Although it was a very hard decision to make, the SemiAccurate staff have made decided to change the format of the site. Due to the changing industry, the changing nature of the stories we write, and the demographics of our audience itself, we are moving to a subscription model for some content.
The hardest decision of all was which format subscriptions would take. Although many sites do the obvious thing by making everything subscription only, we are going to do the opposite and make almost everything open. One of the main reasons SemiAccurate was founded was that we like knowing what is going on in the industry, and feel that more of it should be out in the open. The readers will benefit too, your support will allow us to bring you more content, cover more topics, and remain independent.
Unfortunately problems resulting from both industry changes and the nature of what Internet ‘news’ has evolved into has forced our hand. The changes in the industry have been chronicled on the site for the 3+ years of our existence, most notably how quickly it is imploding. That, coupled with many of the large industry players not giving a damn about supporting anything other than the mainstream sites that will only re-write and quote press releases while calling everything wonderful. This dynamic is destroying the discussion, critical analysis or basic knowledge of technology.
SemiAccurate’s staff does not like this state of affairs, and we suspect our readers do not either. That is the main reason we have been writing more analysis and deeper coverage of certain topics. Worse yet, companies don’t support deep coverage either, they don’t want people to think about their products, they just want outlets that repeat their sound bytes without hesitation. The intention is to ‘create’ truth by repetition, and stifle critical analysis.
Sadly, it is working quite well, the gaming industry is devoid of real reviews, and hardware world is quickly moving in that direction. Access to information goes away, access to samples drops, and so does any hope of advertising from the company in question if you speak out. A decent review is the product of a week’s work if not more. If you buy a product on day one, by the time you open the package, there are 100 sites with fluff reviews out there that had the product in hand days if not weeks before. They will give it a sterling review, say it is awesome, and trash the competitors, especially of they do not advertise.
Anything worth reading will come out a week later and be lost on page 17 of a Google search. It will get no reads, and that is the intention of the companies doing this. The best way to make an awful product seem wonderful is to carefully choose who gets the samples, and this is how some industries work. Thankfully, most of the hardware and chip scene is not there yet, but it is moving that way rapidly. If you think that the vast majority of what you read does not depend on ad money, kickbacks, or just plain old payments, you are sadly mistaken.
Worse yet is how endemic ripping off those who do the hard work has become. No, we are not talking about SEO gaming sites that simply copy everything and post is as their own, or anything else of a blatant nature. We mean the more insidious stuff. As hardcore adherents to the concept of “Fair Use”, be it a legal construct as it is in the US or just the underlying idea itself, we have a much wider tolerance for others using our material than many, but there are limits.
Unfortunately, most writers, editors, and even readers don’t care. The idea behind fair use was simple, you have a limited right for use usually protecting non-commercial or commentary based use such quoting and analysis. One thing that consistently fails the fair use tests in US courts is commercial use that competes with the original work. SemiAccurate’s permissions until recently were written to be both as permissive as possible and easy to find.
Every page on the site had a link in the top header bar to the Copyright page, and in it the usage rights are pretty clear. While we feel they are quite liberal, we do realize that many disagree. Sites go out of their way to bury the source of information that they could not or did not get themselves. The effort many go through to put a “source” tag at the bottom of the article, bury it in the fine print, or otherwise obfuscate, is usually more work than getting the story for themselves, but for some reason, they don’t bother.
May be they feel crediting makes them look less competent, or maybe they just don’t care, but it is endemic. Some sites like my old employer, The Inquirer, have gone so far as to enshrine plagiarism in their written policy.
The writer of that memo is still employed at The Inquirer, a fact that should explain some of the changes that made Charlie quit in disgust. (Charlie’s note: Mageek and Halesie – you were a cut above) They literally say not to link to competitors or potential competitors who do the work they do not, and go to great lengths to avoid giving proper credit. Sadly, The Inquirer is not the only organization to state this type of policy in writing.
