That Was the Worst Sample I Ever Tasted… I’ll Take a Dozen!

Sign that states hot beer lousy food and bad service. Welcome, have a nice day!
By Roger Price from Hong Kong, via Wikimedia Commons

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One of my favorite things on San Francisco’s Pier 39 is the free samples of clam chowder the restaurants offer as you walk by and then deciding where to have lunch or dinner based on my top pick.

Never once did I say, “Wow. That’s awful. Want to go in and buy lunch?”

Obvious, right? So why do so many websites — especially news outlets — get this so very wrong?

Happy to pay

As a content developer myself, let me begin by stressing this: I’m more than happy to pay for the content I choose to consume. I send money to public radio shows I listen to via podcast because they’re not played on the local station I financially support. I don’t steal music. I pay the highest monthly rate for Next Issue because I love magazines and am happy to support them. I buy digital books through Amazon and iTunes, and I pay for the streaming services I use.

But just like I won’t buy lunch at the restaurant with the crappy clam chowder, I won’t pay a website with a crappy free experience hoping it will get better once I cough up the fee.I’m not talking about paywalls — I understand and accept those. I’m referring to terrible user experiences. No level of quality content will cause me to put up with a painful user experience — and I’m sure as hell not going to pay for it!

Why do you hate your visitors so?

Here are some things I’ve encountered in just the last month:

  • I had a feed from a media outlet I really enjoy set up in Feedly. After a couple of days, I clicked on an article and got a notice that I had exhausted my monthly allotment of free articles and needed to subscribe. OK, as I’ve said, I’m happy to pay. I followed the link, which just went to the home page. After searching for — I’m not making this up — 10 minutes, I gave up. Not only did they blow the chance to convert me to a paying customer, but I also removed them from my feed.
  • Preface: I have 150 Mbps Internet service in my home. I was trying to read an article that was divided up into — no kidding — nine pages (I’ll guess it was 900-ish words). Every time I clicked to the next page, it took nearly 30 seconds for the page to load because of the ad server. Clicking every two or three paragraphs is bad enough (if you’re wondering why sites do that, here’s why), but adding in a slow load is like reading a paragraph then having your toddler rip the paper out of your hands — over and over. Once again, you lost a chance to land a paying customer.
  • I recently wanted to watch a news story that was about 70 seconds long. I clicked and a pre-roll ad started that informed me my video would begin in 30 seconds. That ratio doesn’t work. I’ll deal with a 30-second ad before a video of a several minutes, but not something nearly half as long as the content I’m looking for. That would be like going to a 90-minute movie and being forced to watch 40 minutes of ads before the film. Let’s insert some common sense here. I ended up leaving without watching the ad or the story and don’t plan to return to that site.
  • I’ll call out Hulu Plus by name for this one. First, if I’m paying (as I am with Hulu Plus), I’m not sure why I’m watching ads at all. But, if I must, can you at least work with your advertisers so I don’t have to watch the same ad several times in a single program? The same company is bad enough, but the same exact commercial is just torture. I cancelled Hulu Plus.

I realize that I’m probably an outlier in that I’ll gladly pay for the content I want. While free is great, anyone with a brain knows free is not sustainable, and those responsible for creating quality content should be compensated. It’s time for the online media to clean up their act, because just like the clam chowder on Pier 39, nobody wants to buy lunch from the guy with the crappy soup.

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