The Social Media Free Ride is About to End

by Mack Collier

FreeAbout six months ago Popular Science made a pretty significant move on its website that a lot of people missed.  It turned off comments on its articles.  A few days ago, Copyblogger followed suit, and suddenly everyone paid attention.

This is just the start.  Other sites with sizable audiences will likely do the same in short order.  Some sites will nix comments simply because they see other influential sites doing it.  Earlier this week I wrote about how Facebook is putting the squeeze on brands and attempting to push a ‘pay for play’ model where brands will have to pay to get visibility for its content that had previously been free.

All of these moves are a sign that the social media industry is maturing.  Blogs that started out as a 1-person show have grown into publishing empires with entire staffs churning out content every day.  Facebook went public last year, Twitter recently did as well.  New shareholders mean new demands for new revenue streams.

So what happens next? How about paying for blog content? Did you just faint?  It would not surprise me at all to begin to see popular sites go to a subscription-based model.

Here’s the thing, there is far more content out there than any of us can consume, and more being added every day.  And a lot of it is very bad.  Since there is so much less useful content available, it increases the demand for good content.  In some cases, that demand is high enough for the content from some creators that there’s an opportunity for them to sell their content.

Paying for content results in better content.  If a blogger suddenly starts charging for her content, she can then afford to spend more time on content creation.  Which will likely improve the quality of that content.

And  no, I have zero interest in charging for my content, at least not now.  But I know a lot of bloggers/writers/publishers that would love to.  Bold moves like turning off comments or charging for content rarely happen because no one wants to be the first one to make such a potentially unpopular move.  Which is exactly why I think you’ll soon see more sites dropping comments.  It’s a big story because Copyblogger is the ‘first’, but that makes it much easier for the second and then third sites to follow suit.

The dominoes are about to topple it seems.  2014 looks to be a very interesting year.  

Jerome Pineau March 27, 2014 at 8:25 am

The other thing is also allowing comments only for paying readers. Just sayin.

Mack Collier March 27, 2014 at 8:30 am

Interesting point, Jerome, I hadn’t thought about that. Could happen if we see bloggers/publishers start to move toward a subscriber model, and I think that would also eliminate a lot of the ‘baggage’ that sites like Copyblogger felt with managing comments.

Jerome Pineau March 27, 2014 at 8:31 am

True — also eliminates trolling and spam and nonsense :)

Mack Collier March 27, 2014 at 8:32 am

Exactly!

Nathasha Alvarez March 27, 2014 at 10:11 pm

I think that it would be a great idea, Jerome if it were a particular organization. But small blogs would lose momentum. I’m not happy with this new trend. But I would start treating blogs that didn’t allow me to reply as a magazine.

Toby March 27, 2014 at 8:58 am

Not sure I see the correlation between comments off and ‘pay walls’ when the site is free. Some publishers allow comments only for paid subscribers; in my experience comments are not turned off unit the site is relaunched. Is this the road you see CopyBlogger going down?

The other question is how this impacts community and relationship building.

Jerome Pineau March 27, 2014 at 9:02 am

Well in a sense, a blog with gated comments become kinda like a forum I suppose. Without the adequate threaded structure required to support it.
But it’s way too limited in functionality to support a full-fledged community IMHO.

Mack Collier March 27, 2014 at 11:08 am

Toby it’s a tradeoff, for sure. There’s a couple of points:

1 – Less time spent moderating comments should (in theory) result in more and better content. Copyblogger can go from writing say 3 posts a week and moderating comments to not moderating comments and having time to write a 4th post a week. For many sites, I am there for the content, not the comments.

2 – For now, you can still comment on the content on Facebook, Plus and other sites. Now that’s obviously not an ideal alternative to getting to comment on Copyblogger itself, but it IS an option.

In general, I think charging will increase the quality of the content. You could even extend this to Jerome’s example of letting subscribers comment. That would likely improve the comments as well, reducing spam and trolling (again, in theory).

Personally, I’d like to see some sites charging. I think it will improve the quality of the content they create, plus I think it will actually benefit blogs that choose not to charge as many people will refuse to pay for blog content on principal alone.

A lot left to shake out, will be interesting to see what happens.

