Translation: We can pay you less, or nothing, whenever we want.
This is a license to steal. If you agree to these terms, you have no recourse if:
- eHow decides to once again publish your content on other sites where you don’t get compensated;
- eHow decides to remake your content into a podcast and not pay you for it;
- eHow decides to pay you a lot less.
Unresolved issue: eHow owes their writers some dough
eHow had US content up on the UK web site for months. While it was there, it funneled search traffic away from the US site, where writers got paid for the traffic, to the UK site, where they didn’t.
After a lot of complaints, eHow removed the content and redirected the traffic to the US. But they still haven’t paid the writers for the UK site traffic. So eHow got something – traffic – from its writers without paying them.
That’s usually called ‘stealing’.
Now you want to say, “Ian, don’t be such a bleeding heart. The writers should have read the terms of service.”
Why eHow’s actions are evil
I’m not a bleeding heart. I’m also not against writers getting published and not paid. It gets folks exposure, and it’s a great marketing tactic.
But I get pretty pissed when I see a site like eHow talk about how you can ‘EARN MORE MONEY!’ by writing for them. It’s a bait and switch: You write, you get paid for a while, and then when they decide enough’s enough, eHow can yank your earnings out from under you.
Most important, I do not like bullies. eHow is pulling together large populations of relatively naive writers and saying saying ‘sign here’. Then they get them to churn out content. And, when eHow’s margins need a boost, they intentionally or unintentionally beat them down with a ridiculous Terms of Service document.
This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me angry.
How eHow can fix it
eHow hasn’t laid out any kind of plan for fixing all this. Reputation management 101 says they should:
- Own the problem: Admit they screwed up on both the terms of service and the content duplication to the UK site.
- Build transparency: Show everyone how you pay them. Period. There’s no excuse for a metered system where you hide the meter.
- Pay your writers: Pay your writers, now, for their UK traffic.
- Fix your terms of service so that it would at least rate a B-.
And please, eHow, come and comment here. I’ll publish your answer. You can definitely fix this, but doing nothing is not the way.