Websites are starting to ask for my email address before they let me read their free content. Even though I understand how hard it is to work in the media business, I just want to point out something obvious: not reading is easier than reading, and logging in is even easier.
I don't mind that The Atlantic needs an email because it keeps me from hating-reading the huge number of bad opinions they publish, but everyone else needs to stop this. Reuters, can you hear me? I don't like Reuters because it's a wire service and I can usually find its articles without signing in if I don't go to its website. I don't want to read stories from The New York Times in their app. Not at all!
Let's keep naming names. How are you? I don't want to have to sign in to search. I would sign in if I wanted to. I won't log in no matter how many pop-ups you show me. You know how, when I open a link in my email on my phone, you always ask me if I want to open it in Chrome? I don't, and I'll always say no. You're only making me dislike you more.
And Substack should know that blocking my view of what I'm trying to read with a subscription pop-up won't make me more likely to sign up for the newsletter if I've already clicked on it. It only means that I probably won't read the newsletter.
One of the biggest problems with salesbros is that they think "always be closing" is a good way to live because they didn't get the point of Glengarry Glen Ross, which is that salespeople are nightmares. Because of this, every website now has a silly pop-up chat at the bottom. No, Pamela, if that's really your name, I don't want live help to sign up for my yoga class. You are taking up valuable space on the screen.
This is some real tragedy of the commons shite. The web is getting worse because some sales guy is doing things to slightly increase the number of paying customers so that he can meet his KPIs. (And, oh well, screw the rest of us!) The open web has less value the more each site tries to make its own little walled garden.
I think this is happening more often now because people are worried about their privacy. See, EU privacy laws have changed, making it harder to follow people around the web. Apple's privacy measures on its phones also make it harder to do this. For publishers, I think the company is trying to give me a better ad profile so I can compete better with Facebook and Google. Plus, you never know, they might be able to sell my email as part of a list of people they want to market to. So what we're talking about here is making the user experience worse so that we can make money in shady ways.
And that's a shame because there aren't any real public spaces on the internet. Here in real life, I can go to a park, hug a tree, sit on a bench, and do stuff without ads, without anyone trying to track me, and without having to pay a dime. People used to try to make websites feel like semi-public places. For example, you could hang out on someone's cool blog and have fun. There might be a banner ad, but that's like paying $1 for coffee and then staying all day at a diner where you can get free refills.
The paywall with some holes? I understand that. I guess I should subscribe if I read more than 10 of your articles a month. Fair is fair, and writers have to eat just like everyone else. But I'm starting to feel like my information is being used for nothing. Google can already read my email. Why in the world does it need more information about me? How much more of my life does this giant want to keep track of?
Man, I don't know. I used the internet in the 1990s, and I remember when people made things for fun and gave them to other people as gifts. There seems to be less and less of this spirit left, which is why the internet stinks now. Because of this, I have to add "reddit" to my Google searches to avoid getting SEO glurge. The stuff that is meant to make money drowns out everything else. People use DALL-E for newsletter header images to make sure their newsletter gets a bigger card in a social media feed. It doesn't matter what the image looks like as long as it exists. People put mistakes on their TikToks on purpose to get more engagement, because all the comments saying you're wrong boost you in the algorithm. This is a bad spot.
I'd like to think we're better than this, that it's still possible to make weird, beautiful things online and find an audience without using sleazy marketing tricks. But in reality, it's only a matter of time before I kill someone with a copy of Lewis Hyde's The Gift because they casually mentioned that they made all their money by making the web worse. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go touch some grass.