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Your Content is Not Your Reader’s Responsibility

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Earlier this week, Boing Boing picked up a story about The North Country Gazette, a little newspaper from upstate New York. The paper, I suppose upset that local subscription sales were declining, decided to take a really classy approach to making more money: threatening website readers.

Right now, the website is asking for an administrator’s password, so I’m guessing they’re either going offline or making some updates, but prior to this, a notice in red lettering was found on the sidebar of every post:

We allow you to read one article for free – this one that you’re on. Thereafter, to read more or to return later, a subscription is needed. Please don’t abuse the privilege. To subscribe, see the ad to the right. We provide a service to you, we deserve to be paid for it.

Let’s not even talk about the comma splice in the last paragraph. Let’s focus on the actual message they’re sending to readers. It would be like giving someone a book and saying, “But only read the introduction! After that, if you want to keep reading, send us money. We deserve to get paid for it, and we’re counting on you to do the right thing.”

It’s laughable. The content on your website/blog is never the reader’s responsibility. This isn’t a matter of wanting to get paid for your work. I fully support writers who decide they want to only offer their content to premium members who pay for access.

But if that’s the choice you make, you have to set up a premium access section of your website.

It’s not difficult. Frankly, if your webmaster can’t do it fairly easily, he or she should be fired. Requiring your readers to work on the honor system is just silly though. Actually, it’s downright rude.

Worse still is the subscription message following the previous message:

Subscription Required

Posted on Monday, 18 October, 2010 at 6:59 am

A subscription is required at North Country Gazette. We allow only one free read per visitor. We are currently gathering IPs and computer info on persistent intruders who refuse to buy subscription and areengaging in a theft of services. We have engaged an attorney who will be doing a bulk subpoena demand on each ISP involved, particularly Verizon Droids, Frontier and Road Runner, and will then pursue individual legal actions.

Again with the grammatical errors!

This message clearly tells me that either 1) they in no way hired a lawyer and are lying to readers or 2) they have possibly the worst lawyer in the history of lawyers. Their argument basically boils down to:

“Judge! We put information on the Internet and people read it! We warned them not to read our site, but they still did! WE DESERVE MONEY!”

What a joke.

I mean, let me get this straight. Rather than spending a hundred bucks or so, tops, to set up a private membership site, they’re going to hire a lawyer to collect IP address information via a court order to ISPs and then individually sue all those people for…what? A $30 subscription fee to their newspaper?

I think there’s an important lesson for bloggers here in that we can’t expect content we provide for free to earn money for us. You can put up ads, encourage readers to make affiliate purchases, or even create your own products for sale, but at the end of the day, if you’re making information available for free, as most of us are, you need to be at peace with the fact that some people simply want the free content. You don’t deserve to get paid for it. You’re only entitled to money when you make something available as premium content. Anything else you earn is a happy bonus, so remember to say thank you to your readers.

If this newspaper had an sort of community before, it likely doesn’t anymore. This is a problem I’m seeing with many print publications and businesses in general – not understanding how publishing online, social media, and community building works. The world is changing. It’s no longer about talking at a reader. There needs to be a conversation.

I’m hoping that the current take-down of the North Country Gazette website means that they’ve hired a community manager or someone else with online public relations experience to help them update their policies and understand the Internet community. It’s something every business should consider.

(Hat top to Amber Avines for tweeting about this story, which brought it to my attention!)

Blogworld Expo Speaker Interview: Jason Falls

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We’ve pulled together an extraordinary lineup of speakers and panelists for Blogworld Expo this year and are really excited as the event draws closer. To help you learn about our great participants, this is the first of a series of fun interviews with speakers we’ll be doing. This first is with Jason Falls of Doe-Anderson, who writes the splendid Social Media Explorer blog and is on a panel entitled “Putting Social Media in the Newsroom: How New Media can help Old Media Maintain Relevance”.  Here we go!

Q: In two sentences, highlight your background and professional experience to date. One bonus sentence: how’d you get started blogging?

I’m a public relations professional by trade who advises clients on the use of social media, including blogging, as an effective channel of communications with their customers. The biggest selling point I have is probably that I’ve proven that blogging can be an effective promotional and thought leadership tool since Social Media Explorer is really only a year old and I’m already presenting at Blog World Expo. I got started blogging, however, in 1998 when I started self-publishing my local newspaper column online for those outside my hometown to read.