Te-ge Bramhall March 27, 2014 at 10:00 am

Many news sites had already turned off comments, some turned them back on after a fuss was raised, but there are quite a few who still have them off. And don’t forget Seth Godin, who raised eyebrows all over, several years ago when he turned off comments on his blog. From what I’ve seen, the move didn’t hurt him at all, but probably significantly limited the time he had to spend focusing on his blog.

To be honest, I can see the benefit of losing comments. If your site is big enough that you’re paying employees, then you’re paying for the time they’re having to take to sort the real comments from the junk, and then to respond to each of those real comments, good or bad.

Using other social media as a way to connect allows for a more open discussion as well – while a discussion may start on a blog, its reach is limited, whereas over social media, the whole world can be brought in.

There is also the matter of control though. Comments on your blog give you more control over the discussion, while via other channels you may have the illusion of limited control as long as the discussion stays on your page, though once someone shares your post and a discussion starts on their page, even the illusion is gone.

As far as Facebook, I think they’re trying to drive everyone away. Okay, I think they’re trying to make more money, but the result is that they’re becoming less and less useful every day, whether you’re a business or an individual. Just yesterday, I posted a letter to them on my wall sharing how their changes have been the direct cause of me spending less time there and that while I suspect many of the changes are so I’ll scroll more and see more ads, it’s having the opposite result as I spend less time on Facebook now than I ever did before, primarily hopping on only if I have a notification or to share something with a group I’m in.

More thoughts, but I’ve already written more than anyone probably wants to read, so I’ll close by saying that I agree with your last statement, 2014 should be very interesting and I look forward to seeing what happens. :)

Mack Collier March 27, 2014 at 11:15 am

Hi Te-ge! I’ve never been a huge Facebook fan, and agree with you that it’s on its way out the door. I do think it will be a popular site for a while, but that popularity will continue to decline.

Let’s be honest: A lot of the more popular sites have let engagement in the comments slip. As a result, there’s been a rise in people commenting to draw attention to themselves versus contributing to the conversation. So for the big site manager she sees comments as having less value and possibly even being a detriment.

For other sites where the bloggers are actively engaged with their readers, they likely see more value and will continue to keep comments open. My feeling is that the sites that already have vibrant and healthy discussions will likely keep comments, for the most part.

Josh March 29, 2014 at 10:18 am

Good points, although I would challenge the assumption that paid content is necessarily better.

Us Magazine and The National Enquirer are examples that make it hard to argue that you get what you pay for. At the same time, there are plenty of free bloggers, yourself included, who consistently turn out high-quality content without charging readers for it.

On the brand side, it’s the same story. Brands who pay Facebook for the privilege of having users actually see their content aren’t necessarily creating better content. In fact, paying gives them license to get away with lesser quality content because their distribution is guaranteed.

The social networks are going to charge brands because they can, not because they want to deliver higher quality experiences to users.

Carrie Chwierut March 29, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Yipes! The thought of charging people to read my blog is frightening. Talk about the pressure to turn out top-notch stuff (ok, not that I don’t already try to do that, but…).

Elaine Lindsay April 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

I have to chime in with Jerome Pineau that commenting by members would be a next step. I turned off the comments on the blog months ago as the spam and crap was hiding the good comments..

Sofia April 14, 2014 at 5:20 am

Jerome, Thanks for updating us..!! I think a blog post without comment will be like fishing without water..!!! It really feels good for both writer and reader to see comments..!!! I don’t agree with this new idea though..!!

Steph Riggs April 19, 2014 at 5:25 am

I think the comments shouldn’t limited to the paid subscribers only. Every website should allow comments publicly which will not only help you to improve your services but also help you to get visitors’ feedback. I do agree with @Sofia that a blog post without comment is just like fishing without water or playing tennis without tennis ball.

adam houlahan April 24, 2014 at 6:24 am

I totally agree with you @Steph Riggs that blog post without comment is just like swimming without water. I strongly believe that comments never limits by only paid subscribers because Comments help to user to understand the pros and cons of services or products.

Lisa Marie Wark April 28, 2014 at 4:37 am

Social media has become thought and as somebody said: each media changing into social. I continually suppose some brands and their attitudes to social media, content selling, management. it’s clear from each angle, except from read, that almost all brands ar dominating the “social” ahead of the social media.

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