Populis Create Review: Sudden Mass Firings and Deactivations

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

By: Weston Bonnelle

Populis Create Unexpectedly Deactivating Accounts due to “Low Quality” and Inactivity:
A Review of Populis Create's Unscrupulous Behavior

Create at your own risk...
Low Quality Not Likely
Today many freelancers at Populis Create received an unwelcome surprise in their emails: a message stating that they were being fired due to inactivity or lack of quality.  Writers were skeptical about the statement alluding to the lack of quality, since many wrote hundreds of articles for Populis Create with very few of instances of editors requiring rewrites.  A writer reported, “I don't really believe it as I wrote 200 articles for them without a single one being rejected”. Some writers only had rewrites because of requests by editors to change the images. Due to PANDA -- Google’s dramatic algorithm change to boost high quality, expert sites and lower the ranking of scraper sites and content farms -- many online publishers and content mills such as Demand Studios are letting go of writers at a moment’s notice giving freelancers little time to find another freelance gig that could replace the substantial loss in income. Populis Create, ironically touted as the Demand Media of Europe by Techcruch, is now following the same steps of Demand Media which recently used the Writer Development Program and Writer Evaluation Program to frivolously and hastily "fire" a large percentage of their writers -- many that were unintentionally dependent on them -- for "low-quality". 

Why the Abrupt “Firings”?
Many speculate, due to the recent decline of titles, slow editing times, late payments, significant queue decreases, persistent site malfunctions and unanswered applications, that Populis Create is experiencing financial difficulty. Even content power houses such as Demand Media, whose stock quote has been slashed by almost 65% due to PANDA, are showing signs of decline. Therefore we can assume that smaller content farms, who inequitably bore the brunt of the algorithm changes, are struggling. However Populis Create just acquired Mokono for 8.2 million Euros and in 2010 their total revenue was a massive $83 million which shoots down this theory and adds more confusion. Most likely Populis Create is simply trying to cut expenses without any regard for the livelihood of their writers.  Others believed initially that the firings may have occurred as a result of their location; however this theory is inconclusive since many writers from South America and the UK were fired also. Another deactivated writer from UK confirmed that the firings superseded location. “I just wanted to let you know that is most definitely not restricted to US/Canadian writers. I am a UK writer and received that same email too.”

Access Denied!
Restricting Access to Payment Information
One of the most unsettling concerns among deactivated writers, was that Populis Create originally locked out the freelancers from their accounts without any assurance that they would receive payments or bonuses for September. This type of behavior is unacceptable, unprofessional and borders as scammy. A professional  business would had informed writers about their payments in an organized fashion.Writers are also requesting the permission to check their earning statistics. The lack of access to their accounts makes it impossible to make sure that they are being paid accurately and honestly. A writer tried to contact editors and Populis Create staff directly about the payment issues. However the email to the editor was undeliverable, perhaps another deactivated freelancer, and Populis Create has conveniently ignored her inquires. The writer hopes that they behave professionally.

Contradicting Messages, Most of Them are Disappointing
Some writers that are still with Populis Create received this disheartening message:

“Hello, we have detected some abnormalities in the articles submitted in the month of September. For this reason we are forced to perform some extra controls on all articles submitted during that period and we'd like to inform you that as a result the evaluation time will be significantly longer than usual. For articles submitted from the 1st of October, the evaluation times will be as per usual. We would also like to inform you that we changed the limit on the number of assignments you can take. The limit is now set to 5 and it also includes the submitted articles that are in evaluation, as well as the returned articles. You will find new assignments every Monday.”

Many interpret this message as an excuse to not pay out hard earned bonuses. Another writer received a vague message about payments:

You will receive payment for outstanding articles via Paypal today. You will also receive bonus on a staggered basis (any bonus that was earned in the first week of September will be paid this week, any bonus from the second week of September will be paid next week etc.). Do let us know if there are any discrepancies (but we don't anticipate any as we do have a record of all your statistics).

