To link or not to link to firewalled content

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At the China Speakers Bureau we have a firm policy of not linking to firewalled content. Our main purpose is to promote our speakers, and we do not expect potential clients are going to struggle through a firewall of any kind to read the content of our speakers, not matter how great it is.

Since we want to offer a one-click experience, we avoid not only financial firewalls, but also any other kind of registration or – a trend over the past six months – websites that ban adblockers. For the same reason we do not expect readers to learn Vietnamese or Dutch, or even use the still poorly working translation tools to anything but English.

That means we are missing content from the Financial Times, a part of the Wall Street Journal (but fortunately not all), and since a short while also from Forbes. Fortunately, not all media install firewalls, but also abolish them again. We think media should find other ways to generate income than blocking access to their products. One of the larger victories of our school of thinking was the South China Morning Post, who stubbornly sticked to their firewall for 15 years, but has now entered the domain of the enlightened.

Just to avoid any misunderstandings: it is not about the money were are complaining. The fees per website are often (not always) low. But in our line of business we often run into a hundred different firewalls every month, and we are mostly not interested enough to pay up for media we use a few times per month. Often media even expect money for freely available content they copy-paste from Reuters, Bloomberg or AP anyway. And certainly, we cannot expect our clients to do so.

Some media found a way around that dilemma by allowing infrequent users free access for a limited number of articles per month. As long as we did not notice a firewall, we were happy to link to those media. Unfortunately, a group of media has started to lower the number of free articles for infrequent users, including a range of Australian media, the New York Times and the Nikkei Asian Review. A nuisance, since we could pick up quotes and articles from some of our speakers there regularly.

This is an ongong debate, and we use this opportunity to explain why we do not intend to change our policy at this stage. When blocking content becomes a mainstream trend, we might have to reconsider, but meanwhile we hope media discover better ways to support their declining revenue streams.