Others just ignore copyright law entirely, they know that it is not worth the time and effort to pursue action against them. If they outright steal material, the few that call them on it can be brushed off by removing the source, a viewpoint that the law does not agree with. So they just take, feign innocence, and occasionally try to defend their actions with rather dubious logic. This is one of many such exchanges, please note that it is from a large corporate site, reproduced below with only formatting changes and headers/signatures removed for privacy. We think a site of this size would have legal on staff. Small local newspapers educate their writers and editors about the basic legal nature of the publishing industry. The following beggars disbelief.
Hi Mugs, Charlie,
On our site is an article our writer wrote using Charlie’s article as a reference. Charlie did not write the article on Ubergizmo.
We always credit with a link, you can find the link to the original article at the bottom of the body “Source: link”
I clicked on it and it goes to the original article that you mentioned on Semiaccurate:
We always credit other blogs’ articles this way (Source: link, at the bottom), not at the beginning of the article, no one ever complains. All the blogs do the same. I will keep the article link like that.
The photo selected by our writer has not watermark unlike all the other photos in the same post…
We allow other blogs to use our photos all the time, we watermark our original photos and never ask for extra credit in the text, since this picture is not watermarked with “semiaccurate.com” I will add the credit in the text.
If this is not sufficient I can take the article down.
Please let me know if crediting with watermarked photo + Source: link at the bottom is acceptable, if not, I will tell the team not to use Semiaccurate as a source any more.
Let me know
There are a few things to note here. First, Ubergizmo is a large site, they have a large staff, supposedly professional editors, and they dwarf SemiAccurate in resources. We paid for our writer go to CeBIT that year, they did not. Our writer faced down over a dozen German police officers trying to keep him from getting pictures, and seem to have been the only outlet that actually interviewed those involved as well. Charlie says that he was stared down and menaced by said police until they noticed that his badge said “Press”. It was probably the hardest story that he has ever gotten.
When we pointed this out, they used the most curious excuse SemiAccurate has ever heard, that we did not watermark the picture in question, so it was OK. The author did make a mistake and not watermark the image as usual, but that does not change the law. Copyright law does not have an exception for non-watermarked images, Ubergizmo broke the law. Then in their extreme brilliance, Ubergizmo put in writing that their site policy is to ignore and violate copyright law. Only afterwards do they say that they will add a credit, or take it down if that is not sufficient. Never do they ask permission to use the photograph, or attempt to comply with their pre-stated written legal requirements to use our content.
Instead, they say that if we don’t like this, they will never link us again, just others who likely took our content as well. It is very clear that Ubergizmo had no intention of complying with their legal obligations, and did not intend to do so in the future. In fact, we question whether they have the most basic awareness of their legal obligations as a large commercial publisher.
For the record, according to Google Analytics, SemiAccurate got 11 page views from Ubergizmo’s links, 11. To be fair to Ubergizmo, that is how many clicks we got from them as a whole for the entire month of March 2010, not just to that story, it may be less from the link in question. How many of them do you think were from the editor checking links before publication, and how many were from them trying to figure out what prompted SemiAccurate’s letter? Yup, Ubergizmo and most other sites have managed to come up with a way to both deny attribution and have plausible deniability. And they likely made more money by violating the law than those of use that abide by it.
Unfortunately, while there are lots of legal remedies to this problem, they are simply not feasible to pursue without spending more money than SemiAccurate earns in a year. Recouping any money from those pursuits is even more of a long shot, and in the end, it is just not worth it. Ask the RIAA how much they have made, net, from their legal jihad against their customer base. Does anyone think they valiantly stomped out the scourge of piracy after a decade of legal antics?
And this is why the problem is so rife, the bigger you are, the easier it is to get away with this behavior. Possibilities of sanction are near zero, and proving damages is nigh on impossible too. So as The Inquirer, Ubergizmo, and many other sites out there show, it is the way things are done. It may not be legal, but so what?
