A Different Perspective on the Sale of Wellsphere

(To my patient-readers: feel free to pass this one up. It’s aimed at my fellow healthcare bloggers who have been participating in a program begun by Wellsphere. Wellsphere made a business move that is quite unpopular and has made many members of the health blogosphere very cranky….)

I’ve pondered this for two days now. I try not to be quick to pull the trigger, and I generally give cummupances some thought… but now it seems like it’s time to share those thoughts with my fellow professionals and healthcare bloggers. I can’t be the only one who thinks this way….

Some of you are over-the-top upset at the sale of Wellsphere to Health Central because you feel as if someone has now made money off your work.

You’re right. They have.

Some of you are “I told you so-ing,” practically with glee, as if you’ve had some great revelation that yes! They DID want to make money! As if you knew there was something sinister when you were contacted by Geoff Rutledge and asked to participate.

You’re right. They did want to make money.

But I ask you — is making money a bad thing? It’s a trick question, so don’t answer just yet.

I bring to you a different perspective. I don’t ask you to agree with me. I just ask you to consider a different point of view for a moment.

I’ll begin by asking you a question: why do you blog? Why do you write or broadcast or podcast or videocast online?

Most of you will answer at least a portion of the same answer I would give. I blog because it allows me to offer information to others, and share my perspective. I blog to help patients understand the dysfunction of American healthcare and improve their ability to access the excellent care that does exist (when they can find it.) I blog because it helps me drive people to my other work online — at my personal website (that houses my newspaper columns), my radio show website (that houses podcasts of the show I host), and my About.com website (that houses a little bit of everything.)

I don’t blog to make money. My personal blog does earn me (and I’m not kidding) about $1.52 each month from syndication. But I never did begin blogging to make money from my blog. I blog for exposure.

So when Wellsphere came along, I saw it as an opportunity to maximize exposure. And it has done that for me, according to my stats. In fact, my blog numbers (about 4,000 people per month) doubled when my blog began to appear on Wellsphere.

Wellsphere is a business.  I knew they would make money. Wellsphere never made me any promises of payment. I never expected to get any payment. They haven’t stolen my content or anyone else’s. They have borrowed it. They have  (and this is important) a NON-EXCLUSIVE right to it. That means I can do whatever I want to with mine, too. And you can do whatever you want to with your writing, too. Even sever your relationship with Wellsphere if that’s what you choose.

Yes – they are in business to make money. That was why they built the site. You must have known that when you signed on. Why on earth would they build it if they didn’t intend to make money from it?  It certainly wasn’t out of the goodness of their hearts!

And most of you, my fellow bloggers, have an income stream, too. However, I’ll bet none of you makes a living from healthcare blogging! We all make our living in other ways, and blogging is one of those tools responsible for helping us make that living (or, maybe, helping us to cope with it?). Knowing that, then increased exposure can only be a good thing.

Yes, yes… I’ve heard that the owner can be a real SOB.  I have heard that people changed jobs, got fired, weren’t happy with their tenure working there.  I am sorry for them.  But this is not that, and we are not them.

At the end of the day, Wellsphere hasn’t done anything devious. They are making money. There was no hidden agenda except, perhaps, that they passed us off to Health Central. That was unexpected, but other than that, the relationship hasn’t changed at all. They are publishing our blogs, aren’t giving us any cash, but we continue to gain exposure for our work.

In fact, the only real difference is that now we will get even more exposure.

Would I like it if they sent me a check? You bet! Would I like to share in that big payoff? Of course!

But…. I don’t fault Wellsphere for making what was purely a business decision. I actually applaud their ability to do something positive in this horrible economic climate.

Above all else, I’m happy to know that even MORE patients, those who need help, and those who can contribute to this blog full of ideas, will find the opportunity through Health Central.

As I said when I began — I don’t ask you to agree with me. I ask only that you understand a different point of view. Hopefully the mutual respect remains. We can always agree to disagree.

Trisha

11 comments

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  1. I don’t think it’s whether they wanted to make money or not. It’s a question of whether they tricked bloggers into giving up the rights to their intellectual property for the gain of Wellsphere, without being upfront about what they were doing.

    As someone who has personal experience as an employee of Wellsphere (Hellsphere, as we like to call it) and who has read dozens of blogs complaining about the treatment they received, I do feel sorry for people that feel they’ve been duped. I hope that you can understand their position, too.

    -Mark Johnson, former Wellsphere product manager

  2. Mark,

    Yes — I am very sorry for how you were treated. I actually mentioned that in my post.

    But I believe you are incorrect about the intellectual rights. We did not forfeit them at all. We agreed to share them and not get paid for them, but we maintain our copyrights and maintain all our rights to do whatever else we want to do with them.

    Nobody (that I know of) on the blog side has received “bad” treatment. We just didn’t make any money on the sale. But we never expected to be making money anyway.

    I wish you well and hope that your current position is all you hoped it would be. Thanks for posting.

    Trisha

  3. Trisha,

    You’re not the only one expressing a different perspective. See – http://mormonmd.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/the-business-of-health-blogging/

    I write for HealthCentral and thought that this was an interesting move. To be selfish, I sincerely hope that it doesn’t negatively impact my freelance work for them. That’s my take; and no, I didn’t sign-up with Wellsphere when approved 8 months ago.

    Lisa

  4. Lisa,

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ve just read and commented on the Doc’s blog.

    Keep up your great work at Health Central, and your great blog, too 🙂

    Trisha

    • Dr. Val on January 29, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Hi Trisha,

    I think the issue is much deeper than the fact that most people who signed up for Wellsphere did not carefully read or understand the TOS, and that money was made on their content/community.

    Look at it this way: bloggers were led to believe that their content was being recognized as having special merit (they were sent a “personal” email by a PHYSICIAN, praising their work, and offering to feature it on a large platform with millions of readers). Many bloggers trusted the MD’s credentials and probably did not carefully review the fine print because of them. They added the Wellsphere button to their blogs in gratitude for the acknowledgment of their work.

    Soon they discovered that their blogs were not actually featured as they had expected, links back to their site were hard to come by, and no substantial traffic accrued. They looked for a way out, and many were met with silence by this MD who had praised their work to the skies to get them to join. For some, months passed between the time they requested to leave and their content was deleted from the site.

    Then these poor souls discover that the emails of praise (that they thought were crafted to them personally) turn out to be form letters sent to anyone with a blog. There is no actual “quality control” (as demonstrated by the email accidentally sent to my webmaster, calling him an “Everyday Hero” in healthcare). They feel shame and embarrassment… the Wellsphere button they proudly displayed is now a badge of dishonor, a witness to their gullibility.

    Then Health Central Network announces the acquisition of Wellsphere with a quote from the CEO that the “bloggers are happy” and that the stickiness of the community will “allow them to improve their advertising ROI.”

    The bloggers in the network read the TOS for the first time and realize that Wellsphere has the right to sell their content. They get nothing – just more disappointment and betrayal, with the new company viewing their personal community as a mere way to improve advertising ROI.

    I hope this helps you understand why many are hurt and feeling betrayed. It’s about so much more than the $. That was just the last straw.

    I for one am most troubled by the role the MD credentials played in this. It is a sad day for us all.

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