Bubblews: Maybe Not An Intentional Scam, But Not To Be Trusted
Back in November of 2013, I published an article about my experiences with Bubblews, the controversial social media and writing site. The title of that article was “Bubblews: Probably Not A Scam, But Not Ready For Prime Time.” But since that time, Bubblews has changed a lot, and so has my assessment of just how much of a scam Bubblews should be considered to be.
On the positive side, there have been major improvements in the “look and feel” of the site. A lot has been done make it look more professional, and to reduce the amount of fraudulent posts and comments.
But most importantly, the underlying business model has changed drastically. I still don’t consider Bubblews to be an outright scam. But I believe the way the business has been managed, and the cavalier way writers on the site have been treated, could hardly have been worse if the site was a deliberate scam.
That’s why I thought I needed to write an updated article explaining my view that while Bubblews may not be intended as a scam site, it has defrauded users just as if it was one.
Bubblews has often failed to pay its writers what they were due
Bubblews has long had a reputation for not paying all its writers for their work. Throughout its history, the site has held back payments due, sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars, and has many times closed users' accounts when they complained. Often writers received no explanation and discovered there was little they could do to force the site to pay what was owed.
(NOTE: I personally have been paid 12 out of 13 redemptions. Apparently I will never be paid for the 13th due to the policy change explained below).
These frequent failures to pay were bad enough. But then it got worse.
Originally, writers were paid one cent for each view, "like," and comment on their articles. For example, during a period in which I had posted 28 short articles, I accumulated 2372 views, 120 likes, and 16 comments, which earned me $25.08. In the world of online writing that was an unbeatable rate of pay.
But in October of 2014 the site stopped showing the number of views each article was getting, making it impossible for writers to determine how much their articles were earning. Then, with no announcement, the rate of pay was reduced, drastically and surreptitiously. Writers were left to guess how much Bubblews would pay them for their work.
Finally, on the last day of 2014, Bubblews announced a change in its payment policy that set off a bombshell among the already frustrated writers on the site.
Bubblews officially refuses to pay writers what it owes them
In its New Year's Eve announcement, Bubblews made official in policy what was already evident in practice. Here’s how the new policy was described:
Bubblews recently changed its compensation policy to a flexible model to match our advertising revenue. Instead of the previous fixed rate, Bubblews now pays a variable amount, depending on local advertising rates in your country. This ensures that the site remains sustainable, and may allow us to process redemptions more quickly.
Unfortunately, due to extremely high levels of manipulation and fraudulent activity, Bubblews will not honor redemptions made before November 11, 2014.
Furthermore, all redemption requests submitted after November 11, 2014 will be processed according to the new compensation model.
An explosion of rage against Bubblews management
So, now the reduction in pay rate was official. From November 11, 2014 onward, the site would do what it should have been doing from the beginning – it would pay writers based on the amount of revenue that was coming in. But that announcement set off torrents of angry posts from writers on the site, with a number of them threatening legal action. Why?
It wasn’t because Bubblews was adjusting its payouts to a level commensurate with its income. Had that policy been put in place and explained in an honest and transparent manner, most Bubblews users would have understood and actually welcomed it as a necessary step in keeping the site viable.
What writers were up in arms about was Bubblews’ unilateral decision to simply not pay for work done prior to November 11, 2014. For some writers that meant a loss of hundreds of dollars that Bubblews admits they are owed, but which it will now simply not pay. (At least one writer will lose more than $1100). And why? Because other people, not the writers who are owed the money, engaged in “extremely high levels of manipulation and fraudulent activity” which the site’s managers admit they should have stepped in to control much sooner than they did.
In addition, writers who have outstanding redemptions submitted after November 11 will be paid, but the amount will be significantly reduced to fit the new model. Some writers say they are receiving as little as 10 percent of what they earned.
Understandably, a large number of Bubblews writers have been thinking, and expressing, some very hard thoughts about the way the site has handled things.
Given the lack of integrity the site has shown, should writers abandon Bubblews?See results without voting
Bubblews has paid out more than it's brought in
The reason Bubblews management feels overwhelmed by the amount they owe to writers is understandable.