To make matters worse, you have Google compounding the problem. They don’t bother to try and elevate those that break a news story or do original work, they just promote those who are big. If you are a SEO whore, you win. If you are big and steal content, Google helpfully deprecates the victims to page 12 so no one knows. If SemiAccurate had a nickel for every time Google put up one of our pictures that is stolen by a competitor to illustrate a link, crediting the thief, SemiAccurate would probably not need subscriptions. Google compounds this problem, not that they care, they make money either way.
If you think the ‘news’ side of the web is bad, the analysis side is can be worse. We don’t often speak about it, but some industry analysts plagiarize as badly as the ‘professional news’ organizations. Luckily the majority of these analysts are correct, above board, and credit properly. Some we consult for, others not, but many just rip us off, claim it as their own original work, then sell the result without compunction.
One good example is RBS analyst Didier Scemama and ‘his’ June 24, 2011 note. Read this SemiAccurate story, then this one, then compare that to what Didier wrote in ‘his’ analysis if you have access to a copy. Please note that Mr Scemama did not contact SemiAccurate about our stories and was not at the conference in question. ‘His’ note is the two articles posted, plagiarized, and then expanded upon. We say plagiarized because where he expanded upon our analysis he got important details painfully and humorously wrong.
What he didn’t realize is that copying from a place that has a large number of readers and technical consulting clients in the financial community is a bad idea if you publish ‘your’ results to that same community. The number of letters and phone calls SemiAccurate got pointing out Mr Scemama’s unsavory behavior was heartening, as was their reaction to his blatant plagiarism.
RBS is a large, SEC regulated, upstanding company with a strong and active compliance division, so SemiAccurate contacted the bank. Multiple emails, phone messages (Note: We never could get a live person on the line on the US or UK numbers), and everything else we could think of was attempted to contact the right people at RBS. Hearing the cry of a small organization accusing one of their public facing figures of whatever the corporate term for academic fraud is, their people leapt in to action. Yes, we got a total of zero calls returned, zero emails returned, and nothing appears to have been done. If you know how much companies like RBS charge for such reports, you will probably have a clue why too.
In the end, the problem can be summed up easily. The big guys take what they want, and if you complain, they cut you out in order to credit someone who stole it from you. Many organizations openly admit to this, as The Inquirer and Ubergizmo did, and the analysts just don’t respond to complaints. Google caters to whose who game the system because they make more money off it, and the cycle reinforces itself. The legal recourse available is both out of reach to those not big enough, and will never even break even for the rest.
If you do the work, publish original content, and follow the rules, you get shafted. If you don’t, you make lots of money. For some rather masochistic reason, SemiAccurate does the right thing by following the rules and not selling out. We don’t and won’t take bribes to skew stories, don’t publish content handed to us from PR, and aren’t afraid of telling the truth no matter who gets angry. Trust us, they do. Often. Really really angry.
The net result is that you can’t run a business on that basis, much less grow it. There are two choices, neither of which we find palatable, much less attractive. You can take cash for influence like a very large percentage of the industry, or you can just quit in frustration and make a living elsewhere. Since our preference is C) None of the above, we decided to do what we always do in the face of binary choices and chart a new path, subscriptions.
Before you point out that subscriptions are old hat, they actually come from a time before the Internet existed and information was sent around on pulped, bleached, and flattened trees. Since we hate the concept of information not being free, but the abuse of the system is such that we can’t continue like we are, we are going to make almost everything available for free. The difference is timing.
The format for the new SemiAccurate is time based access to content. SemiAccurate has three main demographics that read our news and analysis in more or less equal numbers, the engineering community, the financial community, and the enthusiast community. The large soft middle ground is largely ignorant of our existence, mainly because of the credit and Google problems as detailed above.
