The Last Has Fallen. The Embargo Is Dead.

Late last year I announced a new policy at TechCrunch – we don’t do embargoes. Well, it was a little more complicated than that, and designed to stir up chaos in the PR ranks. We said we’d break every embargo, and we also said we’d honor embargoes for exclusives plus a few select companies, particularly Microsoft and Google, because they had proven to be reliable. Overall, we meant to be confusing, and we were.

Embargoed news, if you aren’t familiar with the term: a company wants to announce news, like a product launch or a new funding. They brief lots of press with a stated day and time for the news to break. Press agrees not to write before that time. But generally someone goes early, with a really good excuse like a time stamp software problem, and then everyone floods out with the news. Whoever broke the story in the first place generally gets more eyeballs and attention than the others, so there are lots of incentives for mistakes. Particularly because no one ever punishes the offenders.

A lot of people said our new policy would be the death of TechCrunch. We’ve more than doubled our readership and page views since then, so with the benefit of hindsight I disagree. But what’s interesting is that since that post the embargo culture in the tech news world has essentially crumbled. Chaos rules, and even the once great Microsoft and Google have fallen.

This is a good thing for readers.

Earlier this year the Wall Street Journal also implemented a no embargo policy unless they get an exclusive, mirroring our position. People freaked out. In June a Microsoft embargo for Microsoft Hohm broke early (that was VentureBeat, a wonderfully repeat offender – last year they once broke every embargo for a week and then claimed it was a daylight saving issue or something).

That left Google as the sole company with the clout to force press to stick to embargoes. This morning, with Google Sidewiki, Google stumbled. PaidContent, who unfortunately are sticklers for sticking to embargoes, went hours early, way before the product was even live. I wasted three hours testing and writing about that product last night, so you can imagine my happiness at the news chaos was tempered somewhat by my frustration at bothering to wait on my post. I should have published at 2:30 am, when I was done for the night.

With Google and Microsoft no longer able to hold embargoes, there really isn’t much left to do but abandon the whole practice. I, for one, am happy about that.

Update: VentureBeat founder Matt Marshall responds in the comments below:

  • “Mike, the comment about VentureBeat being a repeat offender in your story just isn’t fair. As I told you at the time, WordPress — the software we use — doesn’t accommodate reflect daylight savings, and so we were breaking embargoes for a few days without even knowing it (we’d schedule stories for 9pm, but it would publish at 8pm). Bottom line: VentureBeat still hold to embargoes. Hohm, meanwhile, was a complete misunderstanding.”