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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!)


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