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The sudden closure of popular US Writing site Themestream on Friday (the 13th – how apt is that?) should come as a wake up call to us all.
No two ways about it – GREED killed Themestream, pure Greed!
For those of you that know nothing about Themestream let me tell you the story. It opened up around a year ago as ‘www.oscarnet.com’. A site which would enable the writer and non-writer alike to publish on-line a variety of work and not just ‘opinions’ which it’s main ‘competitor’, Epinions.com, accepted. Members were encouraged to submit the best quality – Themestream was going to be THE Writing site, with professionals, semi – pros and good quality amateur writers all submitting to the site. ‘Oscarnet’ became Themestream and they were going to pay 10 cents per read of your article – no fee for writing and referral scheme, BUT allowing as many non-member reads as you like – while they were still in ‘beta’. An official launch of the site would be in the Autumn when a big push for new members, big advertising and sponsorship was to be forthcoming.
This 10 cents per non member read, was to be it’s major attraction to those members who had a part in it’s ultimate downfall. You see, as the membership base grew and grew and more people got to know of the site, a minority of writers – super marketers/promoters more like - posted links on their website, submitted links to search engines and also took part in ‘click-exchange’ programs. Initially just a mere ‘click’ on your article would earn the writer 10 cents. Getting the picture now?
Themestream were going to pay members quarterly. I myself joined in August and was expecting my first cheque at the end of September. But many of the writers who had poured time and effort into both their work and their promotion were hounding TS for money well before the company officially launched. Consequently, some members were not just earning a few dollars – or even a few hundred dollars. NO, Some were claiming cheques for several thousand dollars! I know of at least one writer who had targeted $50,000 in his first year from his work on Themestream….. $50,000 !!! He was not alone either.
Themestream announced that any articles posted before September 30th would still receive 10 cents per view, any others after that date would receive just 2 cents per view. The ‘promoters’ phased out any new writing and concentrated on promoting the 10 centers. They were still ‘coining it in’, without actually contributing anything else to the site – just pure Greed and selfishness. Themestream – for them – was a Golden Goose and they were going to milk it (excuse the mixed metaphor) for every last cent!
The company realised what they had done and put wheels in motion to set a ‘cap’ at $350 – a maximum amount you could earn on one article. It still meant you had to generate 3500 reads for your article and even the busiest website on it’s own was going to struggle with that without the aid of the frowned upon ‘click exchanges’. I actually had 600 reads on a Las Vegas article, mainly through posting links in some Vegas travel Newsgroups which had given me $60 so I was waaaaay short of the ‘cap’.
BUT, it was already too late.
I received my first cheque in October of $407 – I was pretty pleased. Then I read about the ‘promoters’ and their 000s. Danger was in the air. How could Themestream possibly pay out all they promised?
I know several members of Ciao who have been active on Themestream – Jason (EnglishPatient), Mike (Aspen), Ray (Ashford), Peter (Pinotage), Mark (Wampyrii), Louise (Squiggles) to name but a few. They, like me will have done well to earn a few hundred dollars from the site over time.
But when the next quarter came and went, there were too many ‘red flags’ being signalled. Themestream had lowered the rates to 2 cents a read – they quickly also reduced the ‘cap’ to $150 (a phenomemal amount for a non-exclusive article that you could freely post on a website or in the print media as well). They also did away with ‘non member reads’ and began a drive for existing members to attract new readers and sign them up as members – otherwise your articles would not generate $$$$ for you.
My own articles were earning me a couple of dollars a day without ANY promotion, just with usual site traffic – so you can imagine what the ‘big boys’ were earning, even then. When the block on ‘non-member read’ came in, my own earning dropped to around 10 CENTS a day ! New articles I posted were lucky to attract 25 reads. It was looking like it was hardly worth it.
That became academic as – just last Wednesday – members received an email from Themestream informing us that the site would cease business on Friday 13th April (no joke!) . Any payments to members that were outstanding from the previous quarter (I was owed $95 from Jan-March quarter) would be very unlikely to be paid. The company were trying to sell parts of the business, but with their current debts it was unlikely that anything incoming would be shared with members.
A Sad End. But there are lessons to be learned surely.
Themestream did not seem to be able to help themselves. The advertising on the site was insufficient. They had a tie up with eBay, but I’m sure this was not over lucrative. With around 500,000 members, Themestream had a decent sized user base, but unlike the Internet of a couple years ago when the ‘be all and end all’ was site hits, member base and that would attract advertisers in itself, that ended with the pull back of Internet advertising revenue generally. Many ‘net’ companies have been hit – from Rewards programs like ‘All Advantage’, to online shopping failures such as ‘boo.com’ and recently rescued from the brink ‘letsbuyit.com’. But there was more to it than just that.
They grossly underestimated the pure greed of the members. I’m sure there are some that are still bleating that they have not been paid their $5000 for this quarter “All that work I put in – for nothing”. They wrote to a good quality, it helped establish Themestream as a resource. They were responsible for directing traffic to the site, but irresponsible in taking every last cent from the TS Coffers.
As an example - I asked an Editor friend of mine the other day “How much would you expect to pay for or earn for a 1000 word non-exclusive article in a magazine?”. His answer – NUJ Rates would indicate around £150. Yet the greedmongers of Themestream were raking in $1000 and more per article (and some articles would not have been good enough to have found there way into a quality magazine!)
Now look at this site and Dooyoo and Epinions. The latter – the granddaddy of Opinions sites - has just announced that it has itself reduced it’s ‘per read’ rates to just ONE CENT per member read…..and laid off staff. Dooyoo is still paying 5 pence a read – but for how long (although I hardly get any reads on my work over there so that’s purely academic as far as I’m concerned) as that rate now looks way out of line with everything else on offer. Ciao itself have announced recent funding of 50,000,000 Euros was it? But re-organised centrally to Germany and laid off staff AND have therefore been unable to pay members until, hopefully, next week. I hear some members asking about the ‘Premium Fund’. That has really been a big shot in the arm for any of us that have earned from it – but it can be phased OUT just as quickly as it was phased IN.
PLEASE REMEMBER – If you try to cheat Ciao, or if we (I include myself in this) take payments from Ciao for granted, we could all find ourselves without a site. In the present extremely ‘tender’ internet climate, with Rewards programs closing up, reducing rates or at least ‘on the brink’ – SUPPORT Ciao. Help it through this most difficult of periods. Don’t get on their backs if payments are a week late or if you didn’t get as much from the PF as you expected.
You may find yourself holding the same size cheques as mine from Themestream……..NIL.
Think about it – Greed is not always Good – it can KILL the Golden Goose.
u can get lost. When u insulted my waynes world comment. But anyway you must hace earnt loads cos u have done loads of opinions and have loads of money.
Crazy-Christian 18.04.2001 23:16
A very sad tale, brilliantly highlighted. I had just learned about the site on Ciao and was planning on making a visit. Let's hope Ciao can tough it out. Jonathon
Aspen 18.04.2001 14:29
Very wise words, Keith. I'd barely clocked up enough for a bottle of Glen Ord at TS, so I'm not bothered on the financial score. But it was a great site for trying things out, and a bit of exposure, and there were a great many very good writers there who were not in it simply to milk it. The damage was done by a few. Now, with all these ex-TS contributors looking for a home, will other sites cope with the influx? TheVines has a welcome message on its homepage to all ex-TS members, has had since the day TS went under. We need to see some rather more astute business minds behind these sites, I reckon. Mike.