CEO Arvind Dixit laments in a post on the site that “Bubblews has distributed over $1 million to date, considerably more than our revenues.” He also admits that “Part of this was poor management of our vast growth.” Dixit goes on to offer an apology for not acting sooner to fix the financial and fraud problems that had begun to bedevil the site. But, he says, with the change in policy, “the situation is under control,” and he is confident the site will now be able to survive.
My concern: Bubblews management still doesn’t seem to understand the real issue
Personally, I believe Arvind Dixit when he claims that Bubblews had no intention of defrauding people, and was overwhelmed by the amount of money siphoned off by scammers as well as what was legitimately earned by writers. He says they have the management issues under control, now, and the revenue and payment model now in place will allow the site to sustain itself. I hope that’s true.
But the problems with Bubblews go far beyond bad management.
The issue isn’t management skills; it’s integrity
What I have yet to hear from Dixit or any other Bubblews official is any indication that they understand the very evident lack of integrity that has characterized their dealings with writers on the site. One staffer expressed their understanding of what went wrong this way:
Yes there was mismanagement that has since been dealt with. We understand that we messed up, we have made the necessary changes to the site in order to be sustainable, and are moving forward.
In other words, “we did what was necessary to fix the problem. Now let’s just all move on.”
What Bubblews management does not seem to understand is that at every point along the way, they have failed to be open and honest about what was going on. Many writers feel that they have been deliberately lied to and misled.
Moreover, it is not an act of integrity to refuse to pay what you clearly and legitimately owe to workers who trusted you to honor your commitments to them. Writers put in a lot of time and effort based on the promises Bubblews made to them. Yet Arvind Dixit’s expressed attitude is:
We reported lots of money that we didn't have. The money that you "earned" never existed. We didn't "steal" it and go on vacations to Aruba or buy motorcycles. It just didn't exist.
Bubblews management still doesn’t get it
To me it’s clear that Bubblews management just doesn’t see any need to change the ethical basis on which they’ve been operating; they think they just need to do a better job of management. And that’s dangerous!
With their evident lack of understanding of the ethical standards that should guide them, how can anything this management team says be trusted? As far as I can see, they see no need, and have no plan, to work at restoring the trust that has been destroyed between management and the writers on the site. It’s my belief that without that trust, Bubblews may survive, but it will never thrive.
To leave or to stay, that is the question
For many users of the site, the question of whether or not Bubblews is a scam is already definitively settled, and not in the site's favor. Some are threatening class action suits and other legal measures. Writer after writer has expressed their intention of removing all their articles from the site and leaving Bubblews forever.
On the other hand, I've seen posts by dozens of writers who express appreciation that management is finally coming clean, and doing what is necessary to insure the site's survival. In my opinion there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer to this - each Bubblews writer must decide for himself or herself whether to stay or leave.
I’ll stay on Bubblews, but with my eyes wide open
Let me be clear. I plan to continue to post articles on Bubblews. But not because I have any assurance of being paid for any work I put in. As I say in my Bubblews article addressing this issue, I’ll stay simply because I enjoy writing the kinds of short, personal articles that Bubblews encourages. Maybe I’ll get paid, maybe I won’t. But since I won’t be there for the money, I’m willing to take that chance.
But I won’t recommend the site to others. In fact, my advice is that if you expect to be paid what you are promised for your writing, stay away from Bubblews!
It may not actually be intended to be a scam; but you may be treated as if it is.
UPDATE: June, 2015
After being offline for four days, Bubblews has completed a major upgrade to the site and is back online. According to Bubblews CTO Tyler Pearson it is "a revamp of the code, infrastructure, and database to match the needs of a modern high-traffic website."
It's encouraging to see that the Bubblews team is working to upgrade the site technologically. It shows a commitment to the site continuing and improving. But a more important effort should be in changing their policies to demonstrate greater transparency and integrity in their dealings with writers.
That's the upgrade I'm really looking forward to.
UPDATE: November, 2015
Bubblews finally shut down for good, and did so in a way that is entirely characteristic of the way it was operated. The shutdown was sudden and without warning. Writers were given no opportunity to retrieve their articles before the site became inaccessible [you may still be able to recover some Bubblews articles. See How To Recover And Reuse Your Bubblews Articles]. And of course, no one who was owed money will ever see a cent of it.
© 2015 Ronald E. Franklin
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