Let’s stop shaking people down for their email addresses

When we launched Shape Up, we consciously didn’t want that book trapped behind a sleazy quid pro quo requirement for an email address. And now we’ve gone back to fix the mistake that was asking for one with Getting Real, our free ebook from 2006 about how to build a successful web application.

If you have a mailing list that’s worth signing up for, you don’t need to trick, cajole, or bribe people in other to get them on board. You only need to do that when you know that most people wouldn’t voluntarily join. That’s a pretty weirdly coercive play.

But that’s true of a lot of the industry BEST PRACTICES. There’s a whole cottage industry of bullshit around how CONTENT MARKETING is supposed to work. Ugh. Even just that word: CONTENT MARKETING. I can’t say without a slight gag.

If you have something to say, say it. If you have something to share, share it. Don’t invent things to say or to share just such that you can package up that pink slime as a golden nugget of truth to trade for someone’s contact information.

That’s the same insincere, manipulative logic behind influencer marketing. It’s all about disguising the sale with a thin, flimsy layer of purchased credibility. No wonder we’re all so skeptical and cynical these days. Because we have a million good A/B-optimized reasons to be.

Not everything needs to be tracked. Not everything needs to pay off. It’s perfectly fine to do things because it’s fun, feels good, is interesting, tickles your brain, or just helps someone out.

Enjoy Getting Real! Keep your email address in your pocket.

12 thoughts on “Let’s stop shaking people down for their email addresses

  1. It all sounds reasonable when you write it but, at the same time, how much did it contribute to building up your email list for the past 13 years of doing this for Getting Real? As long as it is evident up front and an easy “unsubscribe” later, I see no harm in this exchange. Just keep it fair and transparent.

    1. I contributed nothing, because we never felt good about using the list we amassed consistently. It felt like a dirty list in many ways. And it didn’t square with the rest of our ethics at Basecamp.

      It’s the barter I dislike, not the list. If we had just given the book away for free and had a list that said “Sign up if you want to know when we release another book”, that list would have felt completely kosher. Limited, but kosher.

  2. Bravo. We just did this with the e-books on our site a few months ago. I had posted them behind an email request, in part because you guys were doing it with Getting Real, and because everybody else does it. But we decided to get rid of that and just let people download them with one click.

    It feels a lot more genuine to not ask for someone’s contact info.

  3. “If you have something to say, say it” – great advice. I have just read “Getting Real” – I will definitely give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This casts a negative light on something that can be a win-win for people and often is. If I don’t feel like exchanging my email, I have the choice, or I can always give an address that is used specifically to circumnavigate spam if I think that’s the path it’s leading down. Why do I have to give my name and email address to just lave a comment on your site, if it’s such a bad proposition? I’d rather not have clickbait articles proliferate the bed than the chance to easily subscribe to someone or something I find interesting, knowing all I have to do is hit “unsubscribe” if it doesn’t work out.

  5. It’s easy when it’s easy.

    While on a human level I completely agree — but in the world where real people need to make a living, giving up emails is a privilege. It’s all a wonderful ideal but at the end of the day, Basecamp can afford to give up emails, while many have to do everything they can to make money.

    Thanks for making the internet a little less spammy but the rest of still need to hustle.

  6. I applaud this. Does this mean you’re removing the emails from your list who originally signed up for Getting Real?

  7. I agree almost every word but I wonder what if your content is consumed away from you or your web, I mean, my podcast is on Spotify, iTunes, etc. How to build your email list then?

    1. I think what DHH is getting at is that you should still have the option for an email list, and you should still say, “Hey! I have an email list! If you think I’m doing some cool stuff, you can know when I do even more of that cool stuff!”, but putting content behind getting an email address is the wrong thing to do.

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