Will content become a serf?

People used to say that content was king. Amid the recent upheaval in mass media, Time Magazine recently demoted content to a pauper. But an article in the current issue of Wired makes me think Time set the bar too high. Content — or at least content creators — may be headed for serfdom.

The story is about Demand Media, a privately-held Web company that will earn $200 million in revenues this year producing thousands upon thousands of  content bits using a combination of algorithms and freelancers.

The algorithms sift through search terms to anticipate what people might want to know; determine whether there is a glut or surfeit of content in that regard; then estimates the likely revenue-potential of that content through pay per click advertising.

Human freelance editors turn these machine-generated leads into topics that are posted on a work board (Wired author Daniel Roth says, “It’s the online equivalent of day laborers waiting in front of Home Depot.”) Freelancers claim the topics. Short how-to articles may be worth $15. Brief videos $20.

As the article says, Demand Media has discovered that “online content is not worth very much.”

Surely that bodes ill for content creators.