For those who’ve been following the outrage about Scribd instituting a paid archive feature in which the site charged for downloads of content that had been meant to be downloadable for free (we covered it here), TechCrunch reports on the latest development.
Our earlier report on the issue came from Lynn Viehl’s blog (and subsequently, Scribd responded with an editorial in the Huffington Post), but another vehement denouncement of Scribd’s apparent malfeasance came from law professor Eric Goldman. It turned out that Scribd had started moving older files into an archive for which there was a charge to be able to download, The change was being made, and money was being charged, without content writers’ knowledge or authorization.
There followed much outrage from the blogosphere, many members of whom took a predictably anti-Scribd stance. (Oddly enough, Mike Masnick at Techdirt reports that a few people suggested that since Goldman was getting a free service from Scribd, he was “not a customer” and so shouldn’t complain. As Masnick points out, just because no money exchanged hands doesn’t mean no value did.)
Subsequently, Scribd emailed Goldman a link to a public apology by Scribd CEO Trip Adler (which they since took down temporarily to make “final considerations”, but put back up again after TechCrunch reported on its disappearance).
In the apology, Adler explains that the real intention of the Scribd Archive program was to “encourage readers to contribute to the Scribd community,” either by uploading documents themselves (for which they would gain free download access for 24 hours) or else by paying a small fee.
He also points out that Archived documents are still free to read on-line regardless of whether they can be downloaded. Adler admits that Scribd made the mistakes of not communicating the program clearly to content contributors, and not making it easy for people to opt out of having their documents included in the archive.
Adler says that Scribd is now committing to being more open about the archive, adding a clear opt-out procedure to Scribd users’ account settings page (I just went and opted my own writings out of the archive; it’s as simple as clicking a checkbox and pressing a button), notifying people when their documents are due to enter the archive, and setting up an advisory board to incorporate community feedback.
This is welcome news, though it does not fully undo the damage Scribd did to its reputation with the unannounced archive program in the first place. It’s never good to make your customers feel like they’ve been baited and switched, and undoubtedly there will be many users who will not find the apology and changes announced therein to be enough (especially considering how they tried to take it down for changes after making it). It may take some time for Scribd to gain back its users’ trust.