Why I’ve Paused My Blogging at Forbes

Four years ago, I joined Forbes’ “contributor” program, which lets independent authors publish/blog through Forbes’ network without editorial pre-review. Jonathan Glick at Re/Code called these programs “platishers”, a portmanteau of “platform” and “publisher.” (Personally, I’d vote for “platisher” as one of the most awful new words of 2014). Forbes gave me access to its audience, promoted my posts (in theory), provided limited editorial input, and paid me some money. In exchange, I made the first publication of some posts via Forbes. I called the blog “Tertium Quid” for reasons I explained in my introductory post.

I’m happy about my experiences as a Forbes contributor. Over 4+ years, I generated over 160 posts, over 600 user comments, 1.5M+ pageviews and 1.1M+ visits. I made what is probably my most-read blog post of all time, a fluffy post that surprisingly garnered a quarter-million views. In addition to my standard blogging material of covering court cases and legislation, I wrote several quasi-academic posts that are highlights of my scholarly oeuvre, such as my posts on designing safe harbors and immunities and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Along the way, I got a lot of practice trying to explain complicated legal concepts to mass/lay audiences, and I think that helped improve my writing across-the-board.

Despite these benefits, I’ve taken a (possibly indefinite) hiatus from blogging at Tertium Quid. I haven’t made a new post there since mid-May. What happened?

* My Changed Family Circumstances. When I started with Forbes in 2012, I agreed to make 5 posts a month (plus 5 comments as a user, but no one seemed to track those). That turned out to be a major chunk of work. Writing for a lay audience took me substantially more time than writing for this blog (i.e., a typical Forbes post took 2x-5x as long to write as a post on this blog), and my longer-form scholarship took a noticeable hit because how much time it took me to write 60 Forbes posts a year. While that alone would have been a good reason to reexamine my time allocations, my hand was forced when my wife was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2014. At that point, the 5x/month pace was no longer tenable. I reapproached Forbes and asked them to remove the minimum number of monthly posts, which they graciously agreed to do. I subsequently averaged about 2 posts/month through May 2016, but after my mom’s death, I struggled to keep even that pace up.

* Ad Blocker Policy. Forbes turns away readers who use ad blockers, and that creates problems for me. First, I’ve heard complaints that the technology misidentifies some users as using ad blockers when they don’t, leaving those users stuck. Second, many of my readers do use ad blockers, and Forbes’ policy hinders those readers from being able to read my posts. Worse, I felt like I lost some reader goodwill for contributing to a venue with an unpopular ad blocking policy.

* Reduced Payout. When I started in 2012, Forbes and I agreed upon a compensation plan that included a monthly fee and traffic bonuses. When I eliminated my minimum number of monthly posts, we also eliminated (at my suggestion) my monthly fee. Subsequently, Forbes cut its traffic bonuses and imposed extra reductions on posts older than 90 days. The latter reduction particularly affected me because I intentionally wrote some posts to retain longer-term currency rather than to generate traffic for a week and then be effectively forgotten. Between the various payout changes, my monthly payouts progressively became de minimis.

* Reduced Traffic to Posts. I don’t know if it’s just due to the ad blockers, but traffic to my posts noticeably declined over the past couple of years. I was spending a lot of extra time to write posts for Forbes’ mass-market audience, but then the audience didn’t materialize.

Since I put my Forbes blog on hiatus, I’ve regained some of my blogging mojo. Over the past few months, you may have noticed both the increased volume and increased post length here. Like I used to do in the good ole’ blogging days, I’ve been able to do more deep-dive 3k+ word posts (such as this post on the FTC’s suit against 1-800 Contacts) that seemed overwhelming to contemplate while I was actively maintaining my Forbes blog. It turns out that I am able to blog more, and I enjoy it more, when I write just for my audience and don’t try to conform to Forbes’ specifications. Perhaps I’ll do a future post-mortem about the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. publishing through third party publishers.

So what’s next? I don’t plan to close the Tertium Quid blog, and I’m open to the possibility of doing future posts there if I see a clear advantage to it. I’ll also consider other writing engagements that might present themselves, but my family situation prevents me from taking on any major ongoing commitments.

As always, I’m grateful for your continued readership and support. And as always, I welcome your emails and comments.

UPDATE: Although I characterized my status as being on hiatus, it appears Forbes has unilaterally and quietly decided to make the break permanent, as I now cannot log into my contributor account. No email or notice from Forbes about any of this, however…