Posted by , . Filed under Bait and Switch.

When Scribd.com originally launched, it was pitched as a “YouTube for documents”. The “Free” end of its original Freemium business model allowed users to upload and view documents in an unlimited capacity, making money from display advertising. All of a sudden, in September 2010, Scribd.com put a substantial chunk of user uploads behind a paywall (see Eric Goldman’s reaction: Scribd Puts My Old Uploads Behind a Paywall and Goes Onto My Shitlist). After a sizable negative public reaction, Scribd posted an apology, and changed its UI design slightly, to provide what they claim as “Clear opt-out” and “Proactive messaging”. In other words, they now provide users with a way to circumvent the paywall, if they have the patience and the ability to navigate through the site.

Scribd.com is listed as using a Bait and Switch pattern, since the grounds upon which end users are invited to upload content (“…upload your PDF, Word, and PowerPoint docs to share them with the world’s largest community of readers.” as advertised on the scribd.com homepage) are somewhat different to the reality of the situation users find themselves in after uploading.

 


Scribd.com – post upload page

 

Above you can see the page a user reaches at the end of the document upload journey. Rather than presenting any UI controls to allow the user to opt in/out at this point, they present an obscurely-worded information box, and a link to “Account settings”, which the user needs to proactively click in order reach the UI controls. The text of the information box is:-
The Scribd Archive is a program that encourages users to give back to the Scribd community by uploading their own docs in order to download older documents. Downloaders may also choose to contribute a small fee for access to The Scribd Archive if they prefer. You can remove ALL of your documents from The Scribd Archive and prevent any of your future uploads from entering The Scribd Archive by opting out of the program completely in your Account Settings.

When a new user attempts to download a file, they are asked to either upload a file first (thus increasing the size of scribd.com’s document library), or pay for access.