Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wellsphere and Medical Blogosphere Collide


Many of you are probably familiar with the recent sale of Wellsphere, a health blog aggregator, to HealthCentral Network this past week.  This sale has thrown the medical blogosphere into protest mode, though I think it is undeserved.


Dr Val Jones reports the saga very completely on her new health blog, Better Health (also see post from Hippocrates).  Last year, medical bloggers were inundated by doting emails from a Dr. Geoff Rutledge.  Mine began like this:

Hi Drs "My three shrinks". ,

I was on a search for the best medical blogs, when I found your Shrink Wrap blog at http://psychiatrist-blog.blogspot.com/. I think your blog is great. Dinah's post on True Emotions struck a chord (My emotions aren't Italian, either), and your iphone edition grand rounds was remarkable. [links added]

I'd like to invite you to participate in the network of medical expert bloggers at Wellsphere, but perhaps I should explain a bit about myself and about Wellsphere as background. ...
Despite the expressed familiarity, note the form letter formatting.  Dr Val reports that some 1700 medical bloggers fell for the praise and the proposition that, in return for letting Wellsphere repost your blog content on their site, you will be (1) associated with Wellsphere, which then crowed about more than a million page views per month, and (2) you will receive more traffic from them.

What has happened is that many agreed to the Terms of Service without actually reading them, which did not require you to hand over your first-born, but nearly so:
...When you post your own copyrightable content on the Website or give Wellsphere permission to post your copyrightable content on the Website, you retain ownership of any copyright you claim to your submitted content. However, by posting your content or giving Wellsphere permission to post your content you automatically grant Wellsphere a royalty-free, paid-up, non-exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to (i) use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials, and (ii) reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and publicly display the User Materials in any medium or format, whether now known or later developed…
I think many bloggers saw the potential for more traffic as a boon, but now feel stung because Rutledge and company made some easy money by flipping the effort to HealthCentral, while the bloggers who provided all the content received nothing.

My view: caveat emptor.  It was clear that Wellsphere's goal was to build a library of content and then sell access to the content to universities and insurance companies.  They stated this in their letter of solicitation ("Stanford University was so impressed that they deployed our service for the entire campus. Our business model involves being paid by employers for our service - you won't see today any ads or commercial services on our free public site.").  It was clear that the bloggers who agreed to the deal were being compensated only with the potential for greater traffic.   For blogs which accept advertising, this meant more advertising revenue.  Dr Rob, for one, said that he received no additional traffic from Wellsphere.

A lot of bloggers saw this for what it was and decided that the juice wasn't worth the squeeze.  Check out the 50 or so comments to Dr Val's article to see a mixture of those who told the good doctor to take a hike and those who agreed to the deal.  While I understand the feeling of betrayal and deception, there are a lot of people saying "Doh! I made a foolish mistake".

Dr Anonymous had a BlogTalkRadio show about this issue two nights ago.  The archive of the live show was mysteriously taken down at 10:02 PM yesterday.  His explanation: "This show has been deleted and is no longer available for download. I'm sorry for any inconvenience. I have no further comment at this time."  Hmm.

I went through my mail and found the interchange we had with Dr Rutledge last July, which was not marked private or confidential and which was unsolicited.  Here was my reply, to which he said "Thanks, but no thanks," I did the same, and that was that (except for eleventy million more praiseful form letters despite my requests to "unsubscribe").

Geoff,

Thank you for your request. I reviewed the site and found it a bit frustrating. For example, I searched on the term "xanax" and got several pages of links which were all the same, except for each being a different city. The relevant links were only at the end of the 5 pages. I also could not locate a Psychiatry section on your site.

While I understand that your business model is not aimed at advertising but rather at contracting with clients for your aggregated content and community, I do not see how that income flows down to your content providers. It would seem that the only benefit to the blogger is more traffic.

If you Google "psychiatry blogs", you will see that we are already the first hit. Our podcast is usually in the top 20 in the Medicine section on iTunes. We have over 8,000 monthly unique visitors for our blog (Shrink Rap) and over 10,000 podcast downloads per month for our psychiatry podcast, so increasing our hits is not so valuable to us as cold, hard cash. While these numbers are not huge, we have a close community with 1/3 of our visitors returning at least monthly.

I think that your model will unfortunately encourage lower-quality bloggers who have lots of ads running throughout their sidebars and posts, as this is the group that would most benefit from increased traffic.

So, we decline your offer as is. However, if you'd like to pay us to use our content, we would consider $1250 monthly. Also, if you are interested in being a sponsor on our My Three Shrinks podcast, we would consider $600 per podcast. This covers the cost of producing the podcast and is not connected to CPM, but allows access to a highly targeted market (mental health consumers and professionals). Either of these agreements would depend on approval from my two co-bloggers.

Best wishes and have a nice day,
-Roy

When we first got the form letter, ClinkShrink sent me a message stating, "Almost sounds too good to be true. Whaddya think?".  So, the lesson here is an old one.  If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.