Over the years, content mills have gotten a bad reputation, and it's not all undeserved. They pay rock-bottom prices. Much of the material they publish is inaccurate or just plain incomprehensible, they stifle any glimmer of creativity shown by their writers, and they value quantity over quality.
That said, I'm not ready to grab a torch and lead the townspeople to burn down the nearest content mill. I actually started my writing career working for content mills. They have helped pay off my student loans, sent me on more than one fabulous vacation, and helped me keep my utilities on when cash was short.
Although they're no longer my bread and butter, I'll still zip over to one of the mills and churn out a few articles if business is slow.
I would also be remiss if I did not give content mills credit for five of the most valuable lessons I've learned as a writer.
1. Writing quickly. I used to be a slow writer who agonized over making each word perfect, but when you're racing a six hour deadline, it doesn't take long to replace perfect with "eh...good enough." Now I always pound out my first draft as fast as possible, often within a matter of minutes. Of course, my first draft is not my last draft, and revisions can be a painstaking process, but at least I've learned how to get my initial thoughts down on paper where I can play with them and reword them to my heart's delight.
2. Writing plainly. When you document in a medical chart, you say a patient "ambulates." When you write for a content mill, you say she "walks." I once got into an argument with an editor about whether or not I had used a word correctly. "I found it in the dictionary," I emailed. He shot back, "You don't understand. Our readers don't want to have to go to the dictionary." Point taken. I made the revisions he requested.