That is OK because it allows us to skew the content towards deeper and more technical topics and analysis rather than the big *Gadget*Gizmo sites. We don’t do “Shiny shiny, big graphic, animation, and whee, everything is awesomezorz” content, nor do we do 15 minute video reviews where a paragraph would suffice. Advertisers like the “Shiny shiny” set because those sites tend to take checks and the formats are understood by the big ad houses. They are everything we dislike about the Internet and the ‘news’ it brings. Badly.
SemiAccurate tries to bring the reader news before anyone else, sometimes literally years before the rest. A few examples are Nvidia lying about the Fermi chips, and the resulting analysis of the reasons why they had to. How about the story that is all the rage of late, Apple moving to ARM? SemiAccurate broke that story a year before anyone else, not that Bloomberg bothered to credit. Again.
But the excuses they give as to why are quite, umm, fascinating, not that they complied with Bloomberg’s written polices, but hey, they are big. And who could forget Facebook trying out ARM servers, that story was exclusively broken by S|A two years ahead of the pack, with fun mis-directed denials in our comments by “a company representative”. Haswell and it’s GPU prowess, integrated memory, and Intel’s plans for DIMMs, or lack thereof. Other outlets have still not managed to ‘independently discover’ these last few scoops, but insiders know they are happening.
Stories like these and countless others were SemiAccurate exclusives, and time has shown that our track record to be well above the pack for long lead news. We are not perfect, no one is, but we do feel our record speaks for itself.
We are also not afraid to make analysis calls that no one else dares to or are just not capable of doing. SemiAccurate was the only major site to not just say that Ultrabooks would flop, but to explain why. Nvidia’s ongoing process woes? Consoles? Lots of other analysis that others just don’t have the background to understand.
This is what we do, what we like doing, and what we want to do more of. As you might have guessed, that takes money. This means we have to charge a lot to a small audience or a little to a wider demographic. Once again, SemiAccurate does not like either option, so we are going to do both, your choice, it just depends on how quickly you want the news. If you don’t want to pay for what we do, that is fine too, there is a third option of free, as in beer, by waiting a little longer.
SemiAccurate will have four subscription levels, two of which are at no cost. The lowest level is what you know and do now, nothing. We intend to have as much of the content as possible, reviews, show coverage, and many similar things open, accessible, and free as in beer. You don’t need to change anything you do now. This tier is called “Non-registered user” for the obvious reason.
From there, the next three require registration to get the rest of SemiAccurate’s content. They are named Professional, Member, and Curious. They differ in two ways other than the name, the time delay to see the subscription content, and the price. Professional is the top tier and has no time delay for content, the second it goes live, you can read it. Member is the next one down, and is for those that follow the industry, but do not depend on up to the second information and analysis. Members get access to all of the Professional content, but it is delayed one week.
The lowest tier for the subscription content is Curious, and it is free. This level has a time delay of 30 days meaning you will still get the full information long before most other sites bring it to you for the cost of making an account. Single stories are also available for purchase, along with monthly and discounted yearly subscriptions. The specifics can be found on the subscription page here.
In a nutshell, the difference is time. Some people care quite a lot about instant content, others less so. SemiAccurate is attempting do something different with our subscriptions, and think it is the best of the bad options facing us. That said, there is a silver lining to all of this.
One of the things we want to do at SemiAccurate is expand. That means more writers, more events, and more companies that we just don’t have the manpower or budget to write about now. Subscriptions will allow us to do more of that, and bring you much more in-depth content than before. That is the goal, and that is why we are going to a subscription model.
We can’t do much about those who choose to ignore both the law and basic behavioral norms, but that has been a problem since long before the internet existed. Now they will have to wait a bit longer to rip SemiAccurate off, and that is OK by us. For those that don’t want to subscribe, you haven’t been left out either. If you don’t want to register for some reason, that is the only time you will not get to see some SemiAcurate content, but most will still be there for you regardless. If everything works out well, there will actually be more quality content for everyone, from registered through not. Thanks for reading this far, please give us feedback in the forums or by email, we would love to hear your thoughts.S|A