Populis Create sends out another conflicting message about bonuses causing more distrust, rumors and distress. However the questions about the status of pending articles were clarified.

Bonus payments will be staggered, but please be assured that you will receive the full amount by the end of October. We have asked for clarification from our payroll department, and the system we are using is a little more complex than the example previously given in our earlier email - but as stated, you will receive the full amount by the end of the month. Pending articles will be checked and edited as normal. If approved, you will receive payment for these through Paypal in the usual way. However, you may experience longer than normal editing times for any articles written and submitted in September. This is due to the fact that abnormalities were detected and we are performing extra checks on all articles. Articles submitted from 3rd October will not be affected.

A Bright Future for Fired Populis Create Freelancers and Current Populis Create Freelancers?

Many writers for online publishers and content 
mills are grasping for the next opportunity
only to watch them fold under the pressure from Google & 
ruthlessly  discard writers
In addition to the mass firings, the remaining writers have now noticed an unannounced pay cut. The newly released titles only pay 6 euros instead of 6.66 euros. Let’s hope that Populis Create acts with integrity and that the laid off freelance writers are able to weather the abrupt loss in income. Unfortunately Populis Create has permanently lost the trust of their most vocal freelancers. Many content farms and online publishers are plagued with “title droughts”, pay cuts, rampant lay-offs and no traffic, therefore finding another content mill that can consistently replace the income may prove difficult. As more and more sources of work at home writing gigs decrease, content writers are more vulnerable than ever and subject to the unpredictable whims of the content mills they freelance for. Solely earning money from unstable and dishonest content farms & online publishers is becoming riskier by the minute.

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Anonymous said...

I'm one of the "fired" writers. Honestly, I saw it coming, their business structure was doomed to fail. They simply hired too many at once and then the new VP of marketing came in. Every time management changes, I've noticed things go down hill. It happened with Sidestep Travel, Internet Brands and Magic Yellow.

What does bother me is that immediately after saying I was terminated and that my account would be closing down, I tried to log-in, but my account had already been deactivated. There was no way to go in and grab a screen shot.

I emailed them to ask how I'm supposed to verify which articles were written and approved during the same week (they say a week runs Monday to Sunday, but as editors don't work weekends, it's really Monday to Friday.) I got a response telling me that they have all the records and that they are certain they are correct.

Populis will not send a copy for me to look over and they will not grant access to the dashboard so that I can at least view approved articles until/IF bonuses are ever approved. Yet, they told me to go ahead and let them know if I find discrepancies... It's automatically set up to be my word vs. theirs because I never thought to capture proof of when my articles cleared editing.

D. Heath said...

@ Anonymous

Many of these companies don't seem to act like they even care if their business structure has long term value. They hire a bunch of writers to churn our articles at low pay while they sit on a hill and earn millions. And then once they are done with writers or something like PANDA occurs, they discard writers (the same writers that earned them millions) and behave unethically. They could at least have the decency to let your log in to your account since the firings were so abrupt. Now you are at their mercy for a paycheck that you deserve. It's heartbreaking and angering.
Thank you so much for your comment. Hopefully others can learn from your experience.

Rachel said...

Populis couldn't have made more mistakes, or shown themselves to be scammier, if they'd tried. Everyone over there seems to have no clue about how to run a successful business. One minute you get one reason why something is happening, the next minute another reason.

They've fired hundreds of writers, payments of money owed have been late at least 3 times in the last couple of months, bonus payment this month still hasn't been paid and now we hear it will be paid in "increments". Plus, they've now reduced what they pay per article.

Populis is absolutely the worst website I have worked for and that's in many, many years of freelance writing.

I'm now telling every freelance writer I know to avoid Populis like the plague. That they think they can beat Associated Content, a website that has never unfairly screwed over their writers in all their time in business, just makes me laugh. I hope their business massively fails.

