The following is a guest post from Scrapbook Update reader Cynthia Ewer. Ewer is a Stampin’ Up! demonstrator, as well as the owner of the website OrganizedHome.com and the author of the book Houseworks.
I’m incredibly sad: my journey as a Stampin’ Up! demonstrator is coming to a close.
Not that it’s what I want to see happen. I’m being forced out by pending changes to the Stampin’ Up! Independent Demonstrator Agreement (IDA). In a nutshell, Stampin’ Up! wants to control advertising across the site network that I publish as my day job–even on those sites that have no connection whatsoever to rubber stamping, Stampin’ Up!, or papercrafting.
Earlier this week, Stampin’ Up! headquarters alerted rank-and-file demonstrators to new provisions in the IDA that will place restrictions on every aspect of a demonstrator’s online presence, from e-mail to Twitter. Demos have until September 30 to agree to the new terms; if they don’t agree, they’ll be dropped after that date.
For this Web publisher, it’s the writing on the wall; I will be unable to sign the new agreement.
Why not? Well, here’s the problem: the provision steps outside–WAY outside–any reasonable relationship to my Stampin’ Up! blog, and applies to my global online presence.
That online presence is my day job: editor and publisher of the OrganizedHome.com site network. That network includes specialty sites like ChristmasPlanner.com and OrganizedChristmas.com–and it runs on advertising. My ad networks pay the bills, so I can offer resources, articles and printables without charging subscription fees.
Now Stampin’ Up! insists that because I’m a demo, I am not permitted to accept ads on my network that might compete with Stampin’ Up!’s product line. Worse, the new rules apply this restriction globally, to sites in my network which have nothing whatsoever to do with Stampin’ Up!.
Advocates of the new rules point to alleged abuse on some Stampin’ Up! demo blogs. “You can hardly tell she’s a demonstrator for SU!,” they argue, “what with all the links to other sales sites!”
You know, I agree with them. Stampin’ Up! is within its rights to ask demonstrators to refrain from this kind of marketing confusion–and if that’s all the changes accomplished, I’d cheer them on.
Unfortunately, the new rules go far beyond curing blog abuse. The new regulation of “any presence” online interferes with business decisions pertinent to entirely unrelated Web sites.
As one of the cheerleaders for the new plan put it, “you can’t serve two masters”. I find it presumptuous in the extreme that by owning a small, hobby-based side business, this company believes itself entitled to dictate terms to me concerning my unrelated day job.
Even if I wanted to comply, it would be nearly impossible to do so. My site network partners with four or five major ad networks, including Google’s Adsense program. As a site owner, I am able to exclude very broad categories–adult ads, political banners, dating sites–but I have no way to pick and choose between a banner ad for craft store Joann’s sewing products (permitted under the policy) or a sale on scrapbooking paper at the same merchant.
What rationale can Stampin’ Up! offer for this invasion of my business decision-making? I can’t find any, aside from a doomed idea that they can somehow control Internet advertising to their advantage.
In any event, it’s hardly a toss-up for this business owner. I won’t permit the terms of my hobby-only relationship with Stampin’ Up! to dictate to me how I run a 13-year-old Web network that’s given me an international book contract and television appearances on ABC’s The View.
No contest. You lose, Stampin’ Up!–and I fail to see what benefit you derive for attempting to place this burden on my unrelated commercial activities.
Even if I put aside the negative effect on my business that would flow from signing on under these new restrictions, my spirit can’t accept them.
By attempting to control “any presence” online, no matter how divorced from or unrelated to their legitimate interests, Stampin’ Up! has shown themselves possessed of both a view of the Internet and a view of human relationships that disqualifies them from business partnership with any thinking online business owner.
Their draconian demand to control every message board post, Facebook update or Twitter tweet for everyone who demonstrates their product line is outrageous–and has no relationship to the stated goal of avoiding abuse. I won’t censor my entire slate of personal, business or social interactions online for such a slender rationale. And I’m shocked that they would consider such over-reaching to be reasonable for any demo.
I can only speculate whether this new policy was conceived out of a desire to rid the company of “pesky hobby demos”, or out of ignorance about the way the Web works–but I doubt that the policy will grant this company the results it is hoping for.
Yes, Stampin’ Up! did issue a clarification concerning policy changes affecting demonstrators’ online presence.
Sadly, it does not modify or retreat from the central problem of the new policy: the demand that demonstrators cede control over all online communications–even unrelated Web sites, blogs or forums. While it clarifies link policies, and signals a potential turnaround on the issue of gallery uploads and message board involvement, there is no hint that they will address the central privacy issue: extensions of the terms of the IDA to a demonstrator’s NON-SU! online presence.
It’s still a deal-killer for me.
Let’s look at their attempt to justify the policy, comparing demos to a paid product spokesman like Michael Jordan:
Second, the changes in requirements are meant to protect the Stampin’ Up! brand and business as a whole, not restrict your personal freedom of creative expression. For example, consider the famous spokespeople that companies contract to represent their products, like Michael Jordan for Nike. Not only would it have been unethical for Michael Jordan to promote Reebok on the side, but Nike likely had a specific agreement with him not to do so. Your response to this comparison is likely, “But we don’t have million-dollar bonuses from Stampin’ Up!” That may be true, but we do compensate you for the work that you do, and you are definitely our superstars! We consider our demonstrators our partners in business, and an exclusive sales agreement between us is an important aspect of that partnership.
It’s still the same-old, same-old: “We consider our demonstrators our partners in business, and an exclusive sales agreement between us is an important aspect of that partnership.” So it all comes down to how you define “exclusive”–and clearly, Stampin’ Up! does not want to retreat from their position that by signing an IDA, they can exercise control over all aspects of a demo’s online communication, whether it pertains to Stampin’ Up! or not.
This failure to grasp the distinction between online communication in the service of Stampin’ Up! and personal, employment or social communications is the problem. They haven’t moved an inch on this one. Because this clarification does nothing to retreat from Stampin’ Up!’s assertion that they own it ALL.
The comparison to a paid product spokesman and public figure is misleading. “Superstars” or not in Stampin’ Up!’s view, asking for total control of our online presence, whether or not it is in a sphere related to their business interests, is more a contract of adhesion than a fairly compensated arrangement between two equally-empowered commercial entities.
(Can I just say that I highly doubt Michael Jordan’s lawyers would permit his private communications to be bound in this way?)
So for all of us, it comes down to a simple question: what value do you place on your online presence?
Stampin’ Up acknowledges the value they put on our online presence:
We have invested substantial resources-financial, creative, personnel, etc.-in providing products, services, and tools to help you build your demonstratorship. While these changes may seem restrictive, we feel strongly that they will protect our investments and your business over the long term.
Stampin’ Up! puts the value of our online lives at the price of their “investment”–whatever that is. In return, we are expected to cede control over all online presence: e-mail, social networking, message boards, forums or Web sites, whether they have the slightest connection to Stampin’ Up! or not.
For hobby demos, is the 20% discount worth giving up the ability to join freely, write freely, publish freely in Internet venues–whether or not they pertain to Stampin’ Up!? Or in other words, will you sell your online soul for a mess of pottage?
Bottom line: Stampin’ Up! can claim “all your Internets belong to us!”, and many demonstrators without much of an online presence will comply.
But Stampin’ Up? You’re going to lose your best and your brightest.
Starting with me.
[Editor’s Note: Comments on this post have become quite contentious. Several have been deleted due to failure to comply with Scrapbook Update’s Comment Policy. Please keep debate respectful and polite.]