ReadWriteWeb closes french edition in a bold and unexpected way

I have been blogging on the french version of ReadWriteWeb for over a year now. I covered about 40 startups which all got a nice buzz thanks to my posts (among other things). I invested hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of work (unpaid) in strengthening the position of ReadWriteWeb in the French-speaking blogosphere.

You can imagine my surprise when a colleague told me this morning that was shutting down. I went straight to the blog and found Fabrice Epelboin’s post explaining that RWW’s motives for shutting it down:

Brief and contradictory explanations, and a complete lack of communication: In an email sent to the French and Spanish editors of ReadWriteWeb, the headquarters announced in a few lines its will to put an end to its european experience.

“No business model”. An explanation quite surprising since it followed a detailed proposition sent by the French team that suggested boosting translations of the US posts in french by hiring translators in Tunisia, monetizing all this extra content with ads, and aiming at one million uniques a month, the minimum required to finance an information site. This explanation by the RWW HQ is even more surprising considering that the spanish version has started to monetize its content, and many advertisers in the US made generous offers to RWW to extend their marketing reach to Europe.

The same negative answer wa given following a request for a RWW licence in arabian, with this awkward response: the RWW blog wants to focus on its brand (despite killing it in France and the French-speaking north-african countries where RWW fr became a reference the years over.

RWW fr’s active participation in the tunisian revolution definitely influenced this bold decision. The information published on the blog to follow this event was clearly incompatible with a traditional advertising model that encompasses national and international advertisers.

There is no guarantee that the existing content created over a period of three years will be kept. RWW fr runs on a WordPress and is hosted independently. RWW US uses MovableType. Despite repeated requests these past three years, I never got the authorization to licence the RWW fr content under Creative Commons. Juridically, all the french content belongs to them. The US CEO, in an email sent tonight, shares his decision to not keep the blog. On april 22th, in respect to the terms that tie me to RWW US, this blog will be offline.

There aren’t any fear about any form of censorship, since the content of this blog will probably be mirrored on other sites and published next to Wikileaks-related content. Datalove.

The spanish edition, which doesn’t do activism, got the chance to undergo a rebranding that will give it the opportunity to keep its content under a new blog name. Unfortunately, for the french edition, the verdict is more severe: the site, its domain name, its Twitter account and its Facebook page must be returned to the motherhouse in the timeframe specified in the licencing contract. In a few weeks, ReadWriteWeb France will be no more.

Whether this is all about a big advertiser of RWW US trying to censor, an approach from a VC willing to invest under some conditions, or simply a dumbest business decision of the moment, the consequences are the same.

You should start to see all the different writers of the RWW fr join other blogs – some are already with Techcrunch – and I’d like to thank them for their efforts and their trust during all these years.

Regarding myself, I am preparing to start a new adventure on the other side of the Mediterranean sea, where the objective is no more to fight, but to build a new country. At 40 years-old, I am moving on. Just like “MAM” (a French government official that was really popular until a recent scandal got her kicked out of the government), thanked bluntly too, I will probably write “a book or two”, and I will publish on my friends’ site the stuff you could have read here, a “coucou” strategy invented by Enikao.

The times approaching in France are terrifying for the Internet and its digital laws. We are not, on the French Web, in a democracy. The leeway that is coming, in terms of infowar among other things, will definitely shut up all of those that mocked the e-strike-back of Benjamin Lancard.

With just a few dudes in a garage, we managed to sensitize a good load of people regarding this problem. Unfortunately, we can only see that we’ve been trying to block a war tank that crashes all our liberty impulses on the Web, and which wants to colonize the same tribes that it treated as savages yesterday.

An alternative world is possible, but in France, this is going to take time. Once again, the country will fall back into a huge digital lateness, to the point where its position in tomorrow’s world is at stakes. Even if you don’t understand the net neutrality, or the societal stakes around the Hadopi and the Loppsi, you probably noticed that lateness anyway.

Fabrice Epelboin
ex chief editor of ReadWriteWeb France

ce billet is licenced under Creative Commons CC-by

UPDATE: Here’s the reply of RWW’s CEO in the post’s comments:

I’m the founder & CEO of ReadWriteWeb. I wish Fabrice all the best for the future, but I want to note that there are a number of inaccuracies and misleading statements in this post. Rather than enter into a debate as to why we decided to close our international channels, I’d like to make 2 points to clarify things:

1) There is no censorship of any kind happening here. Any suggestion otherwise is an over-reaction.

2) We have made it very clear that any original content (i.e. content not translated from the english language version of RWW) written by our international channels can be moved to a new domain. We’ve also offered to put in place re-directs for a reasonable period of time, so that our international readers can still get to that content easily.

To reiterate, we are not in any way claiming ownership of content not written by our main blog at Original content written by Fabrice and his team in France is free to be used in another blog under a different brand.

I hope this at least clarifies some of the main issues in this post. Thanks Fabrice and the people who started RWW FR (Romain, Damien and team). It’s been an enjoyable ride and we wish you all the best for the future.

Richard MacManus
Founder & CEO, ReadWriteWeb

Truth be told, the chief editor of the blog (Fabrice Epelboin) has gone a bit wild on the Wikileaks and North-african events, by adopting a position that might have compromised the objectivity of opinions valued by the RWW’s brand. Still though, in regards to the french team of contributors, this bold decision is tough. drains 200/400K visitors monthly. This is small but do consider that no money was made out of the French edition, so all that traffic has been generated thanks to the determination of a few individuals, and the contributions of thousands of commenters. I thought that RWW would have warned us in a more friendly way in respect to the free work we’ve all been contributing to the brand, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen this way.

Adieu ReadWriteWeb France!