D. Heath said...

@ Rachel

It seems like they tried too hard to copy the business model of Demand Media without having the necessary experience. Even the original setup of eHow failed until it was acquired by Demand Studios. I definitely agree with your statement about the discrepancies of their messages. The back to back messages are hurried and unprofessional which makes them seem unsure about their own decisions. Another writer pointed out that they may be violating their own contract!
It’s scary and unfair for writers to have to deal with late payments. Hopefully new freelance writers won’t fall into their trap. Thank you for telling me about your experience with Populis!

AlwaysWriter said...

Excellent article! and a good assessment of what has gone on. I am looking down the avenues I can take to sort out this bonus issue. I do believe they have paid people for their work and now believe they can simply ignore they owe people a bonus. I am not owed as much as some people, but it is the principal of the matter. And they have broken their own contract!
They may believe they can get writers to write their articles for next to nothing, in this economy people are willing to work for anything. BUT people will not work for free, and even the writers who are willing to take a pay cut will be avoiding that place like the plague.

Anonymous said...

I'm another one to add to the list of "fired" writers. I've been emailing their support and have had replies each time, which has been helpful.

They keep saying that it had nothing to do with the number of articles that were rejected or returned - it is to do with the level of expertise that was shown in the articles (yeah, right - they're saying that to get around the truth).

After I told them that I wanted to see a copy of all the articles that I had been approved for and said that they were coming off as a scam company, they emailed me to say that the bonus will now be paid in full at the end of the week (by 7th Oct).

We'll see if that happens but something tells me that they're wanting to build up their name after such a slamming given to them by writers.

Dianne Heath said...

@ Alwayswriter Exactly in this recession, no one has the patience to do work for free. I think we're still looking into the contract issue. I'm pretty sure that they found some loophole. Companies always do. I really glad that you found that article informative! I honestly hope that this will give new content writers an inside look at what happens when an online publisher behaves unethically. Thank you so much for telling me your thoughts on this subject.

Dianne Heath said...

@ Anonymous
I'm glad that they've been replying to you. It's wise that they atleast try to treat some people with respect because the negative information about them is ranking pretty high.
Many online publishers are moving towards people having titles ( of course they don't verify the titles they just want it). So even if your writing is good, apparently they are convinced that they could get an actual doctor or accountant to write for them 6 euros ( or in Demand Media's case $15-$20). Even Demand Media likes to plaster the face of celebrities to establish their legitmacy even if the content is still poor.
Interesting that they keep going back on their word. These payment decisions should have been sorted out beforehand. They seem defensive about showing your approved articles.
I definitely agree that power is in numbers and especially online reviews & forums that are open for the world to see.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

Anonymous said...

I found out from someone else yesterday that Populis broke their contract.

According to what we sign, they would need to give us 30 days notice of termination. So the mass email firing was a breach. I'm not sure what we can all do with that but just thought I would let everyone know.

I have emailed them about it to ask them what they have to say for themselves but so far heard nothing back. But I know they don't work over the weekend so will give them until Monday afternoon before I email them again. Maybe if we keep pestering them they will answer the questions.

D. Heath said...

Looks like they are so rash that they didn't even review their contract. I guess they are trying to come up with an official sounding response.

Anonymous said...

Had to get at them this afternoon and mentioned that I was going to be seeking legal advice about the breaking of the contract.

Their response danced around the whole thing and they just said:

The termination decision was based on a strategic review of our content policies.

That doesn't say anything about the contract being broken or about any other new contract being made up.

They're making me really angry about not just answering questions now - they're starting to sound like politicians!

D. Heath said...

What does a "strategic review of our content policies" have to do with 30 days notices. lol, unbelievable!

FreelancingMom said...

The way all these writers were sacked is just disgusting, and quite frankly, I'd be surprised if anyone tries to work for them after all this. Word has it that titles are now non existent, so hitting the 5 article limit is a challenge. Combine that with lower pay rates, and who knows where they'll end up...

D. Heath said...

@ FreelancingMom,
Very true. The conditions are even worsening for the writers their didn't abrupt sack. To be honest, I believe that writers are becoming more wary of content sites in general. Thank you so much for commenting!