There is a new trend among websites where they want my email address before I’m allowed to read their free content. While I sympathize with the struggles of the media business, I am just going to point out something obvious: not reading is easier than reading — and way easier than logging in.
I don’t mind that The Atlantic requires an email — it has kept me from hate-reading the astounding churn of bad takes they publish — but just about everyone else has got to knock this off. You hear me, Reuters? I am annoyed with Reuters, specifically, because it’s a wire service, and I can usually find its articles without logging in by avoiding the Reuters website. As for you, The New York Times, I do not want to read your stories in your app! No thanks!
And confidential to Substack: if I have clicked into a newsletter on the web, blocking my view of the thing I’m trying to read with a subscription pop-up isn’t going to make me more likely to subscribe. It just means I’m probably not going to read the newsletter.
I don’t know, man. I was on the internet in the 1990s, and I remember when people just made stuff for fun — as a gift to other people. It seems like there’s less and less of that spirit remaining, and it’s why the internet sucks now. It’s why I have to append “reddit” to my Google searches to avoid getting SEO glurge — the for-profit stuff drowns out everything else. It’s why people are using DALL-E for newsletter header images to make sure their newsletter gets a bigger card in a social media feed — because it doesn’t matter what the image looks like as long as it exists. It’s why people intentionally put errors in their TikToks to juice engagement — because all the people commenting to tell you you’re wrong boost you in the algorithm. This is the bad place!
The original slug for this is “google-facebook-login-ads-web-design-hell” which I think is a better title, but either one drives the point home.
To add to this, I think that while people are willing and able to pay for content like The New York Times and The Atlantic or any number of Substacks these pop-ups won’t help close those looking to support you. You can’t beat most readers into paying you.
If someone you knew was out on the street corner screaming at your face you wouldn’t pay them even if what they had to say was both entertaining and worth listening to.