The decision by Sterling Publishing, a subsidiary of Barnes and Noble, to close its popular photography blogging platform Pixiq on Friday 10 May, has been met with shock, surprise, and consternation by both its contributors and readers. It is understood that unless they had already tendered their resignations, all contributors were issued with termination agreements earlier this month. However, no details of the closure process were made explicit; no explanations were offered and no timeframe was presented.
I made contact with Pixiq's managing editor on Friday morning, to ascertain the circumstances of the site's closure, but it was Caitlin Friedman, Sterling Publishing's Director of Marketing and Publicity, who initially responded:
Yes, we closed the site down, which is why we ended the agreements with all bloggers but a sincere THANK YOU for everything you contributed to the site.
You can imagine my dismay at this response. A 'sincere thank you' for our contributions doesn't explain why the decision was taken to shut down the site and neither does it explain or excuse the management's failure to offer prior notice of the closure.
Thus followed a rather frustrating exchange of emails where Ms Friedman proceeded to obviate the questions I put to her. Finally, I received an email from Gillian Berman, Sterling Publishing's Director of Legal Affairs, stating:
Sterling Publishing has performed in accordance with the terms of the blogger agreement that we entered into with you, and Sterling Publishing has and will perform as contractually required under the attached termination agreement.
Translating the legalese, this amounts to 'When we agreed to terminate your contract, we said that we could pull the content at any time between then and when you would have served out your notice. That's what we did. We'll give it back to you in accordance with the agreement.' According to the contracts, Sterling Publishing has acted, so far, entirely legally. What it hasn't done is act with courtesy or respect towards its contributors or readers.
Undoubtledly businesses do not have to justify their decisions except to their shareholders; however, the decision to pull the plug on the website without so much as an advance notification email to its contributors and an explanatory post to its readers strikes me as unthinking and maybe tactless at best; at worst it is cruel to the contributors, discourteous to the readers, and an indictment of the worst practices of big businesses in general.
Barnes and Noble's financial status has been of concern to the markets for sometime, despite the share-price hike last week following speculation of the sale of its Nook ebook system to Microsoft; the decision to close Pixiq does nothing to assuage fears that it is not best placed to handle the movement towards digital content and neither am I convinced that is a great example of how it handles its employees and personnel, either.