Why TechCrunch needs to rethink its contributor program, Extra Crunch

As a technology writer, your choice of platform greatly dictates your chances of being read. Extra Crunch goes an extra mile to kill just that.

Extra Crunch as accessed from outside of one of the countries where it currently serves its content in

Paywalls are nothing new in the world of writing, journalism and tabloids. They, however, often implement a freemium model. That means a visitor is able to read a set number of articles a month for free — from any author on the website, up until the point they have met their monthly allowance. At that time the reader would then be asked to “upgrade” to a membership. Washington Post does this, as does WSJ and of course, Medium.

As a technology writer, your choice of platform greatly dictates your chances of being read. This is why you may notice I often write my pieces on a variety of platforms, including IDG’s CIO, Hackernoon, and Sonatype blog. Even when putting articles behind a paywall such as Medium, the freemium model combined with the “friend links” guarantees open accessibility to a vast majority of my readers who are not yet willing to become members. Of course, in most instances, the compensation for a writer in a contributor capacity is zero or virtually zero.

To expand the readership of my works further, I was considering giving Extra Crunch a try, when I realised its business model goes an extra mile to kill just that.

Restrictive Readership

Founded in early 2019 by tech media giant TechCrunch, Extra Crunch is a subscription-only service which sources expert opinions and “guest columns” from outside contributorsnot regular staff, and puts these behind an exclusive paywall, without any freemium features in place for the reader.

As an Extra Crunch contributor, while making 1,000-2,000 word long submissions, as preferred by their editors, is easy, you must have an understanding that any article featured on Extra Crunch will reach its member audience only.

Mind you, the cost of membership for readers is a whopping $15 a month after trial, which isn’t free either. For UK readers, it’s £15 a month which is around $19.99. They clearly overlooked currency conversion. That isn’t cheap when contrasted with paywalls used by leading media outlets and popular entertainment services like Spotify and Netflix. To give you an idea, a subscription to world-renowned WSJ, costs $19.50 a month.

Granted WSJ’s model is subscription-only too, we are talking about the Wall Street Journal and most articles behind their paywall likely aren’t contributions of outside guests, unlike with Extra Crunch.

Now their program does have a provision allowing for the author to republish their piece elsewhere after it has been featured for a week exclusively on Extra Crunch, this could still feel restrictive to some authors.

Furthermore, at this time, Extra Crunch membership — and hence its readership, is restricted to just 11 countries, in North America and Europe. A reader based outside of this affluent zone, and willing to pay membership costs, would still not be able to legally access to your story featured on Extra Crunch. Contrast this with thought leadership publications like CIO, where my articles have been accessible throughout the world; without a paywall in place, and with the credibility of the IDG group — the company behind PCWorld, InfoWorld, Computerworld, and CSO Online.

Incentivising Contributors

Sourcing quality content from outside guest contributors and thought leaders who are subject matter experts (SMEs) often comes without monetary expectations on either side. The idea behind welcoming contributions from guest writers is to give thought leaders a credible platform to share their expertise with the world, and to let the readers benefit from it. If money ever changes hands it is usually between the advertiser and the publishing platform.

Other models as employed by Medium, offer minimal earnings to authors when their articles behind the paywall receive claps. But, features like “friend links” and limited free articles a month for the reader reassure technology writers like myself that the piece would be sufficiently distributed. Other tech publications I have tried writing on, such as CIO, HackerNoon, and dev.to provide excellent incentive for contributors because of their increased credibility, visibility, and no paywalls. The content is sometimes ad-sponsored and reaches a wider audience, across continents.

Surely, TechCrunch has established its name and credibility in the field, its spin-off project Extra Crunch is relatively new and appears to be ‘experimental’. Other than maybe getting a techcrunch.com URL for your latest article, where is the incentive for contributors who are spending time and effort, only to have their article not reach the vast majority of readers?

The content

Unlike most thought-leader publications such as Business Insider, Forbes, CSO Online, and others that feature “expert opinions” on diverse subjects, Extra Crunch reads largely like news coverage about tech topics, combined with some expert analysis perhaps. But the headlines primarily focus on the news aspect.

At most media outlets, topics related to news coverage are ideally written by in-house staff, with contributors being optionally interviewed to offer their expert commentary, however, TechCrunch takes a different approach. Or perhaps, their contributor program is designed for freelance journalists willing to work without pay — which usually doesn’t happen.

Don’t take my word for it. Read some Extra Crunch articles if you are willing to shed the membership price, and observe if an article gives off “staff writer” vibe or a contributor’s opinion.

Better Alternatives

Honestly, given with the way Extra Crunch is setup now, reflective of a lose-lose situation for both the writer and the reader, any platform feels better. This could be your own blog, Medium, Hacker Noon and opinion sections of popular publications like Forbes, FT, Business Insider, and similar websites. They all tend to have guest columns or a similar feature. Granted, the bar to getting published on these outlets is high, there is wider readership, brand recognition, and business models that promote readership, not inhibit it.

As a contributing writer you need to research platforms thoroughly. They say, “time is money,” but the exception to the rule is when sharing your thought leader expertise with the world. There is seldom any monetary compensation, so the least you can do is assure your piece is being read by a wide audience!

Maybe I’m just a technical guy who lacks the ability to see through the hidden high and mighty benefits of Extra Crunch, if they exist, suffice to say the way Extra Crunch is modelled right now makes me unmotivated to submit a piece, and take writings elsewhere instead.

© 2019. Akshay ‘Ax’ Sharma (Twitter). All Rights Reserved.

Security Researcher | Tech Columnist | https://hey.ax

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