What Did Seth Godin Sell To HubPages?

Not as Obvious as It Seems

Squidoo and HubPages

When the announcement came from Seth Godin about the sale of something belonging to Squidoo, a content site he created, but botched after a promising start, it was strange in several ways, and it just got stranger.

First, for the uninitiated into the realm of public relations management of which Godin is a manipulative master, the timing of the announcement is significant. Friday afternoons, late, is when politicians dump bad news on the media, confident that, with the weekend approaching, it will receive as little notice as possible. 

Another puzzling element is that this is normally the day, the 15th of the month, in the afternoon, set aside on Squidoo for payday, when the blue box drops over dashboards, announcing earnings for the month.

Without explanation, the task has been completed two days ahead of time, on Wednesday. Most of us thought we were catching a break, not being set up for sting.

Although he once referred to the transfer of assets as a "transaction," he never called it a sale. "HubPages is acquiring key content," he wrote.

But to what "key content" was he referring?

The key content is the articles (called lenses) that writers (called lensmasters) had created over the Squidoo's lifetime.

But as reported here by RoseWrites, according to Squidoo's Terms of Service, he doesn't own that.

The writers themselves, not Squidoo, own the content.

What Did Seth Godin Sell?

If you follow the deftly worded announcement - Godin is a professional writer, after all,  and also under suspicion as a kind of grifter - it appears that what he sold is access to the millions of articles already published, exclusively to HubPages.

I have no beef with HubPages. I was a member creating hubs before I wrote a word of Squidoo or got over its being a goofy name for a content site.

HubPages is a quality operation, and Godin's selling access to them might be a very good thing for Squidoo writers. 

But why is he so obscure about it? And why HubPages? 

Why not InfoBarrel, for one, or another respected high quality writers' site? Why not Wizzley, which has an appearance so similar to Squidoo's that it seems an obvious fit?

Godin never says.

But there's another even bigger question.

Why Were Squidoo's Lensmasters Never Consulted?

This probably troubles Squidoo's now alienated writers as much as anything else.

If Godin planned to sell the value of content that belonged to us, why was he so secretive about it?

Shouldn't the actual stakeholders have been consulted? If not, why not?

So, let's let the genie out of the bottle: should Seth Godin be investigated by a proper authority for the way he has handled the sale of Squidoo's content, behind closed doors, in total secrecy?

Let's apply a familiar standard for ethical, legal conduct that many people will recognize.

If Squidoo were a publicly traded company and its chief executive pulled off a sale to another company in the same manner, would the chief executive have been accused, maybe indicted for insider trading, for lining his own pockets at the expense of other stakeholders?

I think he would

Another big question Godin has not answered: how much will he receive in payment from HubPages, on what terms and how was it determined that the owners of the content are not eligible to share in what might be a windfall?

Was There Systematic Deception Among Squidoo Staff? 

 According to Godin's own statement, "We’ve been busy building transfer tools that will make it easy (and mostly automatic) for content to move from the Squidoo site to HubPages."

So, this has been a done deal for some time, probably months, under a shroud of secrecy to keep those most affected in the dark.

For a project this size, we're talking about weeks at least, not days.

What's been happening inside Squidoo during that time?

As active lensmasters will attest, it has been a dynamic period in which Squidoo introduced an all new format that, ostensibly, was intended to be more suitable for today's internet viewers.

But might the major changes have been nothing more than a retrofit worked out to simplify the transfer of content from Squidoo to HubPages?

How could Squidoo's staff, interacting daily with hundreds of trusting writers, not have known?

Of possibly greater concern was the very recent increase of Squdioo's payout threshold. For years, lensmasters received payouts when their work earned as little as $1.00.

Suddenly, it was raised to $25.00.

Why does this matter? Because when Squidoo closes shop for good, if a lensmaster has not met the higher threshold, that money will not be paid out to them in full - or at all.

It will be given to the Acumen Fund, an organization with an admirable mission and one that has a curious link to Squidoo. 

Seth Godin is a featured and promoted Advisor on the site.

Note: Godin backed down on this plan under pressure. His sidekick, Cory Brown, posted that the payout threshold would be lowered to its previous level of $1.00. 

Being caught with his hand in the cookie jar may have chilled one of Godin's money grabs, but another with which he likely will succeed is his confiscating the retained revenues of lensmasters who opted out of the Squidoo to HubPages transfer on time. To do so, they were forced to sacrifice at least their August income and possibly more. 

Conclusion

While there is no obvious smoking gun to be found so far, not with a statement as carefully worded and as unrevealing as what was announced, if Seth Godin and the Squidoo organization are unable or unwilling to make a full disclosure of the deal or to restructure it in a way more fair to the owners of the content being sold, an investigation for legal wrongdoing ought to take place.

What is Squidoo, after all? It's the content.

Who owns the content? Its writers.

In case you're thinking as some are that this platform provided such a great place for learning that lensmasters ought to be grateful for what they got, not offended at being cut out - ask yourself what happens if Godin has only his admittedly beautiful platform to sell, without the content?

Even he didn't want to settle for that.