Q: How often do you blog?  What platform do you use?  Why?

Social Media Explorer generally has new posts three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) but we often have timely or too much information and probably publish around four days each week. (I say “we” since Kat French, Doe-Anderson’s social media manager, joined me as a staff blogger a few months ago.) For the longest time, I published five days a week but I shifted to a quality over quantity focus in the sprint time and backed off my everyday emphasis a bit. We’re still fairly prolific, however.

I use WordPress because the open-source community makes the platform so powerful and robust. You can literally find a plug-in to make it do just about everything. And it’s free, which is always a bonus.

Q: Point us to one or two recent postings on your blog that you think were superb, and tell us a bit about your writing process. How long did it take for you to come up with the topic?  How long to write?

I’m always most proud of the posts that cause a great deal of conversation because the engagement level is the most meaningful measure of my blog’s success to me. The more conversation that results shows that I’ve caused people to think about an issue which always leads to learning and growth. If there is a promise I make to my audience, I think it’s that: you’ll think about things and pick up a few thoughts you didn’t encounter before.

That said, I think, “Is it time to re-think e-mail marketing?” from August 1 was a good pot-stirring post. I’m also partial to “Social Media Is The Responsibility of Public Relations” from mid-July. While a lot of the comments misconstrued my point – that PR, as the primary professional communicators in organizations, need to take responsibility for social media education, training and strategy, it sparked a good deal of discussion, disagreement and discourse.

For almost all of my posts, I come up with the topics in the course of daily thinking and work. I’ll file a topic away as something I want to spend more time thinking about and, when I have time, search for articles on the topic, research a bit online, take another day or so to just mull over the topic when I have time, then sit down to put the thoughts on paper. Once I sit down to write, I normally pound it all out in under an hour – the result of writing on deadline for years. But I’m normally chewing on 3-4 topics all at the same time, so it’s not a real linear process.

Q: How often do you leave comments on other people’s blogs?  How do you find their entries in the first place?

I comment frequently on several blogs. It’s not only good form in promoting your own blog but also actively participating in the greater conversation about the topic. My blog isn’t the only good social media blog out there. I like to read the others to balance my own thinking and discuss the issues of the day I may not be focused on. Finding the entries is fairly easy. I subscribe to just about all the social media blogs out there. New ones surface from pointers in posts I read. When I’m researching a topic, I also find some new blogs via search.

Q: Tell us a bit about your talk at Blogworld Expo. Topic, key points you’ll cover, etc?

The presentation I’m responsible for the most is the session, “Putting Social Media In The Newsroom — How New Media Can Help Old Media Maintain Relevance.” I essentially wanted to talk about how, in the face of a shifting media marketplace, many traditional media outlets are tapping into social media to change their approach to business and journalism. The audience shift away from newspapers and television to the online realm has many traditional media struggling to maintain their audience and their revenues. We’ll look at media outlets that are finding social media useful in turning the tides, talk about how other media outlets can capture that momentum using social media and talk about some of the potential issues media outlets will face moving forward.

Q: How do you recommend new folk best experience a major conference and expo like Blogworld Expo?

As much as there really is a great deal of knowledge to gain from the sessions, the most use I get out of Blog World Expo is the professional and personal networking that occurs just in the halls, the parties, at lunch and milling about the exhibit hall. So much of the connections we make blogging and through social networking occurs online. This is our chance to meet face-to-face, get to know each other and find those friends in the business that can serve as professional and personal counsel, folks to bounce ideas off of, potential business leads and more. Some of the best friends I have in the business I met at Blog World Expo last year, so I recommend folks stick out their hand, introduce themselves and get to know each other. You can do that the whole weekend and not meet everyone, but it sure is fun trying.

Q: Easy ones: Mac or PC?  Ipod or Zune?  Iphone or Blackberry?

I’m non-denominational, but use a Mac most of the time. I have a SanDisk MP3 player I like just fine. I’d prefer to have an iPhone, but my office supplies me with a Blackberry, which I find pretty useful.


Interview conducted by Blogworld Expo co-host Dave Taylor, who you can find on the podium giving a talk during the conference, on Twitter as @DaveTaylor or blogging about either tech support or business blogging.

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